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Martin Luther King’s Fight for Workers’ Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/09/2017 - 10:54am in

This post first appeared at HuffPost.

Most Americans today know that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, but few know why he was there. King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers, who were on strike to protest unsafe conditions, abusive white supervisors and low wages — and to gain recognition for their union. Their picket signs relayed a simple but profound message: “I Am A Man.”

Today we view King as something of a saint, his birthday a national holiday, and his name adorning schools and street signs. But in his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media. He began his activism in Montgomery, Alabama, as a crusader against the nation’s racial caste system, but the struggle for civil rights radicalized him into a fighter for broader economic and social justice.


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As we celebrate Labor Day on Monday, let’s remember that King was committed to building bridges between the civil rights and labor movements.

Invited to address the AFL-CIO’s annual convention in 1961, King observed:

Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

He added:

The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.

Several major unions reciprocated King’s support. When he was jailed in Birmingham for participating in civil disobedience, it was Walter Reuther, the charismatic leader of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, who paid his bail.

Several major unions, especially the UAW and the International Ladies Garment Workers, had donated money to civil rights groups, supported the sit-ins and freedom rides, and helped organize the massive 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

We often forget that its official name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and that its manifesto called on Congress not only to pass a civil rights bill but also a national minimum wage act.

We often forget that its official name was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and that its manifesto called on Congress not only to pass a civil rights bill but also “a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.” The manifesto pointed out that “anything less than $2.00 an hour fails to do this.”

In 1963, the minimum wage was $1.25 — the equivalent of $9.97 in today’s dollars. A $2 minimum wage in 1963 would be $15.95 an hour today.

In the 1960s, the sit-ins (a tactic adopted from workers’ sit-down strikes in the 1930s), Freedom Rides, mass marches and voter registration drives eventually led Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was proud of the civil rights movement’s success in winning the passage of those important laws. But he realized that neither law did much to provide better jobs or housing for the large numbers of low-income African Americans in the cities and rural areas. He recognized the limits of breaking down legal segregation.

“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” King asked.

King observed: “Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice.” To achieve economic justice, King said, “there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”

“There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American whether he [or she] is a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer,” said King.

In a speech to the Illinois AFL-CIO in 1965, King said:

The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. We have not used a fraction of it for our own good or for the needs of society as a whole. If we make the war on poverty a total war; if we seek higher standards for all workers for an enriched life, we have the ability to accomplish it, and our nation has the ability to provide it. lf our two movements unite their social pioneering initiative, thirty years from now people will look back on this day and honor those who had the vision to see the full possibilities of modern society and the courage to fight for their realization. On that day, the brotherhood of man, undergirded by economic security, will be a thrilling and creative reality.

King warned about the “gulf between the haves and the have-nots” and insisted that America needed a “better distribution of wealth.”

Thus, it was not surprising that Memphis’ civil rights and union leaders invited King to their city to help draw national attention to the garbage strike.

The strike began over the mistreatment of 22 sewer workers who reported for work on January 31, 1968, and were sent home when it began raining. White employees were not sent home. When the rain stopped after an hour or so, they continued to work and were paid for the full day, while the black workers lost a day’s pay. The next day, two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning city garbage truck.

These two incidents epitomized the workers’ long-standing grievances. Wages averaged about $1.70 per hour. Forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare to supplement their poverty-level salaries. They had almost no health care benefits, pensions or vacations. They worked in filthy conditions, and lacked basic amenities like a place to eat and shower. They were required to haul leaky garbage tubs that spilled maggots and debris on them. White supervisors called them “boy” and arbitrarily sent them home without pay for minor infractions that they overlooked when white workers did the same thing. The workers asked Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and the City Council to improve their working conditions, but they refused to do so.

On February 12, 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the city recognize their union (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME) and negotiate to resolve their grievances. They also demanded a pay increase to $2.35 an hour, overtime pay and merit promotions without regard to race.

For the next several months, city officials refused to negotiate with the union. In private, Mayor Loeb reportedly told associates, “I’ll never be known as the mayor who signed a contract with a Negro union.”

The city used non-union workers and supervisors to pick up garbage downtown, from hospitals, and in residential areas. Even so, thousands of tons of garbage piled up. Community support for the strikers grew steadily. The NAACP endorsed the strike and sponsored all-night vigils and pickets at City Hall. On February 23, 1,500 people — strikers and their supporters — packed City Hall chambers, but the all-white City Council voted to back the mayor’s refusal to recognize the union.

Local ministers (led by Rev. James Lawson) formed a citywide group to support the strikers. They called on their congregants to participate in rallies and marches, donate to the strike fund and boycott downtown stores in order to get business leaders to pressure city officials to negotiate with the union. On Sunday, March 3, an eight-hour gospel singing marathon at Mason Temple raised money for strikers. The next day, the beginning of the fourth week of the strike, 500 white labor unionists from Memphis and other Tennessee cities joined black ministers and sanitation workers in their daily downtown march.

One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

On several occasions, the police attacked the strikers with clubs and mace. They harassed protestors and even arrested strike leaders for jaywalking. On March 5, 117 strikers and supporters were arrested for sitting in at city hall. Six days later, hundreds of students skipped high school to participate in a march led by black ministers. Two students were arrested.

At the rallies, ministers and union activists linked the workers’ grievances with the black community’s long-standing anger over police abuse, slum housing, segregated and inadequate schools, and the concentration of blacks in the lowest-paying, dirtiest jobs.

Despite the escalating protest, the city establishment dug in its heals, refusing to compromise and demanding that the strikers return to work or risk losing their jobs. The local daily newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, consistently opposed the strikers. “Memphis garbage strikers have turned an illegal walk out into anarchy,” it wrote in one editorial, “and Mayor Henry Loeb is exactly right when he says, ‘We can’t submit to this sort of thing!’”

Mayor Loeb and City Attorney Frank B. Gianotti persuaded a local judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the strike and picketing. The union and its allies refused to end their protests. Several union leaders — AFSCME’s international president Jerry Wurf, Local 1733 President T.O. Jones, and national staffers William Lucy and P. J. Ciampa — were cited for contempt, sentenced to 10 days in jail, fined $50 and freed pending appeal.

With tensions rising and no compromise in sight, local ministers and AFSCME invited King to Memphis to re-energize the local movement, lift the strikers’ flagging spirits and encourage them to remain nonviolent. On Monday, March 18, King spoke at a rally attended by 17,000 people and called for a citywide march. He said:

One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.

His speech triggered national media attention, and catalyzed the rest of the labor movement to expand its support for the strikers.

