Congress recognized Martin Luther King Day as a Federal holiday in 1983. As most of you are well aware, this was not done without opposition. In the House, 90 members voted against it, as did 22 Senators. The following is the coalition of 18 Republicans and 4 Democrats from hillbilly states who opposed it in the Senate:
Reagan was opposed to it, of course, but relented when he saw the Act pass with veto-override majorities in both houses. He signed it and then tried to pass himself off as Friend of the Civil Rights Movement. But the GOP was not united in attempting to obstruct the holiday. While Jesse Helms led the anti-King faction (and made the farcical claim that an extra holiday would cost the government $12 billion) one of its most ardent supporters in the Senate was none other than Bob Dole. Arlen Specter also publicly condemned Helms' witch hunt, calling MLK "a Herculean figure in the American scene" and a "stabilizing influence" on the at-times violent conflict over civil rights. Dole argued on the Senate floor, "To those who would worry about cost, I would suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, followed by a century or more of economic, political and social exclusion and discrimination."
Can you imagine a single Senate Republican who would fill that role today? Can you imagine what Limbaugh and Beck would do to him or her? Those who would support the bill would keep quiet about it, and they'd certainly lack the balls to call out their colleagues like Helms on the Senate floor. Even that wouldn't be enough to protect them from the pitchforks-and-torches mob that the GOP base has become.
A lot has changed in a relatively short time. While the Democratic Party still has its share of knee-jerk conservatives who cater to the baser desires of the electorate – especially in the House – the GOP has systematically purged its more moderate members over the intervening years. They have the ideological diversity of a Patrick Henry College classroom.
While it can be beyond infuriating to deal with the obstructionism and attention-seeking of people like Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Bart Stupak, and Heath Shuler, I suppose it beats forming a lynch mob to go after anyone who deviates from The Way.