The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

‘Emphatically and truly, a government of the people’

In Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation, Political world on August 15, 2009 at 7:41 am

There was a fine opinion piece in the LA Times yesterday noting the anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act. The title was “President Barack Obama could learn from Franklin D. Roosevelt” and the author is Nancy J. Altman, who wrote the recently published history, The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble.

Altman compares the current health care debate with the fight over the Social Security Act and finds many similarities:

Then as now, opponents played the socialism card. In hearings before the Senate Finance Committee, a senator from Oklahoma accusingly asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, “Isn’t this socialism?” When Perkins emphatically answered no, the senator leaned forward and, with a conspiratorial whisper, pressed, “Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?”

Altman says that the difference is that FDR controlled the debate:

In a series of fireside chats and other broadcasts, the president anticipated arguments and responded before public opposition got out of control. “A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing,” he said in one talk. “Sometimes they will call it ‘fascism,’ sometimes ‘communism,’ sometimes ‘regimentation,’ sometimes ‘socialism.’ But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. … I believe that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment of what Americans have always been doing — a fulfillment of old and tested American ideals. … We remain, as John Marshall said a century ago, ’emphatically and truly, a government of the people.’ “

You can read the entire piece here:,0,6660527.story.


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