Take it away

There’s precedent for this enraged determination to rescind a piece of legislation that does something to help the non-rich. Republicans now are trying hard to take health insurance away from millions of people who won’t be able to afford it. In 1936 they tried hard to take Social Security away.

The 1936 story, told in detail in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s, “The Age of Roosevelt,” began in October when a group of Detroit industrialists worked out an anti-Social Security campaign that the Republican National Committee quickly adopted. Two weeks before the election, signs began appearing in plants with the message, “You’re sentenced to a weekly pay reduction for all your working life. You’ll have to serve the sentence unless you help reverse it November 3.” On opening their pay envelopes workers were told, “Effective January, 1937, we are compelled by a Roosevelt ‘New Deal’ law to make a 1 percent deduction from your wages and turn it over to the government. . . . You might get this money back . . . but only if Congress decides to make the appropriation for this purpose. There is NO guarantee. Decide before November 3—election day—whether or not you wish to take these chances.”

Nothing was said about the employers’ contributions to Social Security or how the system would really work, but as the election grew nearer, Republicans were sure that they had an issue that would undermine labor’s support for Roosevelt. Republican candidate Alf Landon, who in September had declared that Social Security was “unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted, and wastefully financed,” upped the stakes still further by insisting the federal government had no way of keeping track of Social Security recipients. “Are their photographs going to be kept on file in a Washington office? Or are they going to have identification tags put around their necks?” he asked.

The attack on Social Security infuriated Roosevelt, and on October 31, in a campaign speech at Madison Square Garden, he took off the gloves. “Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current pay-envelope campaign against America’s working people,” the president declared. The Republican disinformation campaign against Social Security was, FDR believed very different from politics as usual. When his opponents implied that Social Security would be stolen from its intended recipients, they were, he argued, guilty of more than deceit. “They attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself,” the president declared.

Nicolaus Mills, Dissent

Roosevelt fought back. The election wasn’t close.

Comments are closed.