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Editorial: From the GOP: Why not a little more Winant, a little less Landon?

The Republican leader had staked his career on undoing the Democratic president’s signature social reform, so the language he used to draw the support of the American public was understandably strong:

“This is the largest tax bill in history.”

The reform “is unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed.”

It is a “cruel hoax,” a “folly” of “bungling and waste,” compared poorly to the “much less expensive” and “practical measures” favored by the Republicans.

“We must repeal. The Republican Party is pledged to do this.”

Sen. Ted Cruz? House Speaker John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Mitt Romney? Frank Guinta?

In fact, the speaker was Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican candidate for president. He was railing not against Obamacare but about Social Security, recently signed into law by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It’s easy to think the dead-enders who want to repeal, defund, delay, unravel the Affordable Care Act at all costs are a 21st-century strain of Republican, pushing a negative, fear-driven agenda with nary a positive alternative to their name. In fact, most social safety-net programs of the modern era arrived amid significant political resistance. The 1936 episode, in which opposition to Landon was led by a former Republican governor from New Hampshire, provides numerous lessons for today’s paralyzed political class.

Today, Social Security is universally known and understood, well-liked and, for many Americans, essential. It has kept generations of seniors from poverty and provided a base level of financial security, regardless of the ups and downs of the economy, for more than 75 years.

But, at first, there was deep suspicion about the whole enterprise. Skeptics worried the government would collect Americans’ money but not pay it back. They predicted Social Security hiring would be rife with political patronage. And, indeed, there were significant startup hiccups, as Social Security tried to figure out how best to sign up workers and employers alike.

There were no “death panels,” but there was, for instance, a real worry that Social Security would issue metal dog tags with account number identification or force citizens to put their thumbprints on their Social Security cards – two real proposals that were rejected early but lived on in the rhetoric of opponents.

The first chairman of FDR’s Social Security Board was John Winant, the former three-term governor of New Hampshire and, later, U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Winant was a Republican, but he liked Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. When Landon made repeal of Social Security the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, Winant quit his nonpartisan job to campaign full time against Landon and in favor of Social Security.

“Having seen some of the cruelties of the Depression, I have wanted to help with others in lessening the hardships, the suffering, and the humiliations forced upon American citizens because of our previous failure as a nation to provide effective social machinery for meeting the problems of dependency and unemployment. The Social Security Act is America’s answer to this great human need,” he said.

Among the GOP campaign tactics: payroll messages to the workers of sympathetic businesses, designed to look like government notices. They implied that workers would suffer a 1 percent “pay reduction” if FDR were re-elected.

Winant delivered an angry rebuttal via radio: “Any political message in a worker’s pay envelope is coercion. It is a new form of the old threat to shut down the mill if the employer’s candidate isn’t elected. We’re supposed to be beyond that in this country.”

The rest, of course, is well known. With Winant’s help, Social Security survived. Early glitches were smoothed out. For many Americans, life improved. Social Security became popular. Many of its goals were the same as those of the Affordable Care Act: financial security, insurance against calamities, an easing of the real differences between the haves and have-nots.

Today’s repeal zealots are convinced they’re on the right side of history. In fact, it’s Winant, not Landon, they should emulate.

Legacy Comments8

Progressives tell us that they Tea Party is dead, it is killing Republicans chances of winning another election, etc. If that is the case then why are they slamming it right and left. To Mauser, Gen_X boy and Bruce below......Tea Party folks are equal citizens to you or anyone else in this country. They have opinions, they are educated, they contribute as much if not more than a government worker or anyone in dependency programs and most of all, they are human beings with the same wants, desires, right to live their life as any of you. Moreover, I am not a Tea Partier but I do respect their right to an opinion, to organize and protest, their right to speak their mind and vote their conscience. Your continued attack on people who are your neighbors, relatives or people who serve you in many venues reveals your belief that ideology trumps free will, free speech and the rights of others. Bruce, especially you, who complains every time someone infers that you might be a socialist or that you are not patriotic. Your double standards and your demonization of others who don't share your absolute beliefs reveals much.

