Growing up, I can remember almost every instance of FDR’s “Alphabet Soup Programs” being taught to me as a sort of humorous anecdote. How silly to have all these names and letters, my teachers would cluck: NRA, CCC, CWA, WPA, AAA, TVA, and so on. Such silly, much laugh.
Unfortunately, I can only really remember one or two that actually looked beyond the Twitter hot-take method of teaching and explained just what all those letters were about: mainly, they were an attempts to provide things people needed that the free market and private individuals wouldn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t have their grubby little hands in. As silly as the programs are always described, I can’t help but remember Jack Sparrow’s defense of someone calling him the worst pirate they have ever heard of: but you have heard of me.
We remember those programs. We still see them today. There’s a WPA building in my town of 600. The FEC, the FHA, the NLRB… these are still things that make the news in 2018. All of these letters, all of this effort and attention paid to actually trying to help people… that gets remembered, and it’s something today’s Democrats could stand to learn from FDR.
The Democrats allowed themselves to be played much like the guy in the old Hawaiian Punch ads. The left, often known for expanding the role of government to, you know, make sure people don’t die, was asked if they thought smaller government was a good idea. And Democrats, terrified after losing a couple of elections, nodded dumbly and eagerly took the punch to the face. Now, almost 40 years later, we’re seeing that hey, maybe having a government neutered by private interests, while those same private interests loot the till and get disgustingly rich while the rest of us are asked to do more with less might have actually been a bad thing. Maybe more government… could be good?
But no, cry the New Democrats, which have now become the Old Democrats. If you say government is good, then the other side can make fun of you for it and, as we all know, government is all about who is the most popular kid on the playground, not whether or not lunch gets served. Democrats, more worried about getting a win than actually helping the people they demand vote for them and also lured by that siren song of elite respectability, have conceded to fight on the terms of the other side, and when you start every drive from your own 10 yard line, it’s hard to score a touchdown.
It is honestly either some amazing sleight-of-hand by Republicans or monumental stupidity by Democrats… or that Democrats honestly thought they could sell out government to professional-class “captains of industry” and not destroy the social contract so… yeah, monumental stupidity. Newsflash, Dems: you’re not going to beat the other side if you try to play within their rigged rules, rules that start off by saying “government is inherently bad and should be as small as possible.” For Pete’s sake, you can’t even trumpet any marginal gains you get because, if you do, it’s talking up government and, as we’ve already stated, that’s a bad thing. It’s mind-boggling to step back and look at: it’s like agreeing to a boxing match with both hands tied behind your back, then turning to the crowd and going “but hey, at least I got a few headbutts in, right folks?”
Democrats will not start making things better for the people that are supposed to vote for them until they admit that this 40 year experiment in neoliberalism has been an absolute bust. It turns out that you can’t just have a kinder, gentler form of drowning government in a bathtub. It turns out you have to embrace government, clean up government, and most importantly make government work for the little guy. When one side says “we’re going to make government weak and ineffectual” and the other side says “we’re going to make government weak but still do everything you like,” people start to catch on to the con after almost 40 years.
Stop allowing the narrative to be set by the other side, who actively want your side out cold on the mat. Stop thinking “oh, but if we just took a couple of their ideas and made it work” because it won’t. That’s why we have opposing parties, they’re supposed to offer opposing ideas, not two slightly different versions of the same shit sandwich. And, if you’re that worried about victories and clout and electability, two of the biggest political forces in the country are a reality-show-star turned baby’s first Mussolini, and a Jewish Socialist from Vermont. Take everything you thought you know (or more accurately, everything your high-priced consultants tell you you think you know) and throw it out the window. Everything’s ready to change, and folks are willing to hear that yes, we’re from the government, and we’re here to help. Because, despite what the Gipper may have told you, it turns out a system based on making money does a piss poor job taking care of people, who turn out to be difficult and expensive and full of caveats that really hurt the bottom line.
The government doesn’t have to worry about making money. The government should only worry about providing for its people, and the people are ready to hear that someone’s going to make that happen, and they could really give a damn whether the box containing life saving drugs says US GOVT or Amazon.