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US campaigns mirror the past

October 18, 2012

By Brother Rogers
Guest Columnist

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  President Harry Truman had his own take on that adage when he said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”

The current presidential campaign is a good example. The campaigns of 1932 and 1936 have much in common with 2008 and 2012.  In 1932, the economy was mired in the Great Depression, and the Democratic candidate, Franklin Roosevelt, blamed the Republicans who were in power.  Herbert Hoover, the Republican, blasted Roosevelt for attempting to provoke class warfare and for making it appear that rich Republicans were at fault.

Hoover charged Roosevelt and the Democrats with constructing a “labyrinth of inaccurate statements.”  Hoover said the solution to the depression was not government intervention in the economy but patient adherence to individual initiative and the private markets.  Sound familiar?

Hoover asserted, “This campaign is more than a contest between two men.  It is a contest between two philosophies of government.”

Hoover described Roosevelt’s philosophy as one that looked to government. Roosevelt, on the other hand, claimed that the laissez-faire policies of the Republicans were unfair to ordinary Americans and counterproductive to America’s national interests. 

Defending the common man, he said, “Every one of our people is entitled to the opportunity to earn a living and to develop himself to the fullest measure.”

He thought government could smooth the rough edges of capitalism.
Of course, Roosevelt and the Democrats won in 1932.  What followed was the New Deal —government intervention in the economy to help average Americans. Roosevelt created the FDIC in response to bank failures and signed a Wall Street reform bill called the Securities Act of 1933.  In our time, we know about the bank bailouts and the Dodd-Frank Act, signed by President Obama.

 One of the most controversial acts of Roosevelt’s New Deal was the creation of the Social Security system. Criticisms of it mirror criticisms of Obamacare, easily the most controversial act of President Obama’s first term.

 Many said Social Security was not constitutional because it compelled workers and businesses to contribute.

The National Association of Manufacturers called Social Security the first step toward “ultimate socialistic control of life and industry.”  One Republican congressman said it would forever prevent business recovery, and another called the president a dictator for forcing the issue.

 Another parallel to today is that President Roosevelt advocated “very high taxes” on large incomes. Sound familiar?  The aristocratic Roosevelt was called a traitor to his class. He was accused of polarizing American politics.  His enemies called him a socialist and compared him to Stalin in Russia.  Roosevelt responded, “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.”

 In 1936, the American people reelected Roosevelt to a second term.  The depression had not ended, but employment numbers and the stock market were doing better.  Americans in 1936 agreed that FDR had brought hope and change.

 What will happen to today’s president who promised hope and change, has been accused of socialism, fights for the middle class and wants to raise taxes on the wealthy?  We live in a different era, but Harry Truman was right that the only thing new is the history you don’t know.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

William “Brother” Rogers lives in Starkville and works with the Stennis Center for Public Service. Contact him at brother@stennis.gov.

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