Tactics in 1936 presidential race get new life in 2012 one

Democracy is at stake in the forthcoming election.

This is what the politician warned in 1936. He insinuated America was at risk from government intrusion. His supporters screamed about socialism, and a former presidential candidate said the White House was leading the country down the road to communism.

Once upon a time, these were the critics of the Social Security Act.

Do you think they would like a do-over today?

Maybe an opportunity to revisit their election strategies? A little more fact and a little less fearmongering? A simple acknowledgement that it wasn't such a bad idea to look out for old folks, almost half of whom were living in poverty in the 1930s?

I bring this up only because overheated warnings are all the rage again.

More talk of socialism. Dire predictions about epic job loss and unprecedented tax increases. Accusations of nefarious White House plots and government overreach.

Today, these are the critics of the Affordable Care Act.

"Social Security and the Affordable Care Act are not identical, but they are comparable in some ways,'' said Nancy J. Altman, author of The Battle for Social Security. "In the 1936 election, there was a concerted effort by Republicans and employers to repeal Social Security by trying to scare the working class.

"They put pamphlets in with pay stubs that had a picture of a judge saying: 'You're sentenced to weekly pay reductions for the rest of your life.' The idea they were trying to get across was that the government was going to take your money, and you would never see it again. So you better vote for the Republicans.

"In that sense, it's the same kind of stuff that we're hearing today."

This is not an argument that the Affordable Care Act will have the same impact as Social Security. It's not even a suggestion that Obamacare will meet its intended goals.

Instead, it is a reminder of how fear can be wielded like a weapon. How threats take the place of debate, and buzzwords become more important than the truth.

"It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factories in case a particular candidate does not win,'' Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a Halloween night speech three days before the election. "It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.''

There are differences, of course. Unmistakable, significant differences between the introduction of Social Security in the 1930s and the health care debate today.

For instance, Social Security was an easy-to-understand concept. Roosevelt made sure of that when he told his advisers to revise a more complicated early version. Roosevelt also did a magnificent job of selling his idea to the public.

This White House has failed on both of these fronts. The Affordable Care Act is a maze of regulations, and President Barack Obama has not sold it well to the middle class.

That doesn't mean it won't work. That doesn't mean it will work, for that matter.

The point is that it has gotten approval from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and it deserves better than outrageous and unfounded accusations from those who disagree with its premise.

There's no shame following the party line on certain issues. Just make sure you don't get caught on the wrong side of history.

Tactics in 1936 presidential race get new life in 2012 one 07/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 7, 2012 8:38pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...