Another Perspective

Obamacare: The New Vietnam

Anti-war, civil rights movements a role model.

By 10.17.13

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It was the law.

And liberals were determined to sabotage that law.

To hold America hostage — in the middle of a war no less -- until the law was repealed. Until the war was stopped.

To do it, they used the Three C’s.

Civil Disobedience.

The Culture.

The Congress.

Let’s start with the law the Left was determined to overturn.

That would be the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 10,1964 at the request of a popular president, Lyndon B. Johnson. The resolution authorized the president “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”

The vote? 416-0 in the House. And in the Senate? The resolution passed by a margin of 88-2.

The Vietnam War, already quietly humming along with some 16,000 U.S. advisers deployed, was now on. Big Time. And to say the least, the votes in Congress to stop the Vietnam War weren’t there.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s GOP cave to President Obama and the onrushing machinery of Obamacare, this is a moment to look back again on that most reliable of guides: history.

Listening to various Republican critics of Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and House GOP Reaganites — and yes, Tea Party members are the Reaganites of today — one hears the constant refrain that “the votes aren’t there” to repeal Obamacare. Worse — particularly when coming from people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Peter King, and others — is the business about “what is the end game?” The latter refrain particularly appalling coming as it does from members of the GOP Senate and House who have sat in their respective chambers for decades and done nothing — zilch — to put an end to the continuous growth of the federal government and the accompanying, now $17 trillion debt that goes with it.

The votes weren’t there to stop the Vietnam War in 1964. And as was abundantly apparent, supporters of the war had no “end game.” They were terrified of the Chinese — meaning a repeat of the Korean War. If there was an all-out war aimed at total victory, went the thinking, disaster loomed. Instead of an aggressive strategy to win, the “end game” in war — there was effectively no strategy beyond pouring in American troops and trying to drive the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong back into North Vietnam and keep them there. Somehow. And pulling out? Disaster was seen on that front as well.

Meanwhile, opponents of the war had an end game. A strategy that was as simple as it was bold.

End the war.

Period.

Get all American troops home from Vietnam and let whatever was going to happen without Americans in Vietnam? Let it just happen. (Peace would break out, went the Leftist story line. In fact, mass murder and all kinds of mayhem and chaos swamped Southeast Asia after the American withdrawal — but that’s another story for another time.)

As the fight to repeal Obamacare moves on, it is important to take a look at two comparable struggles in recent American history in which “the law” was overturned. Overturned against seemingly impossible odds.

Overturned with a smart and effective strategy that used the Three C’s: Civil Disobedience, the Culture, and the Congress.

Those two struggles that used the Three C’s? The anti-Vietnam War movement and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Both movements had a crystal clear objective — an “end game” -- that focused on overturning existing law. 

For the anti-war movement the end game was to halt American participation in the Vietnam War and bring the troops home.

For the civil rights movement it was to break the back of segregation laws all over the country, laws that segregated public accommodations (restaurants, hotels etc.) and denied voting rights to black Americans.

The votes to do either simply were not there in the Congress of the day.

What to do?

Both movements, while making constant legislative attempts inside the Congress to achieve their objective, turned to organizing opposition outside the Congress. Opposition that in turn would pressure Congress to stop the war. The Left hated the war, its legality be damned. Actually, hate is too mild a term. They were obsessed with the war in Vietnam.

So they turned to the first two of the Three C’s: Civil Disobedience and The Culture.

So they marched. They rioted. They burned draft cards (which was illegal). They showed up at draft boards claiming homosexuality -- in the long ago a certain disqualifier. Suddenly liberal college kids developed a strange hankering to be ministers and rabbis — because divinity school students were exempted from the draft. Psychiatrists who opposed the war got into the act, declaring young men previously mentally sound as a dime to be mentally unstable: i.e., crazy and therefore un-draftable. Liberal lawyers began counseling potential draftees pro bono. And but of course the liberals in the culture rallied to the cause as one song after another soared on the charts proclaiming the glory of resisting the draft and fighting against the war. Some 30,000 American boys evaded the draft outright or simply deserted by fleeing the country for Canada.

Thus it comes as passing strange to hear sudden outrage from liberals about the move to defund Obamacare because, say these incensed folks, “it’s the law!”

Apparently, it all depends on which law is the law. Sabotage the law that produced the Vietnam War? Sabotage the Vietnam-era draft laws? Sabotage the Vietnam War itself? Hold America hostage — literally in the middle of a full-blown war — a war, one should note here, that was begun by liberals themselves?

Yes indeed. If you were a Leftist in the day -- no problemo.

Participants of any kind in the anti-war movement were held up as heroes. Champions of freedom and dissent. Worthy of being counseled, lauded, sung about and applauded. Were you involved in a riot to protest and provoke? Were you committing illegal acts in the name of stopping the war? Well, bless your long-haired soul. 

But try and defund Obamcare? Why, the nerve! You have no respect for the law! You’re a saboteur holding America hostage! How dare you oppose the liberal utopia!

All of which says that the battle over defunding ObamaCare has a template provided by the Left for how to shut down a law and get it erased from the books for good. A template that was used to enormous effect both in ending the war -- and used simultaneously in the much more bipartisan fight to end segregation. Segregation, of course, being the political lifesblood of the Democrats. 