King returned to Memphis on Thursday, March 28, to lead a march. The police moved into crowds with night sticks, mace, tear gas and gunfire. The police arrested 280 people and 60 were injured. A 16-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot to death. The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in. The next day, 300 sanitation workers and supporters marched peacefully and silently to City Hall — escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three large military trucks and dozens of Guardsmen with bayonets fixed. President Lyndon Johnson and AFL-CIO President George Meany offered their help in resolving the dispute, but Mayor Loeb turned them down.

King came back to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 to address a rally to pressure city officials to negotiate a compromise solution to the strike. That night, at the Mason Temple — packed with over 10,000 black workers and residents, ministers, white union members, white liberals and students — King delivered what would turn out to be his last speech. He emphasized the linked fate of the civil rights and labor movements:

Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.

— Martin Luther King Jr

Memphis Negroes are almost entirely a working people. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

The next day, James Earl Ray assassinated King as he stood on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Hotel.

As Time magazine noted at the time: “Ironically, it was the violence of Martin Luther King’s death rather than the nonviolence of his methods that ultimately broke the city’s resistance” and led to the strike settlement.

President Johnson ordered federal troops to Memphis and instructed Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds to mediate the conflict and settle the strike. The following week, King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and dozens of national figures led a peaceful memorial march through downtown Memphis in tribute to King and in support of the strike. Local business leaders, tired of the boycott and the downtown demonstrations, urged Loeb to come to terms with the strikers.

On April 16, union leaders and city officials reached an agreement. The City Council passed a resolution recognizing the union. The 14-month contract included union dues check-off, a grievance procedure and wage increases of 10 cents per hour May 1 and another five cents in September. Members of AFSCME Local 1733 approved the agreement unanimously and ended their strike.

The settlement wasn’t only a victory for the sanitation workers. The strike had mobilized the African American community, which subsequently became increasingly involved in local politics and school and jobs issues, and which developed new allies in the white community.

Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there is a growing movement in the United States today protesting the nation’s widening economic inequality and persistent poverty.

Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there is a growing movement in the United States today protesting the nation’s widening economic inequality and persistent poverty.

One of the most vibrant crusades is the ongoing battle to raise the minimum wage. In the past 40 years, the federal minimum wage — stuck at $7.25 since 2009 because Republicans in Congress have refused to act — has lost 30% of its value.

As a result, low-wage workers for fast-food chains and big box retailers, janitors, security guards, day laborers and others have forged a grassroots movement to pressure their employers (like Walmart and McDonalds) to raise starting salaries and benefits. These workers and their allies have engaged in civil disobedience and strikes to galvanize public opinion.

Coalitions of unions, community organizations, faith-based and immigrant rights groups have also successfully pushed cities and states to adopt minimum wage laws that will pay families enough to meet basic needs. A growing number of cities — including Seattle, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Pasadena and many others — have passed minimum wage laws that will gradually reach between $13 and $15 an hour, typically with an annual cost-of-living increase. Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest county — adopted a law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 in unincorporated areas.

Last year California and New York adopted state laws to bring the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations and unions, is sponsoring a ballot measure next year that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $11 to $15 an hour by 2022 with a $1 increase each year starting in 2019. Twenty-nine percent of the Massachusetts workforce would see increased wages under the initiative, affecting roughly 947,000 workers.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 52% of American voters favored raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. An even larger number of Americans embrace increasing it to $12 an hour. Backed by nearly half of the Senate’s Democrats, Senators Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray have introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.

President Trump and the Republican Congress are trying to roll back worker protections against wage theft, health and safety dangers at the workplace, and threats to retirement security.

In recent years, New York, California, Massachusetts and Hawaii have adopted different versions of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights that provides new protections for nannies, babysitters, senior care aides, housekeepers and others — primarily women and many of them immigrants — who are excluded from federal labor protections.

Several states — including California, Rhode Island, Washington, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia — have adopted paid family leave laws. A growing number of cities (including Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Portland, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Washington, DC), and counties (including Missoula County in Montana, Pima County in Arizona, and Kings County in Washington), have adopted laws providing government employees, and in some places all employees, with paid family leave.

These laws require employers to pay workers’ salaries if they take time off from work to care for a new child following birth, adoption, or foster placement, to recover from a pregnancy or childbirth-related disability, and/or to take care of sick family members. This is a right that workers in most other countries already take for granted. As the number of cities and states with such laws continues to grow, Congress will be under increasing pressure to adopt similar policies at the federal level.

Of course, President Trump and the Republican Congress are trying to roll back worker protections against wage theft, health and safety dangers at the workplace, and threats to retirement security. Trump has appointed anti-union members to the National Labor Relations Board who will seek to weaken rules protecting workers.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Just as King helped build bridges between the labor and civil rights movements, today’s union activists are forging closer ties to the immigrant rights, women’s rights and environmental justice movements, as well as to struggles to reform Wall Street and to challenge the proliferation of guns and the mass incarceration of people of color.

In his final speech at Memphis’ Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, King, only 39 at the time, told the crowd about a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta that morning, saying he knew that his life was constantly in danger because of his political activism.

“I would like to live a long life,” he said. “Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

We haven’t gotten there yet. But King is still with us in spirit. The best way to honor his memory this Labor Day and every day is to continue the struggle for human dignity, workers’ rights, living wage and social justice.

The post Martin Luther King’s Fight for Workers’ Rights appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The Last Populist

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/08/2017 - 4:01am in

This post first appeared at The Nation.

On April 5, President Trump apparently saw some disturbing images on TV of Syrian children poisoned by chemical weapons, and decided on that evidence alone to completely reverse his policy toward Syria and that country’s embattled dictator, Bashar Assad. He went from scoffing at the idea of the Syrian forces gassing civilians to lobbing 59 cruise missiles at the airfield from which the chemical-weapons attack was allegedly launched. This happened in roughly 63 hours.

It was just one more day in the horrifying reality-TV presidency of Donald Trump: Tune in next week to find out which country we’ll be bombing next! But remarkably, a great number of Democrats were mostly supportive, including Hillary Clinton and most of the Senate Democratic caucus. Even Bernie Sanders mustered a relatively mild critique, carefully foregrounding the inhumanity of the chemical-weapons attack before calling on Trump to come to Congress for an authorization to use military force.

The tendency of Democrats to want to show they’re tougher than Republicans when it comes to foreign policy and the use of force has crippled the party.

The Democrats’ majority support for Trump’s cruise-missile strike is emblematic of just how at sea they are in terms of foreign policy. The party’s conservatives and moderates remain in thrall to a liberal internationalism that has, at times, not looked much different from Republican hawkishness, while its left wing — still marginalized after decades out of power — has failed to put forward a compelling alternative.

One perspective worth dusting off in this context is that of George McGovern, who is the subject of a new biography by Thomas J. Knock, The Rise of a Prairie Statesman. McGovern’s foreign-policy ideas not only offered a critique of an earlier era of hawkish liberalism; they also provide an excellent foundation for a badly needed new approach by the American left.

