A procession of steps toward social democracy

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Column by Jim Flynn

When asked if he had any political affiliation, humorist Will Rogers used to quip: “I am not a member of any organized party. I’m a Democrat.” If he were alive today, Rogers could claim membership in either of two disorganized parties.
Republicans didn’t learn much from their disorganized politics under presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, which led to the Great Depression (1929-1939). During those three presidencies, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress (1921 to 1933).
Republicans had no one else to blame for the Great Depression – bank failures, collapse of the stock markets, 25% unemployment, and fearful retreat of consumers. The great drought of the 1930s made conditions even worse – farm foreclosures, decreased trade, disappearance of agricultural jobs, and growth of a poverty class.
Then along came President Franklin Roosevelt - elected four times.
For most of the next 20 years Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Republicans managed one brief takeover of both houses in 1947-49. President Harry Truman labeled it the do-nothing 80th Congress. The name has stuck ever since.
President Roosevelt’s first New Deal (1933-34) was about ending alcohol prohibition, changing the money system, and creating economic recovery programs.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created to reduce 25 percent unemployment, an expensive but useful program which employed more then eight million people over ten years.
Roosevelt’s second New Deal (1935-38) was a first step toward social democracy, but nobody used that term back then.
Democrats leaned toward liberalism – voting rights, equal rights, and government social services - health care, food and shelter for the homeless. Senior citizens remember Mr. Roosevelt most favorably for initiating Social Security.
Thirty years later, President Lyndon Johnson decided Social Security surpluses were a quiet source of revenue for funding the Vietnam War.
Ever since, Congress has used Social Security taxes as a piggy bank to fund pet projects and other wars, issuing IOUs which can’t be redeemed without borrowing real money.
Additional major elements of a social democracy were in President Johnson’s Great Society – welfare legislation and social reforms.
Mr. Johnson is remembered for a number of appreciated domestic programs - Medicare, Medicaid, and federal funding of education.
Republicans made two significant contributions toward social democracy:
The Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003, which purchased a second term in the White House for George W. Bush and enriched pharmaceutical companies beyond their happiest dreams. And the Great Recession of 2006-2009, which elevated a half-term Democratic senator into two terms in the White House oval office.
In time, President Obama’s Health Care for America Plan will likely merge existing programs into a single national health administration - perhaps a final step toward converting a 225 year old constitutional republic into an American social democracy.
What is a social democracy?
It’s not socialism. It’s social reform of a capitalist economy and a gradual transition of government to direct democracy.
But that’s an explanation for another time.