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It's not just Obamacare: The conservative comparisons to slavery

The Affordable Care Act is just like the Fugitive Slave Act, some conservatives say. It's not the first time they've used that analogy.
A member of the Tea Party holds a sign against Obamacare outside the Senate side of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
A member of the Tea Party holds a sign against Obamacare outside the Senate side of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.

Conservatives have a new talking point: The Affordable Care Act is like the Fugitive Slave Act. Right-wingers are saying that requirements for runaway slaves to be returned to their masters is comparable to requiring health insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions and creating marketplaces that give people access to healthcare.

Conservative commentator George Will joined the chorus in an interview with NPR Wednesday. ”I hear Democrats say, ‘The Affordable Care Act is the law,’ as though we’re supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them.”

He is far from the only conservative to make the comparison. In fact, President Obama has already made fun of another lawmaker for saying it. Talk of slavery comes up more often than expected. From the pundits to the lawmakers, we’ve seen at least four different progressive ideas skewered by the right just this year.


The abortion-slavery comparison is a common one from the right, in fact anti-abortion activists will often argue abortion is actually worse than slavery from a moral perspective. At least two Republicans have connected the two this year. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryancompared his fellow anti-abortion activists to abolitionists and Lincoln, in April, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee made a similar comparison at a rally in July.

Affirmative Action

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made the connection between slavery and affirmative action in his concurring opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas this past June.

“Indeed, the argument that educational benefits justify racial discrimination was advanced in support of racial segregation in the 1950’s, but emphatically rejected by this Court. And just as the alleged educational benefits of segregation were insufficient to justify racial discrimination then, see Brown v. Board of Education,” he wrote, “the alleged educational benefits of diversity cannot justify racial discrimination today.”


The number of instances in which Republicans and conservative pundits have compared government welfare to slavery might be too high to count. Sen. Rand Paul made the loose connection in August, referring to “servitude” rather than slavery specifically.

“As humans, yeah, we do have an obligation to give people water, to give people food, to give people health care … but it’s not a right because once you conscript people and say, ‘Oh, it’s a right,’ then really you’re in charge, it’s servitude, you’re in charge of me and I’m supposed to do whatever you tell me to do,” Paul said in an interview with theNational Review.

E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, made the more direct comparison in a recent speech, arguing that welfare programs hurt African American families more than slavery did, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Gun Control

You can thank Glenn Beck for drawing this comparison most starkly. As recently as March, Beck argued that gun control is a step on the path to slavery, according to video captured by Right Wing Watch. Fox News host Shepard Smith made a similar comparison while talking about the popularity of gun control. “If we stuck with the polls, though, we’d have had slavery a lot longer than we did,” he said.

Bonus: while it didn’t happen this year, Glenn Beck has also said that “illegal immigration is modern-day slavery” back in 2010.