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The politics of real social change

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 11/27/2013, midnight

There are some of us who worry that President Barack Obama’s positive legacy is being tarnished right before our eyes—that this fumbling of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will devastate the significance and accomplishments of his presidency.

But we shouldn’t worry. We should not get too bent out of shape over a current spectacle that in a few months will not be much remembered. How can I say that? Because this is politics, and it is not the first time for this particular rodeo.

During his acceptance speech in 2008, just-elected President Obama said that, “… change has come to America,” referring to his election and its significance.

However, for real, substantive change in social welfare and economic security programs in the U.S.A., the work would have to be much more than symbolic. That is the way it has always been in American politics. No major changes have come easily or without sometimes intransigent opposition.

As the genius Albert Einstein once said, “great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

President Obama can probably write two or three new books on that subject.

One president Mr. Obama is regularly compared to, FDR, had his own tale of woe in bringing to fruition one of America’s now most-beloved programs—Social Security. It and he did not escape unscathed in the battle to achieve that victory.

The first major presidential advocacy for an economic security blanket for the elderly in this country was FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1915. When Franklin Roosevelt announced his plan to fully implement a national governmental system to fund such a program, it was in the midst of the Great Depression. In fact, it was On June 8, 1934, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to provide a program for Social Security in a message to a joint session of Congress. First, the president created by Executive Order the Committee on Economic Security, which was composed of five top cabinet-level officials. The committee’s mission was to study the entire problem of economic insecurity, particularly among the elderly and unemployed, and make recommendations that would become the foundation argument for legislative consideration by the Congress.

Utilizing experts from all available federal agencies, and the summary recommendations from the first-ever national town hall on Social Security, the CES did a comprehensive study of the whole issue of economic security in America, and included comments on an analysis of the European experience with this issue. The committee’s full report was the first 20th century comprehensive attempt at this kind of analysis regarding a fundamental social reform, and it stood as a landmark report for many years. It took no more than six months to complete, and the CES finished its mission with the Report to Congress on economic security. It also drafted a detailed legislative proposal for action.

On January 17, 1935, the president introduced the report to Congress and requested immediate simultaneous consideration and legislative action. The Democrats held substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, so the hearings that were held in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee during January and February were relatively friendly discussions, not oppositional attacks. The bill passed both houses overwhelmingly in floor votes, and after the required congressional conference negotiations, which lasted throughout July, the bill was finally passed and sent to President Roosevelt for his signature in August 1935 as the Social Security Act.