The never ending argument

We recently finished watching The Roosevelts: An Intimate Portrait, a Ken Burns documentary about Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin Roosevelt. And I was struck, while watching the episode that covered FDR’s first term in office, that the argument about the role of the federal government in the US is the never ending argument.

The past year has been difficult as I’ve watched our current administration essentially stop governing in many ways. As I watched the story of FDR passing legislation to care for the least of us, the largest being Social Security to care for the elderly, widows, and the disabled, I was struck that the arguments against it were the same as what we hear now against the Affordable Care Act.

And the wording the documentary used, that the Social Security legislation was about caring for the least of us, struck me. What does it say about a country when caring for the least of us is not a priority? This argument seems unique to the US; other western nations have decided that caring for those in need is part of living in society together, and they look upon the US as an outlier.

This tension is one of the recurring threads in our history. What should the role of the federal government be in ensuring that all its citizens have their basic needs met?

I’ve been going back to history a lot lately. It gives me hope, even if it’s a small amount, that we do take steps forward. Social Security is still here today, it was never repealed. And the legislation signed by the Johnson administration in the 1960s is also here, Medicare and Medicaid. And, even through all the efforts to kill it this year, the Affordable Care Act is still alive and more popular than ever.

It may feel like we’re taking steps backward at times, but I’m hopeful that the big steps forward survive and we build upon them. We should be caring for the least of us, that’s what living in a society means.