Nov 06 2018

Why We Fight

State of the Union, January 6, 1941 (Four Freedoms)

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception– the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change–in a perpetual peaceful revolution– a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions–without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

War Comes To America, 7 of 7, Frank Capra 1942


Democrats Aren’t Moving Left. They’re Returning to Their Roots.
November 04, 2018

Be advised: “Democrats are in danger of going too far left in 2018.” So warn Republicans like Mitt Romney and ex-Democrats like Joe Lieberman and public personae as diverse as James Comey and Howard Schultz. In recent months, the pundit class has determined that the party’s leftward lurch heralds the rise of a “liberal tea party”—a movement that could very well unmoor Democrats from their longstanding center-left traditions, in close imitation of the spiral of events that caused the Republican Party to turn sharply to the right in recent years.

I want to stop right there and note that none of these people are Democrats. Not one.

Then again it is Politico.

What’s fueling this argument? For one, more Democrats have rallied, either noisily or cautiously, around such policy innovations as “Medicare for all,” universal college and a universal basic income. That a smattering of Democratic candidates have elected to call themselves “democratic socialists” has only fueled the claim that such programs are “socialist.” “The center is Harry Truman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, not Eugene Debs and Michael Harrington,” warned New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens recently. (Debs and Harrington were self-identified socialists.)

Also, not a Democrat. To continue-

But there’s something wrong with this historical interpretation: Truman strongly supported single-payer health care. Moynihan supported a universal basic income in the 1960s. Dating back to World War II, Democrats sought to make a government-paid education available to as many Americans as possible. If Democrats are marching to the left, that road leads directly back to platforms and politicians who, in their day, commanded wide support and existed firmly in the mainstream of political thought.

What’s more, to label these programs “socialist”—which is to say, far outside the center of the political spectrum—reveals a constrained worldview. For over six decades, center-right parties in Europe—in Britain and France, Germany and Austria, and almost everywhere between—have either participated in or acceded to the very same policies.

What pundits today decry as a radical turn in Democratic policy and politics actually finds its antecedents in 1944. With the country fully mobilized for war, President Franklin Roosevelt called for “a second Bill of Rights … an economic bill of rights” that would entitle all Americans to a “useful and remunerative job,” “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation,” the “right … to a decent home,” “the right to adequate medical care” and the “right to a good education.” His speech found partial inspiration in a report by the National Resource Planning Board, which advanced the necessity of a “socially provided income.”

In effect, FDR proposed to jumpstart the New Deal, a vital and inventive program of economic and social reform that necessarily stalled after the start of World War II. His “Economic Bill of Rights” was bold in its contours and vague in its policy prescriptions, but it would effectively form the basis of the Democratic Party’s aspirations for the better part of four decades.

This was certainly true of health care policy. In the 1940s, Senators Robert Wagner and James Murray and Congressman John Dingell Sr. introduced legislation that would have established a national program for hospital and medical insurance. It was stymied by a coalition of Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans, as was also the case with Truman’s efforts after 1949 to achieve the same result. But it was central to the party’s core ambition for many years after.

Only in the 1960s did Democrats abandon the concept of universal, single-payer health care and champion a narrower program of guaranteed hospital insurance and voluntary medical insurance for the elderly—the program that we now know as Medicare. They didn’t abandon universal coverage because they viewed it as too radical. Rather, they believed it was no longer necessary. After World War II, major employers began extending unprecedented benefits to workers, including annual cost-of-living adjustments to wages, defined benefits pensions and private health insurance. Given this reality, they turned their focus to a narrower subset of the population that, by definition, would not benefit from employer-based health programs: senior citizens.

The same trajectory was generally true of the party’s commitment to ensuring that every family enjoyed an adequate income. Roosevelt’s initial pledge seemed to augur a government-supported basic family wage. In 1946 the Democratic Congress passed—and Truman signed—the Employment Act, which codified the government’s responsibility to “foster and promote free competitive enterprise and the general welfare; conditions under which there will be afforded useful employment for those able, willing, and seeking to work; and to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.” In its original form, the bill would have guaranteed all Americans remunerative work and required the government to create public-sector or private-sector jobs to meet this mandate. In this way, it would have met Roosevelt’s quality of living standard for many families. Conservatives blocked that provision.

In this sense, it is true that many Democrats are moving back to their roots. And those roots lead to policies that commanded broad support—and to leaders who commanded broad popularity—in their day.

It’s also ahistorical to decry such policies as “socialist.” To be sure, conservative critics have used the term for the better part of 80 years. In 1936, the chairman of the Republican National Committee warned that America was on a path to become “a socialistic state honeycombed with waste and extravagance and ruled by a dictatorship that mocks the rights of the States and the liberty of the citizen.” In 1952, during his campaign for the presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a relative moderate in the Republican Party, denounced universal health care as “socialized medicine.” In 1961, while speaking on the circuit as a representative of General Electric, Ronald Reagan warned that a pared-down proposal to provide guaranteed hospital insurance for senior citizens constituted “a short step to all the rest of socialism.” “If you and I don’t do this,” he implored his audience, “then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children’s children what it was once like in America when men were free.” (Remembering Reagan’s days as an FDR and Truman Democrat, a liberal skeptic asked him, “How much are they paying you for this shit?”)

European policies that American conservatives regard as staples of Scandinavian-style socialism—universal health care, government-provisioned child care, free or nearly free vocational and university education—were in fact born of a postwar accommodation between conservative and social democratic parties throughout Western and Central Europe. Having endured a half century of intense warfare, as much the product of ideological as ethnic conflict, mainstream politicians and voters from across the political spectrum were eager to fashion a more stable social order.

The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, the Christian Democratic Union in Germany, Christian Democrats in Italy, the Austrian People’s Party, and the Popular Republican Movement in France are prime examples of center-right organizations that collaborated with socialist and centrist parties in establishing a welfare state that defined what historian Tony Jundt called the “‘European way’ of regulating social intercourse and inter-state relations.” The contours of this welfare state varied from country to country, and to be sure, socialists, liberals and conservatives contested—and continue to contest—just how generous the state should be to its citizens. But by the turn of the 21st century, Jundt argued, the “European Way” had become “a beacon … and a global challenge to the United States and the competing appeal of the ‘American way of life.’”

So why are Democrats dusting off the policies and political rhetoric of FDR’s day? It could be because, in some ways, the United States more closely resembles the year 1932 than it does 1992, when Clinton pulled the party closer to the center. Income inequality has grown, fewer people enjoy employer-based health care, defined benefits pensions, a living wage or savings to cushions their families in times of bad luck or economic downturn.

But if the terms of debate are eerily familiar, our historical perspective is lacking. Almost alone among developed nations, we decry as “socialist” rights and protections that other people around the world regard as foundational to a well-functioning civil society—rights that have long commanded support from across the political spectrum. Our center has drifted further right, leaving Americans to view the world through a uniquely skewed prism.

We can have a vigorous debate about “Medicare for all,” a universal basic income and guaranteed college. We should have the debate. These might not be the right answers. But if we begin from the proposition that such ideas are alien to America’s civic tradition—that they are far outside the mainstream—that they are a political nonstarter, we’re not only constricting the terms of debate. We’re betraying the historical record in the process.