George McGovern has long been known as the man who got steamrollered by Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election — the fourth-worst loss by popular vote in American history. McGovern’s popular image these days is as the avatar of a bunch of deluded leftists who seized the Democratic nomination, ran a far-too-left-wing race, and paid the price. His crushing defeat became the catalyst for a whole generation of Democratic politicians who rejected both the basic elements of New Deal liberalism and the dovish foreign policy of the New Left. From the 1970s through the Obama years, the Democrats would make their peace with many elements of the conservative economic and social agenda, from the War on Drugs and “tough on crime” laws to financial deregulation. In the 1990s and 2000s, they would also come to embrace a more hawkish foreign policy, often advocating the use of force as a way of solving various geopolitical and humanitarian crises.

This rightward swing in domestic and foreign policy was often justified by McGovern’s loss; if the Democrats were to rebuild a majority, the argument went, they would have to move the party back to the center. In retrospect, this strategy may have had the opposite effect, laying the groundwork for the numerous future crises — outsourcing, deregulation, inequality, mass incarceration, the spectacular decline of unions — that chipped away at what was left of the party’s electoral base.


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Knock’s excellent, polished book is the first in a two-volume biography, and it ends in 1968, just as McGovern was hitting his peak years in politics. By doing so, it avoids framing his career in the context of that crushing 1972 defeat, thereby reminding us that in his prime, he was both a moral exemplar and a highly effective politician.

McGovern’s early life was quite extraordinary: Starting with his childhood in the Great Depression, he could almost be the saccharine hero in a Frank Capra film. The child of a South Dakota Methodist minister, McGovern witnessed firsthand how the economic calamity of the 1930s devastated neighboring farmers, and he also saw their recovery because of the policies of the New Deal. In high school and in college, he became a renowned debate champion, but his college career was interrupted once the country entered World War II.

McGovern’s wartime service was astoundingly heroic. “Among presidential candidates in the 20th century, none save Eisenhower could boast of a more impressive combat record,” writes Knock, and his case is compelling. McGovern was one of the finest pilots of the B-24 bomber — a physically and technically demanding airplane to fly — and he saved the lives of his crew several times with brilliant feats of flying. On one notable occasion, he landed his plane on a dangerously short island airstrip in the Adriatic after it had lost two engines, for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

This wartime experience also left scars. On one mission, a bomb got stuck in the bomb bay’s doors, and just as the crew finally managed to free it, the plane flew over a remote farmhouse. It “looked like it went down the chimney,” one of the crew members recalled; the explosion obliterated the building. The incident haunted McGovern for years: It was almost noontime, and he knew from his own childhood that the family would likely have been at home for lunch. The incident helped sharpen his future skepticism about military interventions, particularly those that depended on attacks from the air.

After the war, McGovern returned to South Dakota and finished his degree at Dakota Wesleyan University. He tried his hand briefly at being a minister like his father, but he quit not long after and decided to attend graduate school at Northwestern University, where he earned a Ph.D. in history. His thesis was a landmark study of the Ludlow Massacre, a gruesome slaughter of striking mineworkers and their families in Colorado. After graduation, he considered a career as a professional academic.


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However, politics had always held a magnetic attraction for McGovern. In 1948, he backed Henry Wallace’s third-party bid for the presidency. For the whole of the New Deal era, Wallace had been one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s most loyal and idealistic deputies, serving as secretary of agriculture from 1933–40 and as vice president from 1941–44. But he clashed with the party’s conservative wing, especially over his advocacy for a restrained diplomatic approach toward the Soviet Union, and he was replaced on the Democratic ticket by Harry Truman in the 1944 campaign, serving as commerce secretary until Truman sacked him in 1946.

Alarmed by the growing bellicosity of postwar America, Wallace mounted a somewhat erratic third-party run under the Progressive Party banner and argued again for a less hard-line approach to the Soviet Union — a big part of what attracted McGovern to his campaign. For their trouble, Wallace and his followers were viciously red-baited by Republicans, Democrats, and the national press. He ended up with a mere 2.4 percent of the popular vote and zero votes in the Electoral College.

McGovern concluded from this that third-party campaigns were futile. But he never abandoned his belief in the basic correctness of Wallace’s domestic- and foreign-policy ideas, and he suspected — correctly, it turned out — that Truman’s red-baiting would come back to haunt the party.

By 1955, soon after McGovern had finished his doctorate, the seat in the House of Representatives held by Republican Harold Lovre beckoned. Running as a Democrat in South Dakota — a rural, agricultural state that leaned heavily Republican — was a steep uphill climb. Then as now, however, conservative policy proved to be none too beneficial to the state’s voters, especially its farmers. Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, was a reactionary who considered Wallace’s New Deal farm programs — which had saved American agriculture during the Depression years — creeping communism. The policies of Benson’s Department of Agriculture led to huge price-crushing surpluses that reduced farm income and drove thousands of small family farms into bankruptcy. (Though to be fair, the surpluses weren’t entirely Benson’s fault: Increasing agricultural productivity had been the bane of American farmers for generations and had reached a new crescendo in the early postwar years.) This was an opening for McGovern, who tied the hated Benson around the neck of his opponent. In addition to his deep roots in the state, McGovern offered an intelligent articulation of how a populist government policy could help farmers: He favored a Wallace-style mix of production restrictions and subsidies that would help bring farm income up to “parity” with the rising incomes of industrial workers.

As he gained ground on Lovre, the state Republican machine, coordinated by South Dakota Sen. Karl Mundt, mercilessly red-baited McGovern for supporting the diplomatic recognition of communist China and for having participated in Wallace’s 1948 campaign. But McGovern refused to back down, skillfully weaving his advocacy of peaceful diplomacy with the problem of agricultural surpluses at home, thereby offering South Dakotans a radical, populist policy line that ran from postwar foreign policy to domestic economics. He argued that South Dakota’s grain could be used overseas to feed the hungry, both on moral grounds and as a soft-power counter to the Soviet Union. The United States, he insisted, could “wisely use a small fraction of that amount to fight the hunger which breeds communism.” He also leaned on his war record and his personal contact with voters and made the red-baiting look dishonorable and cheap.


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In the end, McGovern won by a good margin. It was the first time a South Dakota Democrat had been elected to Congress since 1936, and McGovern had had to rebuild the state party from the ground up, virtually on his own, to do it.

After four years in Congress, McGovern next decided to challenge Mundt for his Senate seat. He put up a decent showing but still lost, likely in large part due to the anti-Catholic sentiment stirred up by John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. After the 1960 election, however, President Kennedy offered McGovern a position in the administration running a reconfigured and expanded “Food for Peace” program that would put his idea about using surpluses to help poor nations and fight communism into action. The program quickly ran into a problem: Some countries, like Argentina, didn’t necessarily want cheap American food, lest they undermine their own farmers. But others, like South Korea, did make good use of the program.

