05/25/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Health Care Vote May Hurt Some Careers, but It's Worth It

Immediately after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, anticipating backlash from Southern whites, told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation."

Johnson was right. Many Southern Democrats became Republicans and the thinly veiled use of race was a particularly effective tactic for the contiguous Southern states to be a solid bloc for the GOP.

Could the health care bill signed into law by President Barack Obama become the 1964 redux for the Democrats? Will the health care bill prove to be, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint opined last year, the president's Waterloo?

One day after the seventh anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the House of Representatives passed the most sweeping domestic legislation since Medicare in 1965.

I'm certain the descendants of Republican operatives Lee Atwater and Karl Rove are already putting together talking points and political strategies in anticipation of Republicans regaining majorities in the House and Senate.

Seven months before the midterm election is too long to accurately predict one's political fortunes. Can the Republicans reclaim the majority in Congress, running on repealing the health care legislation?

When we put a face on it, 30 million of those currently uninsured are low-income working individuals, many with children. Will Republicans run on repealing a law that allows low-income children to be insured with pre-existing conditions?

With all the interposition and nullification rhetoric, tea party outrage, spitting at, along with hurling racial and homophobic epithets at members of Congress, is it possible there could be a political price to be paid for voting in favor of approximately 32 million additional Americans having access to health care?

I am reminded, however, that some who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was "an act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States of America to provide relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the attorney general to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education," did pay a political price.

Now that "ObamaCare" and "government-run health care" are no longer the hyperbole of the right-wing fringe, we have a law that stands to be a boon for the nation, especially California.
A recent UCLA study estimates that nearly 25 percent of Californians lack health coverage. By 2014, once all aspects of the law take effect, approximately two-thirds of that uninsured population will be covered.

By no means is this legislation perfect. I have my doubts that it will reduce the deficit as advertised, and it will definitely increase health care as a percentage of GDP.

But I marvel at the protesters as well as members of Congress invoking memories of the Founders as if the new health care law is antithetical to the American experiment.

Where were they when the Republican-led Congress abdicated its constitutionally mandated responsibility to declare war in 2001 and 2003? As a result, America is engaged in two undeclared wars simultaneously, overseen financially by a Congress that spent more time debating former President Bill Clinton's Christmas card list than the costs of these two military efforts.

If spending roughly $1 trillion on health care legislation that clearly outlines how it will be financed creates outrage, why was there not similar indignation for spending $1 trillion on two wars largely on borrowed dollars?

The irony of the invective outbursts opposing the health care legislation before its passing is that many who opposed it may very well be among the first benefactors of the reform.

The bluster of predicting the Democrats' inevitable demise for passing health care legislation cannot mask that Republicans are a party vacuous of policy ideas, who would rather obstruct than pass legislation, even that which they agree upon.

Republicans in Congress were in lock-step in their desires to be the obstructionist party that portrayed the president as weak.

But the law signed by the president this week gives us a new baseline. Health care reform from Teddy Roosevelt to Clinton was talk. Now it's law.

Democrats may indeed lose seats in Congress for passing health care legislation, just as they lost seats emanating from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As I always say, better to lose a congressional seat to right an immoral wrong than to wait for the other party to create needed change for the nation so you can win a midterm election.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of "Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War." E-mail him or visit his Web site: