On March 29, 1952, President Harry Truman gave a speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Washington, D.C. It was carried on nationwide radio and on television. He had already decided he was not going to run for re-election after he lost the New Hampshire primary to a senator from Tennessee. Governor Adlai Stevenson lost badly to President Eisenhower. There had been a Democrat in the White House since 1932.
The speech that President Truman gave that day in the spring of 1952 was very partisan as he condemned the Republicans. Much of what he said that day is remarkably similar to what many of the 22 Democratic candidates for president are saying today. Many of the current candidates, including Bernie Sanders, have been labeled as socialists. Ironically, President Truman spent much of his speech attacking Republican rhetoric that labeled 1952 Democrats as socialists.
Of course, during this same period Joseph McCarthy was leading the “Red Scare,” an effort was made to attack Communists and “socialists.” According to the Mueller Report, the red scare means something different today as the Russians are attacking our electoral processes.
The theme of Truman’s speech was that the Republicans try to make people believe that everything the government does is socialism. He referred to Social Security, flood control, construction of hospitals, price supports for farmers and minimum wage laws as examples of what the opposition party supposedly called socialism. Historians say that history repeats itself. The rhetoric today is strong evidence of this proposition.
There have been many government programs that some would label as socialism. For example, President Lyndon Johnson introduced his “Great Society” domestic agenda in 1964 and 1965. Many of those programs, which are now nearly 50 years old, are considered by many to be socialist programs.
It is mind-boggling to think of all of the programs that were begun in this two-year period. Johnson called it the war on poverty and in 1964 led Congress to enact more than 200 laws that created vital programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. While Medicare is a sacred cow that no politician dare touch, many view Medicaid as a socialistic program and it is under attack in many red states.
Head Start was begun during Johnson’s presidency to empower parents and to make sure every child had a shot at success in life no matter their social or economic circumstances. The Food Stamp Act was also passed in 1964.
The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 provided federal funds to cities for urban renewal and development. Drive down Union or Delaware Streets in the Truman Historic District and note the newer homes that were built in the 1960s as part of the urban renewal program in Independence.
As a young boy I remember playing in the houses that were being demolished. The newer homes were built besides houses that are 100 years old and are a part of the fabric of the historic neighborhood.
The Job Corps was created as well as loans and guarantees for employers who offered jobs to the unemployed. Funds were allocated for farmers to purchase lands and establish agricultural co-ops.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were established to fund and support cultural organizations such as museums, libraries, public television and public radio.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Child Safety Act were passed to create consumer product safety rules and to make sure products were safe for children and adults. The Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed in 1965; it ended immigration nationality quotas and focused on reuniting families and placed limits on immigrants per country and total immigration. Immigration reform almost 50 years ago.
The Higher Education Act was passed in 1965 to strengthen educational resources of colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary higher education. It increased federal money given to universities, created scholarships and gave low-interest loans for students. Financial aid programs were implemented in the form of grants, education loans, work-study and scholarships.
Every parent who has a child attending college is familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that must be completed by everyone even if not eligible for student aid. Pell Grants were established by this legislation and has helped millions of students to pay for college. How many who are attacking such programs today benefited from these financial aid programs?
Federal aid is an essential part of the budgets of most less affluent school districts. The National School Lunch program makes it possible for all school children to receive a nutritious lunch every school day. That program was created during Truman’s presidency.
Of course, many conservatives have claimed that the Great Society programs have failed to reduce poverty and to promote achievement and many want to destroy the social programs created in the 1960s. Statistics can be used to prove any point, but there is strong evidence that many of these programs helped reduce poverty.
Truman said that “socialism is their (Republicans’) name for almost anything that helps all the people.” The great debate continues as we approach the 2020 elections. Obviously, Truman did not have a bully pulpit in 1952 as his average approval rating from 1949 to 1953 was below 40 percent. His popularity has increased dramatically with the passage of time.
President Truman’s point in 1952 is relevant today. Beware of labels. If these programs are socialist programs, is socialism necessarily always bad?
– Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org