McGovern always knew that the Food for Peace program couldn’t fully escape Cold War politics, but he still did his utmost to stress its humanitarian mission. In practically no time, he got the program off the ground, and it helped to jump-start the economy of India in particular. “By mid-1962, some 35 million children worldwide were receiving daily Food for Peace lunches,” Knock writes. “McGovern had superintended the single greatest humanitarian achievement of the Kennedy–Johnson era.”

In 1962, McGovern attempted another Senate run — this time for South Dakota’s other Senate seat — and won. His “perception about the indivisibility of politics and foreign policy was to become his central mode of political analysis,” Knock observes — and just in time for Vietnam. McGovern decided that the budding US military intervention was a tragic waste of lives, resources and money, and on Sept. 24, 1963 — two months before Kennedy’s assassination — he called for the withdrawal of all US troops, warning that “the trap we have fallen into there will haunt us in every corner of this revolutionary world.”

After the assassination of Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson steadily escalated the conflict. Though McGovern did vote for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution — we learn from Knock that he was talked into it by Sen. J. William Fulbright — he quickly distinguished himself as one of the Senate’s most eloquent and respected critics of the war. He readily and correctly discerned the basic shape of the conflict: that it was fundamentally a civil war, not a conspiracy by Chinese communists; that the brutal police-state regime in South Vietnam had virtually no popular support; that propping it up was morally hideous and profoundly damaging to America’s reputation; and that US troops would be perceived as little different from the French colonialist forces. American soldiers would thus get stuck in an unwinnable guerrilla war, just as the French had. The domino theory — the notion that a communist victory in Vietnam would lead to the communist takeover of Southeast Asia — was, he argued, ignorant and paranoid. Military intervention would do little to deter the communists from taking power in Vietnam; it might even embolden and empower them. Knock dryly notes that when McGovern attempted to make this case to Johnson, the president interrupted: “Goddamn it, George, don’t give me another history lesson!”

What made McGovern’s antiwar politics so compelling — and why, one suspects, they infuriated Johnson — was that McGovern not only had a critique; he also had a practical alternative. The United States should recognize the limits of military force, negotiate a withdrawal from Vietnam, and use humanitarian programs (especially agricultural ones) to shore up Western democratic capitalism against communist influence. Such a strategy had arguably worked in the past, when McGovern was running the Food for Peace program, and it would greatly strengthen the rhetorical claims of American freedom versus Soviet tyranny.

A visit to Vietnam in 1965 — his first — confirmed all of McGovern’s suspicions. He met several dignitaries and military commanders there, including a cordial but ineffectual session with Gen. William Westmoreland. He made a heart-wrenching visit to a military hospital, where he saw dozens of mutilated American soldiers, and a horrified visit to a severely underequipped Vietnamese hospital, where the injured villagers — many of them wounded by American munitions — were packed together in unsanitary conditions.

Hillary Clinton would likely have been elected president in 2008 had she not voted for the Iraq War.

McGovern took the mounting atrocities personally, and as the war progressed, he tried with increasing anger and desperation to stop the war. The later sections of Knock’s book are undeniably poignant, a moving account of how one of America’s ablest politicians attempted to pull the country out of a gruesome, pointless, self-inflicted catastrophe, and how little difference it made in the end.

The remarkable thing about McGovern’s antiwar arguments is that they were all really quite obvious. Historical hindsight is one thing, but the sheer number of things missed by the elite Harvard liberals who ran the Kennedy and Johnson administrations is simply staggering. For example, Knock cites historical work arguing that “neither Kennedy’s nor Diem’s people ever understood the central issue behind the revolt,” namely agricultural policy. The Vietminh earned widespread support among the peasantry by ousting brutal landlords and slashing rents; the Diem regime attempted to reinstate them. But “Kennedy’s advisers could not grasp why peasants might side with communists,” and instead of land reform, they herded millions of peasants into “strategic hamlets,” merely deepening the resentment.

Having spent decades concerned with American agriculture, McGovern instinctively understood this — and he kept returning to the point in order to persuade Johnson to change his policies. (Johnson did the opposite, cannibalizing half of the Food for Peace program’s funding to prop up the South Vietnamese war effort.)

One of the key reasons that Kennedy’s and Johnson’s advisers — and, for that matter, many of the intellectuals sympathetic to Cold War liberalism — failed to grasp this was their profoundly entrenched anti-communism. By capitulating to conservative fearmongering — or, indeed, embracing it, as Truman and other prominent Democrats did — liberal hawks rendered themselves incapable of understanding much of the world. Johnson was paralyzed with fear that he’d be remembered as the president who “lost” another Asian country to the communists (China being the first). As a result, he became the president who is remembered for starting a major unnecessary conflict, which resulted in over a million South Asians and over 58,000 Americans being killed.

Many Americans would come to agree with McGovern’s analysis of the war and of Democratic foreign policy more generally. In 1972, he won the Democratic primaries (albeit at the cost of deep divisions in the party, mainly over Vietnam) and was crushed by Nixon. Badly stung by the epic defeat, he went back to the Senate, serving the remainder of his term and getting reelected once more in 1974, until he lost during the Reagan revolution in 1980. McGovern spent most of his remaining years teaching, touring the lecture circuit, and dabbling in business and various side projects. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, again to boost up the party’s left flank, and received a respectful hearing. In 1998, President Clinton appointed him as ambassador to the United Nations’ agricultural program, and he worked with Bob Dole on a Food for Peace-style program to feed the hungry around the world — much smaller than the original, but still a quiet success.


RELATED: Democracy & Government


An attendee reacts while sitting on the floor during an election night party for 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Javits Center in New York, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Why We Need a New Democratic Party

BY Robert Reich | November 10, 2016

Despite his bruising defeat in 1972, McGovern’s vision of an integrated domestic and foreign policy offered the Democrats a useful perspective about how to serve the country’s interests, both at home and abroad. Even when red-baited, McGovern refused to give up his advocacy of diplomacy, nor the use of humanitarian aid to advance the interests of the United States — and in the case of Vietnam, that courage turned out to be politically astute. President Johnson would have been far better served by suing for peace the moment he took office — indeed, if he had, he almost certainly would have won re-election and would be remembered today on a par with FDR. Instead, the war devoured his presidency and besmirched his legacy. Similarly, Hillary Clinton would likely have been elected president in 2008 had she not voted for the Iraq War; but instead of assimilating the lessons of her surprising loss to Barack Obama, she has continued to support hawkish policies and interventions in Libya, Yemen, and Syria — even when, several months ago, it was President Trump firing the missiles.

