What usually happens in an election year, when the economy is bad, is that voters blame the political party in power at the time. According to some of the national pundits, that could be happening this year.
The state and the whole country seem to be in a mess — especially if you’re out of work, or just worried about your job and making enough to pay the bills and keep your head above water. So, to make things better, we want to vote out of office the people who are responsible — we “throw the bums out,” to use an old expression. It’s one way we ordinary voters can make a diff erence, and hopefully improve things.
It’s what we did in 1932, when, after a decade of Republican, big business rule, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression brought unemployment to 25 percent. Franklin Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat, took over in Washington and proceeded to push through a number of laws and programs that helped just about everyone. He and the Democratic Congress established Social Security, America’s first national system designed to provide money for folks when they needed to retire. They hired thousands of workers and built new roads and parks. They passed a law which gave workers the right to join a union, and go on strike if necessary, to get better wages, vacation time, and a somewhat shorter work day and week. They established unemployment pay for workers who lost their jobs due to no cause of their own, and workers compensation for those injured on the job. Down in the Tennessee Valley they built huge dams to harness water power and provide electricity to millions of folks in Appalachia who never had it before.
These actions, and others, by Roosevelt and the Democrats, cut the unemployment rate from 25 percent to about 13 percent in the first four years. As people had more money to spend, business began to pick up everywhere, and the vast majority of Americans naturally supported Roosevelt’s efforts. But in the big business community Roosevelt was called “a traitor to his class” and a “socialist.” Most Republican politicians vigorously opposed all of these programs, and they attacked viciously. They said the Democrats were spending too much tax payer money, and creating a huge debt that would burden their grandchildren. They said, put us back in control of Congress and we’ll stop this spending spree, and balance the budget.
Not surprisingly, Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 by one of the largest margins of all times. But the attacks on the President and Congressional Democrats had an effect. Some of Roosevelt’s advisors — themselves Republicans or big businessmen — convinced him and the Congress to cut back on the hiring of workers and to curtail government spending. As government spending slowed, unemployment went back up — though never to the 25 percent Roosevelt inherited. The slowdown was dubbed the “Roosevelt Recession” by his enemies — the very ones who had urged the action that caused the slowdown.
Ultimately, it took a lot more government spending to finally cure the Great Depression. Most of it came as the U.S. was drawn into World War II, but of course it was the spending that created the jobs, not the war itself. If we had been luckier as a nation, we could have spent the money on the consumer products we wanted and the infrastructure we still needed, if it hadn’t of been for the war.
What It Means in 2010:
Today, as we struggle with our own unemployment — though nowhere near 1933’s levels — we once again have a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress using government spending to help turn the economy around. And, like the Roosevelt years, it’s working. The auto industry is making a profit and hiring, unemployment has stopped rising and the job scene is improving almost everywhere. But it takes time for a huge economy to turn around. Meanwhile, today’s Republican leaders, like those of the 1930’s, call the President a “socialist” — and worse — and blame the Democrats for the economic problems they inherited. They say, in effect, “throw the bums out!” Put us back in, and we’ll fix everything.
Republican Plans to
“Fix” Our Nation:
“Fix,” of course, has several meanings. You can fix something that is broken, you can “fix” a horserace, or you can “fix” your cat. If recent history is any guide, the current Republican leadership is more likely to use one of the latter meanings when they “fix” America’s problems.
We know, for instance, that they would try to undo the positive changes the Democrats have made in health care. They would take us back to the recent past, where patients could be denied insurance coverage if they were too sick, where your insurance plan had lifetime maximums, and if you exceed them, you’re out of luck. Government assistance to small business to buy health care for their workers would not be available. No guarantee, either, to keep your college age kids on your own plan to age 26 — that would be gone if they repealed the Democratic plan. Their plan consists essentially of making it harder for you to sue a doctor who has harmed you. This is what they mean by “tort reform.”
Republicans in charge of Congress would also mean renewed efforts to blame Social Security and our other pension systems for the out-of-balance budgets, and to raise our retirement age and reduce benefits. The budgets — which were in balance when the Republicans under George W. Bush took over—are out of balance because of their tax cuts for the wealthy, their two unfunded wars, and their prescription drug program which prohibits Medicare from negotiating for lower prices. And, as when the Republicans became the majority in 1995, we might see more NAFTAtype trade ideas, shipping U.S. work and business to China and other low-wage, high pollution nations.
And here’s another ugly, but likely scenario. Like the Republicans of the 1990’s, who couldn’t beat Bill Clinton at the ballot box, a Republican Congress in 2011 would probably have endless, wasteful investigations of the President and his family, with a search for his birth certificate, and a further attempt to demonize the first African-American President and the first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Considering the near takeover of the Republican Party by the radical right Tea Party folks, we would no doubt see further attempts to limit women’s reproductive rights, undercut public education with more funding for private schools, and no attempt to improve public schools — except even more vigorous attacks on teachers and their unions. And the more radical Republicans are talking about eliminating the income tax — which taxes on the ability to pay — and replacing it with a National Sales Tax of around 23 percent on everything we buy.
Worst of all, for working people and families, if the Republicans gain strength in Washington and force a cutback of government programs, we can expect to see what the nation saw in 1937, rising unemployment.
In our two-party system, either the Democrats or the Republicans will run the state and the nation.
Hopefully, voters will think twice before replacing the party that is trying — however imperfectly — to solve the current recession and end the wars in the Middle East, with the party that started them. Hopefully, they won’t put the “bums” back in.
Jack Burgess is a retired
teacher of American & Global
studies who lives in Chillicothe,
Ohio. This column
appeared in the Circleville