You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Women’s Suffrage and Other Visions of Right-Wing Apocalypse

Conservatives have lined up in near-unanimous opposition to any progressive legislation introduced during President Obama’s first year in office. Whether they’ve been railing against health care reform, a climate bill, or financial regulation, their ire has stemmed less from legislative specifics than from a generalized prophecy of doom: Obama’s proposals will move the country toward socialism, bankrupt entire industries and small businesses, and deny Americans their basic freedoms. These arguments, however, aren’t new. Conservatives—not just Republicans, but various politicians and groups who’ve resisted major social changes—recycled them throughout the twentieth century. They used them to oppose numerous progressive measures that Americans now take for granted, from women’s suffrage to child-labor laws to Medicare. (Click here to read Jonathan Chait's feature story on the history of Republican nihilism and what happened to all those great GOP ideas.) Here we’ve collected a few choice predictions about disaster that never came. Conservatives today might prefer they be forgotten.

“It may be impracticable that our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom should go on.”

—Senator David Hill (D-NY), in 1894, bemoaning the creation of a federal income tax

“Woman suffrage would give to the wives and daughters of the poor a new opportunity to gratify their envy and mistrust of the rich. Meantime these new voters would become either the purchased or cajoled victims of plausible political manipulators, or the intimidated and helpless voting vassals of imperious employers.”

—Former President Grover Cleveland, in 1905, on why women shouldn’t be able to vote

“[T]he child will become a very dominant factor in the household and might refuse perhaps to do chores before six a.m. or after seven p.m. or to perform any labor.”

—Senator Weldon Heyburn (R-ID), in 1908, on why child labor should remain unregulated

“I fear it may end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European. It will furnish delicious food and add great strength to the political demagogue. It will assist in driving worthy and courageous men from public life. It will discourage and defeat the American trait of thrift. It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage.”

—Senator Daniel O. Hastings (R-DE), in 1935, listing the evils of Social Security

“[I]t would make it practically impossible for any publisher in the United States to accept any food, drug, or cosmetic advertising without facing squarely into the doors of a jail.”

—Federal Trade Commission Chair Ewin L. Davis, in 1935, on the dangers of empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the food, drug, and cosmetic industries

“I do not think we can take the Chinese with their habits and mentalities in this year and time into our great American melting pot and in ten years or a hundred years bring them up to our standards of civilization.”

—Representative Compton I. White (D-ID), in 1943, on why we shouldn’t allow Chinese nationals to immigrate or become U.S. citizens

“[The Act represents] a step in the direction of Communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.”

—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1938, condemning a national minimum wage and guaranteed overtime pay

“It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”

—Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC), Senator Richard Russell (D-GA), and other Southern legislators, in 1956, describing the perils of integrating public schools

“It is socialism. It moves the country in a direction which is not good for anyone, whether they be young or old. It charts a course from which there will be no turning back.”

—Senator Carl Curtis (R-NE), in 1965, opposing Medicare

“[T]his bill could prevent continued production of automobiles . . . [and] is a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.”

—Lee Iacocca, executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, in 1970, on why the government shouldn’t regulate airborne contaminants that are hazardous to human health

“The effects include serious long-term losses in domestic output and employment, heavy cost burdens on manufacturing industries, and a resultant gradual contraction of the entire industrial base. The irony of this bleak scenario is that these economic hardships are borne with no real assurance they would be balanced by a cleaner, healthier environment.”

—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1987, on the perils of an emissions reduction program to combat acid rain

“The doctor begins to lose freedoms; it’s like telling a lie, and one leads to another. First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then the doctors aren’t equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him you can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.”

—Ronald Reagan, in 1961, arguing against the creation of Medicare

Compiled by Benjamin Bernstein, Benjamin Birnbaum, Lydia DePillis, Noah Kristula-Green, Amanda Silverman, Julie Sobel, and Jesse Zwick.

For more TNR, become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.