By Richard Colman
Defund the police. Start a Green (environmentally-based) New Deal. Determine school admissions and job placement by ethnic background, not merit. Spend public money on special social programs like universal child care and universal pre-school. Bring about a socialist economy.
All of these policies, worthy as they might seem, threaten to harm or destroy the traditional Democratic Party.
(To be fair, there are right-wing extremists in the Republican Party. Right-wing extremism will be covered in a future commentary.)
Under wide-spread socialism, government runs just about everything, including agriculture, industry, education, health care, shipping, telecommunications, the news media, and banking. Socialism can be democratic as in Scandinavian countries or undemocratic as in the former Soviet Union or North Korea.
Sometimes socialism can be extensive as it was in the former Soviet Union or currently is in North Korea.
In Scandinavia, there is a mixture between socialism and private enterprise. Socialism covers health care and such programs as child care. Manufacturing, in areas such as technology and beer-making, is left to the private sector.
Traditionally, the Democratic Party in the United States has stood, at the federal level, for job creation and some aid for education, health care, old-age assistance, and transportation. Advocates for such programs were such Democratic leaders as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and, in California, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. All of these individuals were Democrats. (Even President Richard Nixon, a Republican, called, in 1974, for nation-wide health insurance).
Pat Brown was governor of California from 1959 to 1967. He was also the father of Jerry Brown, governor of California from 1975 to 1983 and from 2011 to 2019. Pat Brown favored big projects like free or low-cost higher education, massive water projects, and large programs for the construction of freeways.
Bill Clinton, as president, said that the role of government was to give people a “hand up,” not a “hand out.”
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the federal government’s involvement — or the involvement of state and local governments or even charities — in providing some help for needy individuals — individuals who might be learning English, need tutoring in mathematics, or require some extra funds to pay for food, rent, and utilities. But the emphasis should be on individuals. Local control might be preferable to federal control.
Democratic policies from 1913 to 2010 tended to offer bigger, more centralized government in Washington, D.C. and less reliance on state governments. Also, taxation at the federal level went up as did budget deficits to pay for larger government. In 1981, the national debt reached $1 trillion. Today, the debt is $27 trillion. After 1981, the national debt grew under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
In 1913, when Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was president, the federal income tax became law. The Federal Reserve, a body of unelected officials was given the power to control interest rates. U.S. senators, heretofore elected by their respective state legislatures, were to be elected directly by a state’s voters.
In 1935, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, Social Security became law. Social Security originally called for small, old-age pensions. Initially, Social Security called for a one percent tax on wages and a matching contribution (of one percent) by the boss. After wages reached $3,000 annually, the worker and the boss were not required to make further contributions to Social Security.
By 2020, the ceiling for Social Security became $137,700 in wages. The tax rate went from an initial two percent (one percent from the worker and one percent from the boss) in the 1930’s to today’s 12.4 percent (6.2 percent from the worker and 6.2 percent from the boss).
The Social Security tax only applies to wages, not to income from interest, dividends, capital gains, or rent.
Government became bigger during the administration of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson (in office from 1963 to 1969). Under Johnson, Congress passed Medicare (health coverage for elderly individuals). Johnson created two new cabinet departments: Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In 2010, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, signed legislation providing essentially universal health care to all Americans.
Bigger, more centralized government led to a perversion of original intentions. Programs originally designed to have government provide some modest assistance to needy individuals became programs to assist groups, not individuals.
After World War II, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party became leaders in civil rights legislation. Three Congressional acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were all designed to end discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or creed. However, all civil rights bills drew bipartisan (Democratic and Republican) support to pass. (In both parties, there were opponents of anti-discrimination legislation, but there were not enough of these opponents to prevent the legislation from being signed into law.)
Today, there is talk of “diversity,” meaning that certain groups of citizens are to receive preference in college admissions and in the hiring for public jobs.
Presumably, no one between the years 1913 and 2010, the years of the expansion of the federal government, saw that federal intervention (with dollars) would mean the placement, by ethnicity, on college admissions and on hiring for public employment.
Efforts to end discrimination based on race, religion, and creed became “reverse discrimination,” meaning that certain ethnic groups received preferences in education and hiring.
The Democratic Party needs to return to its original philosophy, which as Bill Clinton said, means giving individuals a hand up, not a hand out.
If there is no return to merit in college admissions and merit in hiring people for public employment, Republicans seeking public office will replace Democrats.
Richard Colman, a biochemist, received masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the founder and president of Biomed Inc., a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company. He lives in Orinda, California.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.