The next time you hear the political rhetoric assailing policies that aim to give people a hand up, don’t forget that a solid piece of our historical success as a country is owed to policies that sought to care for people who were down on their luck.
A what-if scenario:
Over the next month you will be receiving a letter in the mail from the federal government. In the letter you will be assigned a number that will stick with you for the rest of your life. You will also be told in the letter that a percentage of your pay will be deducted as a tax that will go directly to supporting the elderly.
Sound good? Great. Now shut up and get back to work.
In 2012 America, such a letter might precipitate rioting in the streets, upturned cars and Molotov cocktails.
In 1930s America it was a different story, as Social Security was created to provide a vital safety net to our seniors, who were the most vulnerable in our society, often living in run-down tenements or in their children’s spare rooms.
Our attitudes have changed
So why the change in attitude?
Well, our attitudes have changed in part because of the very success of Social Security.
Think about it. Generations of older Americans have now enjoyed the benefits of Social Security and lived more independent lives. They were able to stay on their own, stay in their homes and eventually retire to new homes in Florida or Arizona.
And when they died? Well, they actually had nest eggs and assets to hand down to their kids. Kids who invested and created more wealth and sent their kids to college, which in turn created even more private wealth and innovation in our economy.
Can you believe it? A “socialist” program partially responsible for creating generational private wealth, the middle class and an America with the quality of life we all have come to take for granted.
It’s no surprise then that so many would now see the introduction of any large social program as an invasion of their personal nest eggs.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so successful in passing progressive policy that his leadership (and the rising economic power of post-Word War 2 America) ultimately created an upscale, upwardly mobile society that now is almost openly hostile toward paying a little more in taxes to help the poor.
The words of conservative pundit George Will were never more true when he once said that we are all Roosevelt’s children.
Which I guess means we all must hate our father.
Why? Because if so many dislike President Obama for merely trying to give some people health insurance, then we surely would have absolutely despised FDR for his grand giveaway to the elderly.
But wait a minute. Polls show Americans from all backgrounds love Social Security.
And no one can argue with the results: Generational wealth and seniors who are economically secure and not living in the guest rooms of their children.
So, the next time you hear the political rhetoric assailing policies that aim to give people a hand up, don’t forget that a solid piece of our historical success as a country is owed to policies that sought to care for people who were down on their luck and along the way just happened to create private wealth on a massive scale and improve the lives of every man, woman and child in our country.
When you look at it that way – with historical perspective – it certainly puts President Obama simply trying to provide health insurance for more Americans in a different light.
Chris Cervini is a vice president at Strategies 360, a Western regional strategic communications firm. He lives in Albuquerque.