The tendency of Democrats to want to show they’re tougher than Republicans when it comes to foreign policy and the use of force has been crippling the party ever since McGovern’s dissent against the Vietnam War back in the mid-to-late 1960s. Even in the wake of the Cold War, liberal internationalism has almost always involved various forms of military intervention, as opposed to the diplomatic and humanitarian policies that McGovern advanced as an alternative. After 9/11, this hawkishness merely mutated into a militarism that was directed toward defeating Islamist terrorism in the Middle East.

But there is a critical difference between the current moment and the Cold War. McGovern ultimately failed to convince his party because, in the Cold War era, a hawkish liberalism was at least intuitively plausible. The Soviet Union really was a credible threat: a repressive and powerful police state with thousands of nuclear weapons and spies all across the globe. Today, by contrast, neither the Assad regime nor Islamist terrorism is even in the same time zone as the Soviet Union was in terms of power, and the interventionism of Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and Anne-Marie Slaughter, among others, becomes more obviously a fig leaf for the desire to expand American dominance over the rest of the world.

As demonstrated by the Sanders campaign, the left wing of the Democratic Party and the left more generally have struggled to create an alternative. Clinton’s biggest weakness was foreign policy, but Sanders barely pressed her on it. This was due, in part, to a left that is much better at opposing disastrous wars of aggression than at formulating an alternative perspective that can win over ideologically sympathetic politicians.

Some leftists simply end up concluding that the United States is fundamentally and unchangeably imperialist. Given the seemingly endless wars over the past 15 years, one can understand why they might reach that conclusion. But the terrible harm done to American interests by the Iraq War — which has cost trillions of dollars, killed nearly 4,500 American soldiers, and maimed tens of thousands more, for no strategic benefit whatsoever — demonstrates that the war was stupid as well as evil. And in any case, American politicians can’t be expected to govern the nation on an “America is bad” basis. If the left can’t propose an argument that is critical of excessive military force but also serves the national interest, it ends up ceding political ground to the interventionists.

In this context, McGovern’s vision of a humane internationalism that serves American interests is of particular value. In these troubled times, the world hardly needs more American guns and bombs; but what the left still lacks is a persuasive alternative vision of internationalism that can counter the hawkishness of both Beltway parties. If we are to exercise leadership in the world, let it be by setting an example and relieving humanitarian crises where we can — taking in refugees, treating the sick, feeding the starving. And while the specifically agricultural mechanism of McGovern’s humanitarian vision isn’t quite as plausible as it was in 1962, the fact is that, right now, there are famine or near-famine conditions prevailing in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, even as gigantic agricultural surpluses pile up in the United States for lack of a buyer. That might not be the most efficient way to relieve hunger, and it’s certainly not the only way to frame an internationalist politics that can also be justified by the way it serves our national interests. But it certainly merits a look — and, just as important, it offers the left, both within and outside of the Democratic Party, a basic template for a different kind of foreign-policy program that it can pursue. If nothing else, such policies will at least do a thousand times better in promoting our interests than burning through trillions of dollars to create yet another sucking chest wound in the Middle East’s political order.

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Bill Discusses Charlottesville and Our Trump-Russia Timeline on MSNBC

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/08/2017 - 4:35am in

Bill Moyers appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night to discuss two topics that have dominated the news in recent weeks: The violent clash between white supremacists and anti-racist activists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.

In talking about Charlottesville, Bill reflected on his own time in the White House serving a Southern president who, despite our country’s toxic racial politics, pushed through key pieces of legislation to improve the lives of African-Americans and immigrants, including the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Act of 1965. Racism has once again taken a central role in our politics, Bill said. “During the campaign last year, I kept thinking that Donald Trump has given a big bullhorn to some of the most malevolent furies in American life. I’ve now decided he is the malevolent fury.”

Bill continued, “This man does not seem to me to have what we would normally think of as a soul. He has an open sore. He is constantly at war with everyone. Everything antagonizes him, and he degrades everything around him. He is the malevolent fury that is attempting to provide a return to many of the practices and behaviors that we have spent 250 years overcoming.”

In a second segment, host Lawrence O’Donnell brought in lawyer Steven Harper, the author of our Trump-Russia timeline, to describe the process of putting together the 450-plus-entry chronicle of Trump’s relationship with Russia. “I can just thank you right off the top,” O’Donnell told Harper. “It is the greatest tool that we journalists have to work with every day as we stare at this story.”

Watch that segment below and then read our Trump-Russia timeline.

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Trump Wants to Make America Great Again: But Great Like When?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/08/2017 - 7:02am in

Emblazoned on his red baseball caps and bumper stickers, Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — Make America Great Again — captured something in the American zeitgeist. The phrase is still a popular hashtag, #MAGA, on Twitter, and appears in the graphic of every email the Trump campaign continues to send out to supporters.


1980 campaign poster.

Trump claims he came up with the phrase himself in 2012 and even trademarked it, but Ronald Reagan used a similar slogan in his 1980 presidential campaign: “Let’s Make America Great Again.” At the time, the United States was suffering an economic slowdown and Reagan invoked the slogan to stir up patriotic feelings among voters who remembered the post-World War II era as one of dynamic economic growth and peace and stability at home.

Even though he was an early Reagan supporter, Trump says he didn’t realize that Reagan had used the catchphrase first. During the campaign, when asked when he thought America was great, Trump told The New York Times that America was great at the turn of the 20th century and again in the post-World War II years.

We wondered how much his legislation, regulatory rollbacks and policies matched up with these periods in history, and what it was about those periods that Trump found so great, so we reached out to three historians to get their take.

 
Dismantling LBJ’s Great Society

Christina Greer is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream. She takes a look at Trump’s plans to take apart Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society focusing on three key pieces of legislation that Trump is targeting today.

 
The End of a Political Era: Movement Conservatism Gets Real

Heather Cox Richardson teaches 19th-century history at Boston College. Her history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free, examines the fundamental tensions in American politics from the time of the Northwest Ordinance to the present. She writes about how Donald Trump in the White House means the end of a political era. Movement conservatives have been talking about reversing the reforms of the New Deal since the late 1930s, but they’re finding out that while voters liked the talk, they’re not actually willing to walk the walk, and lose the public safety net that President Roosevelt put in place.

 
Get Ready for the New Gilded Age

Lastly, Bernie Weisberger is a historian and author of Many People, One Nation, a history of immigration to the United States. Weisberger writes about some of the reforms of the Progressive Era, and suggests that you’d have to go back to the Gilded Age to realize Trump’s American dream.

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Bill Moyers on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ Talking About Medicare, Passed 52 Years Ago This Week

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/08/2017 - 11:21pm in

Bill Moyers with President Lyndon Johnson.

