Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Sam Smith on the New Deal and a bailout for the rest of us
by Larry Geller
Hawaii’s governor Lingle is doing just the opposite of what Louisiana’s governor Huey Long did in reaction to the Great Depression. Note, in particular, the second paragraph in this snippet from a great article by Sam Smith, Two Eras of Democrats:
Long, in one four year term, reports Wikipedia, increased the mileage of paved highways in Louisiana: "By 1936, Long had [doubled] the state's road system. He built 111 bridges, and started construction on the first bridge over the lower Mississippi. He built the new Louisiana State Capitol, at the time the tallest building in the South. All of these construction projects provided thousands of much-needed jobs during the Great Depression. . .
"Long's free textbooks, school-building program, and free busing improved and expanded the public education system, and his night schools taught 100,000 adults to read. He greatly expanded funding for LSU, lowered tuition, established scholarships for poor students, and founded the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also doubled funding for the public Charity Hospital System, built a new Charity Hospital building for New Orleans, and reformed and increased funding for the state's mental institutions. His administration funded the piping of natural gas to New Orleans and other cities and built the seven-mile Lake Pontchartrain seawall and New Orleans airport. Long slashed personal property taxes and reduced utility rates. His repeal of the poll tax in 1935 increased voter registration by 76 percent in one year."
Lingle proposes raising taxes for highway improvements (we have no money to pay those taxes, Linda). The city, left to its own devices, plans to increase bus fares instead of making them free. Lingle has already cut adult mental health services by a reported 75%, not increased funding for services. She’s not talking about any better educational programs or scholarships so that people can get new jobs.
The obvious question is where Long got the money to do all that.
There’s federal stimulus money heading toward Hawaii, and if our governor got along better with President Obama, perhaps she could make some additional requests. Raising taxes and user fees on those who are unemployed or underemployed is not, repeat not, a stimulus program.
I think many if not most Americans are wondering how the federal government can shovel so much money on the very banks and bankers that caused the problems we now face while paying so little attention to what the rest of the country badly needs. Imagine that we let the losers go bankrupt and put the “bailout” benefits for their rich CEOs to better use. As they did during the Great Depression.
Speaking of Obama, Sam had much more to say (and he doesn’t spare those of us who identify as progressives):
With the capitulation to the vocabulary and values of the right under Clinton, the Democrats have lost their capacity for progressive policy and action. Today, Obama is far more interested in what the GOP thinks than in what imaginative progressives in Congress and elsewhere might be advocating. A post-partisan depression has settled in. Worse, the solutions that come out of this approach tend to ones that no one really wants.
To use the archaic language of the party's earlier days, we need jobs and business - not stunningly non-specific stimuli and fiscal packages, but things people can see and feel, leading them to invest in America again as well.
Because the New Deal understood this, not only did it create employment it built or repaired 200 swimming pools and 103 golf courses, 3,700 playgrounds, 40,000 schools, 12 million feet of sewer pipe, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,192 parks, 15,000 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges and 125,110 public buildings, and thousands of miles of highways and roads. Add to that the programs for youth and for artists and writers and the result was something it is hard for us to even imagine today.
FDR got his pressure from the left; Obama gets his from the right thanks to the unwillingness of progressives to push him. FDR could take action without a gang of media manipulators telling him to be careful. There wasn't an inordinate pyramid of bureaucracy chipping away at every decision before it went into action. Liberals had more passion than status and really cared about those at the bottom of the American heap.