How was it done? Here are the tools of the Three C’s as used by the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements.

• Civil Disobedience: Protest, sometimes peaceful, occasionally violent, was the order of the day. Rallies were held, marches were marched, pickets picketed.

The fact of the matter is that no war can be fought without troops. And the American Left went right for the jugular on that basic fact. The way troop requirements were filled in the day was the draft. Solution? End the draft. Protest the draft. Disrupt the draft. Sing about the draft. Remake the image of the draft from a positive sign of service to one’s country to a negative connotation of manipulation by an evil war machine.

In short, disobey the law. Deliberately, willfully, repeatedly, massively and with as much public attention to the fact as possible.

Three months before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, with the war already at a steady if low hum, casualties were beginning to mount. On May 12, 1964, twelve young New Yorkers stepped forward and publicly burned their draft cards — deliberately breaking the law. From that moment forward, burning draft cards became a symbol of civil disobedience. And the notion of breaking the law became a symbol of the anti-war movement. By December, 1964, folk singer Joan Baez led what is seen as the nation’s first prominent anti-war rally, attracting 600 protesters in San Francisco.

On March 16, 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, pacifist Alice Herz, 82, doused herself in gasoline and lit a match, self-immolating in the fashion of South Vietnamese Buddhist monks protesting the war. Now the protests picked up speed, centering on college campuses. Colleges being, not coincidentally, filled with young draft-age American boys and young men. “Teach-Ins” about the war became fashionable, a Berkeley version attracting 30,000 people.

The anti-war movement was here to stay.

The President of the United States, the white liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson, was burned in effigy -- by Leftists. A Gallup poll showed 60% of the American people supported the Vietnam War. The Left ignored the poll and others like it — and stepped up their opposition.

On October 15, 1965, the first “large-scale” act of civil disobedience took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan. Some 40 students staged a “sit-in” of the Ann Arbor draft board. They were arrested and sent to jail for 10-15 days. A month later, another pacifist, 31-year old Norman Morrison, set himself on fire — underneath the Pentagon office window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The tactic of Civil Disobedience exploded across the country over the next several years. Sometimes it exploded into violence — anti-war riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Some, Bill Ayers and his Weathermen, were into bombs. But however they did it peacefully, the opposition to the war grew and grew and grew. Demonstrations gained in size and strength, appearing in one city after another, gaining notable allies in an unexpected but very important place — The Culture.

• The Culture: A notable celebrity — an American with global recognition -- unexpectedly jumped into the fray. Cassius Clay, the heavyweight boxing champion and athletic superstar of the day changed his name to Muhammad Ali, became a convert to Islam, and declared himself a conscientious objector, refusing to go to Vietnam. Ali was pilloried by politicians from both parties, the Governor of Illinois, a Democrat, calling Ali “disgusting.” Ali was convicted of draft evasion and was sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence that was overturned. The boxing world stripped the most famous boxer in the world of his heavyweight title and banned him from the sport for three years.

By 1967 marches had gathered so much steam a New York anti-war march attracted over 400,000 people. Anti-war ads began appearing in major U.S. newspapers. In turn collecting support from cultural icons well beyond Muhammad Ali. Anti-war candidacies for everything from Congress to president began to sprout like weeds -- Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern leading on the Democrat side. The popular culture was being used to slam the war.

From folk music to rock and roll, some of the most famous musical stars of The Culture turned their talents to writing anti-war songs. One of the Beatles, John Lennon, paired with his wife Yoko Ono to produce "Give Peace a Chance." An unknown singer named Barry McGuire skyrocketed to fame with "Eve of Destruction." Country Joe MacDonald’s song "The 'Fish' Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" became famous for its ubiquitous refrain:

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

When four students protesting the war at Kent State in 1970 Ohio were shot by the National Guard, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of the most famous rock groups of the day, were shortly out with the chart-topping Ohio. (Here’s a video with accompanying photos of the day- the photos and song absolutely everywhere in the day.) Ran the beginning lyrics:

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Not to be forgotten was the role of film stars, notably and infamously Hollywood icon Jane Fonda, who earned her derisive nickname “Hanoi Jane” by planting herself at the side of North Vietnamese gunners on a visit to the Communist enemy.

What effect did all of this Civil Disobedience and use of The Culture have on the war? 

It placed serious political pressure on politicians in that third “C”:

• The Congress: Pressure to end the war — period. Using exactly the tactic that Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and their House colleagues have used, the move to defund the Vietnam War was taking hold in Congress. Pushed by Civil Disobedience and The Culture in direct opposition first to LBJ and then to his equally powerful successor: Richard Nixon.

On September 1, 1970, the pressures generated by Civil Disobedience and The Culture came to a head in the US Senate in the form of a vote on an amendment cutting off the funding for the Vietnam War. Named for its co-sponsors, liberal anti-war Democrat George McGovern and liberal anti-war Republican Mark Hatfield of Oregon, the McGovern-Hatfield amendment won the nickname “the amendment to end the war.” It cut off funding for all military operations in Vietnam by December 31, 1970. Period.