Earlier this week, Bill Moyers penned an essay recalling the long legislative road that faced Medicare in the intervening years between President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. At the time of the bill’s passage, in 1965, Bill worked in Johnson’s White House as a special assistant to the president, and was witness to Johnson as he “coaxed, cajoled, badgered, buttonholed and maneuvered Congress into enacting Medicare for the aging and Medicaid to help low-income people.”

He tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross:

Lyndon Johnson was a genius in knowing everyone’s price… What all of this shows is that it takes a president who is informed, and engaged and active in the legislative process respecting the differences between the branches. But it takes someone who knows what is going on, cares about the details of the bill and is willing to sit one-on-one —

I can see right now Lyndon Johnson having individual and collective members of Congress to have coffee in the morning, lunch at noon, a drink at 6 o’clock, even dinner sometimes. And then I can see him meeting with the head of the Chamber of Commerce, the head of the AFL-CIO, very important for the passage of Medicare, they brought their 14 million members to back it. That’s how he worked it.

Listen to the entire interview, which aired on Fresh Air on Aug. 3, 2017.

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LBJ Launches Medicare: ‘You Can’t Treat Grandma This Way’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 31/07/2017 - 12:53am in

Watching the craziness in the Senate this week, as Mitch McConnell and the GOP’s zealots drove their clown car into a brick wall and yet another effort to take away health care coverage from millions crashed and burned, I thought back to a different turn of events.

It was 52 years ago this Sunday — July 30, 1965. Two American presidents celebrated the birth of Medicare, the most significant advance toward national health insurance in America’s history.   

I was a White House assistant at the time, working for President Lyndon B. Johnson as he coaxed, cajoled, badgered, buttonholed and maneuvered Congress into enacting Medicare for the aging and Medicaid to help low-income people. For all the public displays over the years of his outsized personae and powers of persuasion, this time he had kept a low profile, working behind the scenes as his legislative team and career health care experts practically lived on Capitol Hill, negotiating with members of Congress and their staffs.

From the White House, LBJ worked the phones; invited senators and representatives singly and collectively in for coffee, drinks or dinner; listened attentively in private to opponents and proponents from interests as varied as business, labor, medicine and religion; and kept in his head a running tally of the fluctuating vote count.
 
As it had been for decades, it was a tough fight down to the wire. A look back is instructive, not only to show how long it can take to move a legislative dream to reality but also to illustrate how a president with a grasp of history and knowledge of how government works is crucial to making success possible.

In 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt first tried and failed to get health insurance included as part of Social Security, I was 1 year old and my family was broke. The Great Depression had ended my father’s tenant farming. He took a job for a dollar a day as a laborer on the construction of a highway in southeast Oklahoma.

Earlier, my mother had lost twin girls — one at birth, the other some months later — because the nearest doctor was too far away to arrive in time to help. My parents moved into town. To pay the doctor who delivered me, my father lugged large stones by hand to the site the physician had bought to build his first office. It’s still there.

At about this time in Washington, Republicans, conservative Democrats and the American Medical Association (AMA) were winning their fight to sink President Roosevelt’s proposal for health insurance. Congress was intimidated, and in August 1935 FDR gave up, signing the Social Security Act without health coverage.   

Eight years later, in the midst of World War II, he once again called for social insurance “that will extend from the cradle to the grave.” And again, his proposal went nowhere.

On FDR’s death, Harry Truman became president. In his 1948 Message to Congress on the State of the Union, he said:  

This great nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care. Our ultimate aim must be a comprehensive insurance system to protect all our people equally against insecurity and ill health.

 

Congress still refused to budge. Running for election in his own right that year, and way behind in the polls, Truman won an upset victory after demanding that health care insurance and civil rights be included in the Democratic Party platform. That same year, congressman Lyndon Johnson of Texas, whose home district was Democratic and liberal in a state turning increasingly Republican and conservative, was running for election to the US Senate. He opposed Truman’s health care plan as socialistic and was elected.  

In 1952, Republicans won control of Congress for the first time since 1932 and hardened their stand against a national health care program. War hero Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency for the Republicans. He, too, opposed the plan that had been shelved by Congress before Truman left office.

Ike only was willing to support subsidizing private insurers to cover certain low-income groups and no more. With the continuing opposition of the nation’s doctors — amplified through their political lobby, the AMA, as well as the US Chamber of Commerce — the notion of Medicare appeared finished once and for all.    

Yet when he yielded the presidency to Eisenhower, Truman lamented his failure but was prophetic when he said: “[It] has only delayed and cannot stop the adoption of an indispensable health insurance plan.”

He was right. The battle heated up. In 1957, the AFL-CIO brought its 14 million members to the fight. The American Hospital Association, which bore the brunt of the problems older people encountered as they aged, signed on, too.

Public opinion was swinging in favor of national health insurance. When John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were nominated as the Democratic ticket in 1960, they made health care for Social Security retirees a major plank in the platform and endorsed a bill in the Senate that in time would become Medicare.

Though he was Kennedy’s running mate, Johnson was still the powerful Senate majority leader, that body’s top Democrat, and responsible for steering its legislative agenda. After a long day on the campaign road, or in the Senate, we would get to his home late and he would stay up until after midnight, making phone calls to one or another member of Congress urging passage of the Medicare bill.

Despite his efforts, it failed by four votes. LBJ had studied the polls and knew public opinion was building for national health insurance; he feared this defeat might cost Democrats the election. It didn’t, although the margin of victory was incredibly slim. As soon as they were inaugurated, now President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson championed yet another effort known as the Medical Care for the Aged bill. Still adamantly opposed by the Republicans and the AMA, it also failed — this time by two votes.

In early 1963, the bill was reintroduced in Congress, only to fail again. Some observers again pronounced it once and forever toast. But in November of that year, an assassin killed John Kennedy, tragically catapulting Lyndon Johnson into the White House. Just days later, in a dramatic speech to Congress and the nation, he slowly and deliberately drawled: “Let us continue!” With that challenge, LBJ set out to enact Kennedy’s legislative agenda — with a good chance, he thought, of passing the Medicare bill.

As before, the opposition fought back with everything they had, which now included the AMA’s new pitchman, Ronald Reagan. Not yet a candidate for public office, the actor was hired to warn the country against letting government get between doctors and their patients. He made a popular recording played at thousands of small meetings around the country in which attendees heard his pitch warning of “socialized medicine” and predicting “behind [Medicare] will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.” Just think if he’d had Twitter.

Our strategy that year came to naught, producing in the early fall a stalemate. The Senate actually did pass a national health care bill for the elderly (despite the opposition of the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who interrupted his campaign and returned to Washington to vote no). But the powerful and conservative Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, would not agree to a medical care provision of any kind. A conference meeting to work out differences between the House and Senate ended in deadlock.

Johnson gritted his teeth and returned to the campaign, winning a four-year term in his own right.

