The anti-government rhetoric of the Republican Party and their Tea Party allies is rapidly coming into focus. Their increasingly radical agenda is no less than to roll the clock back to the early 1930s, to the days before the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the “New Deal” social policies that were put in place to save capitalism.
The New Deal included a variety of government programs and initiatives that were implemented during the first and second terms of President Roosevelt between 1933 and 1938. The New Deal included relief for the poor and the unemployed and initiatives intended to help the economy recover from the Great Depression. Most importantly, New Deal reforms of the banking system were intended to prevent a recurrence of the precipitating event of the Great Depression, the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Right-wing conservatives have since the 1930s railed against the “socialist” government policies that since that time provided what today is understood as our social safety net. That safety net is what protects workers and the middle class from the harshest impacts of “free markets” when they inevitably create hardships during economic downturns that have always accompanied capitalism. The circumvention of the most important New Deal financial reform, to impose banking reserve requirements, led directly to the meltdown of the world financial system in 2008.
New Deal programs still in effect today include a federal minimum wage, Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. During the 1960, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society added the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs that today provide health care for tens of millions of Americans.
If this list sounds similar to the list of programs that today’s Republican Party wants to abolish, it is no coincidence. The Republican Party has been trying to undo these important safety net programs for about 80 years. The Democratic Party has successfully defended these programs in the past, but each generation of Democrats must remain vigilant against efforts to undermine the social safety net, and weaken the regulation of financial markets.
What the Republicans are pushing these days is no less than a radical departure from the social contract that has been in place between the government and its citizens for generations. Today’s Republicans have reason to hope that at long last they will be successful. Tens of millions of Americans have been convinced by conservative Republican propaganda that our government is the enemy. President Reagan’s statement that: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem” was the first salvo in an ideological war that today threatens to leave the American people at the mercy of multi-national, corporatist capitalism.
Democrats need to engage not only with policy solutions, but with a direct response to ideological war the Republican party has been quietly waging since the 1930s. America is the great nation it is because of what we have accomplished as a people, together, to reconcile and temper the excesses of capitalism with a commitment to take care of the least among us, and provide the conditions needed for a growing and thriving middle class.