"Obama thrives on crises, not solutions. That´s the key to this whole administration. The budget crisis today is the direct result of five years of over-the-top deficit spending, all demanded by Obama, who doesn´t really care if the economy gets better or not. Either way, he will blame the Republicans, with the unanimous support of our Soviet-style media"

Consider the source of this cut-and paste post, with its kicker last phrase: "with the support of our Soviet-style media". Really? When posters and their posts routinely rely on such un-hinged comparisons, it speaks volumes about their world-view and extremism. This post originated at "American Thinker", then made the rounds of other far-right sites that are uniformly birther-friendly, Islamaphobic, and feature John Birch style name-calling and paranoia. Its works have been aptly described as "ready-made propaganda for the Ditto-head Conservative". Consider this description from RationalWiki: "American Thinker (affectionately nicknamed "American Stinker" by its fans) is an online wingnut publication that's more or less the poor man's WorldNutDaily or Newsmax. None of its regular columnists are even recognizable names as z-list pundits. The magazine, of course, is chock-full of right-wing conspiracy theories, woo, pseudoscience, and anti-science. On the conspiracy side, they promote birtherism, "creeping sharia," and still occasionally prattle on about Vince Foster. On the science side, they concentrate on creationism and global warming denialism. They've published articles by such conservative luminaries as Noel Sheppard and Pamela Geller and such climate experts as S. Fred Singer and Christopher Monckton."

HYPERPARTISAN democrats..... "By TODD S. PURDUM Twenty years ago, when he was trying to persuade Bill and Hillary Clinton that universal health care was a politically unrealistic goal, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan repeated one insistent warning: Sweeping, historic laws don’t pass barely. “They pass 70-to-30,’’ he said, “or they fail.” Four years ago, when he was trying to persuade Barack Obama that he would pay a terrible price for jamming health care reform through a reluctant Congress on a partisan vote, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel begged his boss to settle for a vastly scaled-down plan. We now know what happened: Obama’s bill made history — and caused all-out political war. For this president, that’s the price of doing business in a hyperpartisan culture"

The poster and his source have it exactly backwards. "Hyper-partisan" only begins to describe the behavior of the TP segment of the GOP that equates compromise with sell-out. So long as they don't have to moderate their stance to appeal to a broader electorate, they will continue to act in ways that harm the greater good. Their belief system is supported by far right media--the two perpetuate each other. The only good way for this to end is via redistricting in a non-partisan manner. But Obama didn't create the hyper-partisan culture,--it was already there (recall the 'birther' meme for example). It is a direct and intended result of the flow of hard-right money into politics at every level, along with the creation of right-wing think tanks and media outlets. In fact Obama pleaded with Congress to develop a healthcare plan, and the ACA is the result. Much of it is drawn from Republican sources--Romney Care in Mass., and the Heritage Foundation. Despite that, the right-wing big money that controls the Republican Party (and subsequently fueled the Tea Party) made it clear that Republicans who had anything to do with the ACA would face primary opponents. Thanks to the power of entrenched interests and their 'bought' representatives, we seem to have reached the point where the "world's greatest democracy" has transformed into the world's greatest ungovernable mess. At some point in the future, if the dysfunction perpetuates, might it lead to a coup attempt by the military, arguably the only government institution that works, as with the banana republics of S. America?

Well-said, Bruce. Gerrymandering and the influence of big money in politics today are two of the main reasons why we are where we are now. A generation or two ago, most districts were up for grabs by Republicans and Democrats. Today, I think it's only about 10%. This means that politicians only have to satisfy their base, not the independent moderates. What scares me most is that I don't see it getting better any time soon.

The poster distorts the Purdum article as though it supports his own extreme views. Not quite. While the poster labels Democrats as hyper partisan, the article itself does no such thing. In fact, the article makes clear which party is responsible for the "hyper-partisan" atmosphere--the GOP. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/government-shutdown-barack-obama-obamacare-aca-97687.html

In 1905 George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". This quote has been modified and changed in the last 100 years but still rings true. Social Security didn't destroy the country, it has been changed and modified as will The ACA. The "Tea Partiers" of 2013 are no different than their ancestors of 1935, and their bible of scare tactics have not changed either. Let the nay sayers and mis-information begin..........

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