Elections matter — surely no one doubts that fact anymore — and the ’64 election mattered dramatically. Not only did it deliver LBJ a landslide victory, but it brought Democrats their biggest majorities in the House and Senate since FDR. “If we can’t get Medicare through now,” the president told me after the election, “we don’t deserve what we just won.”

So as soon as he and Vice President Hubert Humphrey were inaugurated in January 1965, we started over. You can get a glimpse of the intensity of LBJ’s drive from a conversation I had with him around that time. With others, I had urged that the new bill include a provision for a retroactive increase in Social Security payments as an economic stimulus. He called me to say okay, but wanted me to understand it wasn’t because of the economy:

…My inclination would be … that it ought to retroactive as far back as you can get… because none [of the elderly] ever get enough. They are entitled to it. That’s an obligation of ours. It’s just like your mother writing you and saying she wants $20, and I’d always sent mine a $100 when she did. I never did it because I thought it was going to be good for the economy of Austin. I always did it because I thought she was entitled to it. And I think that’s a much better reason and a much better cause and I think it can be defended on a hell of a better basis…. We do know that it affects the economy… it helps us in that respect. But that’s not the basis to go to the Hill, or the justification. We’ve just got to say that, by God, you can’t treat grandma this way. She’s entitled and we promised it to her.

 

He understood the legislative process like no one I ever met. “Nothing given, nothing gotten — that’s the rule!” he told us in an Oval Office meeting on how to break yet another Capitol Hill deadlock. He sent his senior legislative aide to play sweet with a still-recalcitrant Wilbur Mills and warned, “I’ll tell you this, Wilbur Mills will take your pants off unless you’ve got something that he’s got to trade for.” When Mills still wouldn’t budge, the president let loose a string of invectives that would have made even Anthony Scaramucci blush. The next day he was courting Mills again, as if nothing had happened.

As the cherry blossoms bloomed that spring of ‘65, the president thought Congress was moving too slowly. The civil rights movement was under siege in the South, violence was continuing against blacks and we were working around the clock to pass legislation  to end discrimination. Even so, he wouldn’t let us slow down on Medicare — or other pending priorities. When he thought we were lagging, he took us to the woodshed, as you can see in a telephone conversation with Vice President Humphrey and me:

They [the House and Senate] are bogged down. The House had nothing this week — all goddamn week. You and Moyers and Larry O’Brien [his chief congressional expert] have got to get something for them. And the Senate had nothing… So we just wasted three weeks… Now we are here in the first week in March [1965], and we have just got to get these things passed… You’ve got to look each week and say, what is the Senate doing in committee this week and when will they be through, what is the House doing… You’ve got to be running into these guys [members of Congress] in the halls, and going over and having a drink with them in the evenings… I’ll put every Cabinet officer behind you, I’ll put every banker behind you, I’ll put every organization that I can deliver behind you… I’ll put the labor unions behind you.

A few days later, breakthrough. LBJ’s now-gentler courting of Wilbur Mills paid off, and the House Ways and Means chairman pieced together a bill from several options championed by different interests. He got it past the committee’s conservative coalition with a straight party vote, 17-8.   

Remembering our defeat the previous fall, our team fretted over how to make the final sale to the full House and Senate. The president had some more advice for us. As he told Larry O’Brien, the White House chief legislative honcho: Give bragging rights to anyone who voted on the final version of both Medicare — and the big education bill also in the pipeline:     

[Tell them] that every guy that votes for Medicare and education, his grandchildren will say my grandpa was in the Congress that enacted these two… So it makes ‘em proud. And they can go back home and say I was one of the 54 [who voted yes], or my daddy was one of the 54… so all his children and grandchildren are bragging about being one of the 54.

 

Medicare passed the House by a vote of 313-115. But in the Senate, liberal Democrats added $800 million to its cost, outraging conservatives (and vexing LBJ, who knew such overreach would give opponents more fuel to attack).  

Back the bill went to a conference committee between the House and Senate. Then to the House floor again, where it survived more than 500 amendments before passing on July 27 by majority vote, 307-116. One day later the Senate passed it, 70-24. All that was needed now was the president’s signature and Medicare and Medicaid would become the nation’s first public health insurance programs.  

And that’s how it came to pass that 52 years ago, on the morning of July 30, 1965. President Johnson loaded up two planeloads of dignitaries and headed toward Independence, Missouri, hometown of former President Harry Truman. He intended to sign the bill at the side of the man whose original proposal LBJ had dismissed as socialism. Now he revered Truman as “the real daddy of Medicare.” Here’s the actual moment Medicare became the law of the land:

President Lyndon Johnson flips through the pages of the Medicare bill for former President Harry Truman in Independence, Missouri on July 30, 1965. Johnson flew to Independence to sign the bill in front of Truman, the man who originally proposed the legislation almost two decades before. Behind Johnson and Truman are Mrs. Johnson (left), Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Mrs. Truman. (Photo by Bettmann Collection via Getty Images)

President Lyndon Johnson flips through the pages of the Medicare bill for former President Harry Truman in Independence, Missouri on July 30, 1965. Behind Johnson and Truman are Mrs. Johnson (left), Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Mrs. Truman. (Photo by Bettmann Collection via Getty Images)

 

After signing the bill, Lyndon Johnson turned to Harry Truman and signed him up as Medicare’s first beneficiary. It was high drama, touched with history, politics, sentimentality, showmanship and compromise.

The legislation was far from perfect. LBJ once told me never to watch hogs slaughtered before breakfast and never ever show young children how legislation gets enacted.

Too much secrecy surrounded the bill’s passage. Even as the president signed it into law, we weren’t sure of all that was in there. As some principled conservatives warned, there were too few cost controls. The experts feared copays and deductibles would become a burden.  

“Those can be fixed,” LBJ said, “once it sinks in that Medicare is here to stay.”

Meanwhile, as historian Robert Dallek has written, although Medicare and Medicaid did not solve the problem of care at reasonable cost for all Americans, “the benefits to the elderly and the indigent… are indisputable.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake was one of imagination — our failure to anticipate the advent of new and expensive technology to treat the sick or the demand on the system that would rise from a burgeoning population. That spring President Johnson had warned, “We will face a new challenge and that will be what to do within our economy to adjust ourselves to a life span and a work span for the average man or woman of 100 years.”

That, and the cost, we reckon with today.

Now that the eight-year effort of conservatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act (itself a flawed but significant extension of the effort to help more people get decent coverage) is stalled, the next steps are crucial. Going back to the status quo — a system driven by the profit motive and rationed health care based on income — is unthinkable. At the website Common Dreams, Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, writes:

“Clearly, the system is broken. Like a cracked pipe, money gushes into our health care system but steadily leaks out. Money is siphoned into the advertising budgets of insurance companies and the army of corporate bureaucrats working to deny claims. Even more dollars are soaked up by the pockets of insurance CEOs who have collectively earned $9.8 billion since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. Nearly a third of our health care dollars go to something other than health care.”