Now all of the opposition to the war took the form of this heated speech by George McGovern:

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land — young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.

There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will someday curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood."

His colleagues in the Democrat-controlled Senate were said to be shocked at McGovern’s bluntness. Which, said McGovern, was exactly why he said it.

The amendment failed by a 55-39 vote. Which is to say, the pro-war faction of 88 votes had lost 33 votes. And the anti-war side had jumped from 2 votes to 39.

The war went on. But in retrospect it was already over. In December of 1970, Congress passed the Cooper-Church amendment, like McGovern-Hatfield the joint sponsorship of a liberal Republican (John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky) and a liberal Democrat (Frank Church of Idaho.) For the first time Congress successfully restricted the use of American funds for air operations in the Vietnam War, over the objections of President Nixon.

By 1975, the new Democratic Congress had the political power and the political will — and they successfully cut off funding for the Vietnam War. The end game was reached, immortalizing this memorable photo of the panicked evacuation of Saigon from the roof of the U.S. Embassy.

The story of the civil rights movement revolves around the same Three C’s. Civil Disobedience — restaurant sit-ins, protests, failed attempts at voter registration — all filmed by television news, a new power in The Culture. The Culture’s famous movie stars of the day with names like Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, and Sidney Poitier marched alongside Martin Luther King. The civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" slipped into the nation’s culture. Folk rock singers like Bob Dylan made an anthem out of a song that was used in both the civil rights and anti-war movements — "The Times They Are A’Changin’." All of this, as mentioned, aided by television cameras that made a point of getting the violence of segregationist police chiefs carefully on record (while equally carefully ignoring they were Democrats like DNC member and Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor, also a member of the Ku Klux Klan). And of course, as The Culture’s television cameras aided the civil rights movement so too did they aid the anti-war movement.

So.

What is to learn here from all of this relatively recent American history?

What Obamacare has in common with both the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement is that popular opinion is with the opponents of Obamacare as it swung to opponents of the war and in favor of black Americans.

The question for Obamacare opponents is: what to do next?

The answer can be found in the Three C’s.

What does that mean?

Just as the law mandated the Vietnam-era draft, so now Obamacare has its own mandates, two of them every bit as unpopular as the draft in the 1960s. They would be, of course, the individual mandate and the fine for not having health insurance. 

Question.

What would happen if masses of anti-Obamacare Americans began practicing the first C — Civil Disobedience? Filling jail cells for refusing to either have health insurance or paying the fine? Sitting in at federal buildings or any building housing those involved in running the so-called “exchanges” around the country? Deliberately disrupting the machinery of government health care as anti-war demonstrators once disrupted the government war machinery.

The second C? The Culture has changed since the 1960s. Who are the folk singers, rock stars and movie stars of conservatives in today’s culture? They are, of course, talk radio stars, Fox News shows, and the Internet. In point of fact, opposition to Obamacare appears regularly already in all three venues — as accessible to today’s anti-Obamacare protesters as CBS,ABC, NBC, musicians, and movie stars once were to the anti-war and civil rights movements.

The third C? Congress. So yesterday the Defund Obamacare movement had a defeat. 

And? And what?

The vote to oppose the Vietnam War — the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — won no votes in the House and exactly 2 in the Senate.

The Left did not yield. They simply shrugged and kept moving. As Ann Coulter notes in her new book, Never Trust a Liberal Over 3—Especially a Republican, “Liberals never give up. Nothing is ever over until they get their way, much like two year olds.” They never gave up once on Vietnam. Congress wouldn’t stop the war? On came the draft card burnings, the teach-ins, the marches, the protests, the sit-ins and more. Out poured the anti-war sentiments that flooded The Culture in song and on television news shows. They kept coming and coming and coming. Like water dripping on a rock, eventually the rock of pro-war sentiment that was the United States Congress gave way. 

They had one other very big help. The war itself. Every day the television newscasts kept reporting the number of American boys killed in Vietnam that day. Every single day, the news of what was happening in Vietnam made itself painfully apparent in communities all across the nation.

What’s already happening with Obamacare is exactly what happened to the Vietnam War. When all the protests and draft card burnings and all the rest were shut out out, the fact of the matter was that caskets — hard reality — were returning to the families of drafted sons.

The equivalent with Obamacare are the hard realities that are already being reported. The “caskets” of Obamacare are skyrocketing premiums, lost jobs, full-time jobs become part-time jobs, bankruptcies, the health exchange online application process that is so fouled up even Democrats have managed to be embarrassed. And inevitably, as it almost was with 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan whose lung transplant was denied by Obama HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelieus, there is the looming reality of actual, very real caskets courtesy of ObamaCare.

Is this battle to get rid of Obamacare winnable? 

Absolutely.

The battle to end the Vietnam War was won, its consequences, as noted, another story.

The battle to end segregation and win voting rights for black Americans was won. The old liberal segregationist choke-hold was broken for the good. 

Lesson?

These kinds of battles can in fact be won. They have been won.

It can be done. It has been done.

Using the Three C’s of modern American politics.

Civil Disobedience, the Culture — and last but never least — the Congress.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.