Yes, our health system is broken, but broken systems can be fixed — not easily, but they can be fixed.  

Watching recent events, I thought of the long and arduous process I’ve just related, the many steps that brought Medicare into being, and how I was afforded a modest role in the supporting cast.

I came away from the experience with three lessons. First, whether health care is a right may be debatable, but it assuredly fulfills a basic human need — and without it, human beings without means will live and die suffering unduly.

Second, building that more perfect union which the founders of this republic defined as the mission of government has always been slow, hard, acrimonious, frustrating, tiring and elusive, because we as individuals are ourselves imperfect and because there are always among us those predators who regard democracy as an obstacle to their avarice.

Against such realities, the only way for democracy to succeed is for enough people to take up the cause where and when they can, as so many did for Medicare and are doing now for our eroding social covenant. That’s the third lesson I learned: It is harder to build something than to burn it down, but build we must.

 
Note: I am greatly indebted to Larry DeWitt, the historian of the US Social Security Administration, whose outstanding research and organizing talents have helped so many of us recollect with greater accuracy and context such experiences as I have recounted here. The author of numerous articles and essays — including “The Medicare Program as a Capstone to the Great Society — Recent Revelations in the LBJ White House Tapes,” on which  I have often relied — Mr. DeWitt also created http://www.socialsecurity.gov/history, one of the largest history-related web sites in the federal government. It’s a national treasure.  Check it out.

— Bill Moyers

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Donald Trump’s War on the 1960s

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/07/2017 - 7:11am in

Donald Trump and his supporters may be waging battles against the press, immigrants, voting rights, the environment, science, social welfare programs, Planned Parenthood and what they label political correctness and the deep state.

But to them these are mere skirmishes in a much larger conflict. The president has essentially declared an all-out war on the American 1960s.

What he and his followers hope to do is not necessarily turn back the clock to the 1950s, but rather restore a social order, value system and “real America” that they believe was hijacked by the liberal culture, politics, thought leaders and policy priorities that emerged from the ’60s.

America was much more of a community before the agitators caused all the problems, wasn’t it?

An October 2016 PRRI survey found close to three-fourths of Trump voters and white evangelical Christians bemoaning an American society and way of life that to them has changed for the worse since the 1950s. Donald Trump has become their cultural and political reset button.

To be sure, no immigration policy or insistence on saying Merry Christmas will reinstate the 1950s in America. A nation that was 87 percent non-Hispanic white in 1950 will be 47 percent in 2050. Seven in 10 Americans claimed church membership during the ’50s, but now just 20 percent of millennials say churchgoing is important and almost 40 percent say they have no religious affiliation at all.

But while the president and his supporters can’t reverse demography, they are trying through rhetoric, symbolism, policy and politics to resurrect an iconic post-World War II Norman Rockwell version of what it means to be authentically American.

To them, the ’60s undermined what was good and virtuous in America. In their sepia-toned view of our history, it was a triumphant military, a white working class and a Father Knows Best conception of nuclear families, moral values and suburban bliss that made America great.

In this America we saluted the flag, revered the police, attended church, trusted authority, respected tradition and venerated sturdy, stoic, upstanding lunch pail heroes who earned their American dream without griping or government assistance.

It’s not that religious and ethnic minorities are absent from this history — they gave America character, after all and we all need to show our melting pot tolerance. But how nice it was that they knew their place, didn’t get too uppity and honored the primacy of Christians and whites who, the story goes, steadied and built the United States.

America was much more of a community before the agitators caused all the problems, wasn’t it?

Then came the 1960s. And it was then that the so-called agitators pointed out that those charming Levittown havens — just like the Trump apartment complexes — had no welcome mat for blacks and those good middle-class occupations excluded women.

It was a generation that questioned God, fled the church, disparaged conformity, upended gender roles, asserted black power and criticized the military for Vietnam and the police for brutalizing civil rights workers, killing African-Americans and bullying antiwar protesters.

It also was a singular moment in our history that codified into law personal privacy rights and a woman’s right to control her own fate. It would begin our long cultural march to rethink masculinity and lift the taboo from same sex relations. It also launched an environmental movement that said yes to the Earth and no to the smokestack.

We passed civil rights and immigration laws that changed the complexion of mainstream America and who showed up to vote. White men would no longer control America’s storyline.

In the ’60s our moral compass pivoted from judgmental scrutiny of our private lives to an examination of our collective and individual capacity for prejudice, bigotry and discrimination. Minorities, previously considered America’s outliers, became central to our historical narrative. We passed civil rights and immigration laws that changed the complexion of mainstream America and who showed up to vote. White men would no longer control America’s storyline.

For many, the ’60s redefined patriotism away from flag waving and military might to the pursuit of equality and justice for all. It was an era that celebrated an unbowed press for rooting out corruption, uncovering secrets and pointing out where our democracy had fallen short.

Whereas the 1950s sanctified unfettered capitalism as a rebuke to communism and symbol of freedom, in the 1960s many began to eye it with a new skepticism as corporations pumped pollution into rivers and produced cars unsafe at any speed. The economic and cultural fulcrum also began its shift from the factory floor to the college campus and with it came the realization that brains and not brawn would define our future and build a stronger America.

The ’60s also challenged a shibboleth of the ’50s: that if you worked hard you could succeed, but if you didn’t succeed it was because you didn’t work hard. Liberals led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson argued that even the hardest of work didn’t free millions from the chains of history, and so they turned to government to level the playing field and cushion the hard blows of misfortune.

To many white men who saw their own sweat and labor yield suburban happiness and middle-class fruits — and seemingly unconcerned that the same opportunities weren’t available to all — government elites were creating a protected class at their expense.

Ta-Nahisi Coates headshot

Facing the Truth: The Case for Reparations

May 21, 2014

The ’60s bent the river of American history and now Donald Trump and his own “silent majority” are doing everything in their power to bend it back.

On immigration, race, voting rights, women’s rights, religion, cultural issues, public schools, higher education, social programs, business, labor, coal, the environment, the news media, the white working class, the military and the police, virtually all of his policies, pronouncements and tweets are aimed at restoring what Steve Bannon has called the “very kind of 1950s values” that made America great.

Perhaps that is what President Trump meant in his July 2017 speech in Warsaw, Poland, when he dedicated his presidency “to counter forces … that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

It’s often said that Trump is fixated on undoing everything President Obama accomplished. But in truth it’s not the Obama legacy he’s undoing. It’s the 1960s.

The post Donald Trump’s War on the 1960s appeared first on BillMoyers.com.