By Charles Franklin
Historically, the Democrats have favored large government social safety net programs (the two big ones being Medicare and Social Security) and Republicans have opposed these type social programs.
Democrats vs. Republicans on Medicare
Democratic Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson advocated for a national government run health insurance program for senior citizens. FDR tried to get health insurance included in the Social Security bill in 1935 but was not successful. Government run health insurance for the elderly was a campaign issue in 1960 advocated by Democratic Candidate John F. Kennedy and ultimately signed into law after President Kennedy’s death by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. The program became Medicare. Republican opposition to Medicare is indisputable and well documented.
During the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater said in opposition to the proposal for Medicare, “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?” Also in 1964, Senate candidate George H.W. Bush campaigned against Medicare and Medicaid labeling the programs “socialized medicine.” In 1996, Republican nominee Bob Dole bragged that as a Congressman he voted against creating Medicare in 1965 saying, “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare . . . because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” In 1995, under Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Republicans proposed cutting 14% from projected Medicare spending over seven years, which would have pushed millions of Medicare recipients into private HMOs. Gingrich said those proposed cuts would ensure that Medicare is “going to wither on the vine.” During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Republican nominee Senator John McCain proposed cutting $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid. And the list of Republican opposition goes on and on…
The historical core difference between Democratic and Republican ideology can be best exemplified by listening to the debate over Medicare in the early 1960’s with future President Ronald Reagan making the case in 1961 against what would soon be known as Medicare and President John Kennedy making the case in 1962 in support of a medical care program for seniors, later named ‘Medicare.’
Listen to Ronald Reagan’s Opposition To What Became Known As Medicare (1961)
In 1961, a recording by Ronald Reagan, presented as a vinyl LP and titled “Ronald Regan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” articulated the Republican/Conservative point of view opposing a national health insurance program for senior citizens (Medicare). Reagan described Medicare as socialism that would lead to the destruction of our freedom.
Listen to JFK Advocating for What Became Known As Medicare (1962)
The counter point to Reagan’s opposition national government run health insurance for the elderly is discussed by President John Kennedy in this speech in 1962 in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Democrats vs. Republicans on Social Security
Social Security was promoted and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt over Republican opposition.
When originally proposed by FDR in the 1930’s, Republicans opposed Social Security on ideological grounds. After the programs’ passage and as a result of the programs’ overwhelming popularity… outright opposition to Social Security on ideological grounds became political suicide for politicians. So, the rhetoric used by the opposition to Social Security became masked in nuanced language and unrelated issues such as reducing the federal debt and bringing down the budget deficits. Worth noting is that the opponents of these social safety net programs never seemed to have an issue for expenditures such as defense spending or tax cuts for businesses.
In the early to mid 1930’s FDR began pushing for a so-called old-age insurance program. Roosevelt took office in 1933. Republicans then warned such a program would “impose a crushing burden on industry and labor” and “establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance in competition with private business.”
Republican Congressman John Taber (R-NY) said this in opposition to Social Security… “Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.”
Republican Senator Daniel Hastings (R-DE) said the program would “end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security bill into law on Aug. 14, 1935.
Republicans, however, continued to voice their opposition. In the 1936 presidential campaign, Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon called Social Security “a fraud on the workingman” and “a cruel hoax.” Landon said, “The Republican party will have nothing to do with any plan that involves prying into the personal records of 26 million people.”
Republican opposition to Social Security continued throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s although Republican President Dwight Eisenhower recognized that opposition to Social Security was a political loser calling attempts to abolish the program “stupid.”
In the 1980’s and beyond, many conservatives became enamored with the idea of so-called ‘privatization’ of Social Security. Of course, privatization would end Social Security as a government program and any future income for seniors from such private retirement accounts would be dependent on each individuals’ ability to make winning investment decisions.
During the 2000 presidential campaign candidate George W. Bush said Republicans “have to find a way to allow people to invest a percentage of their payroll tax in the capital markets.” This partial privatization would have been a first step toward complete privatization.
The ‘conservative’ rhetorical nuance continued. For example, in 2002 the conservative Cato Institute renamed its ‘Project on Social Security Privatization’… the ‘Project on Social Security Choice in 2002.’ The idea was to give individuals the choice to opt out of the government program in favor of a private investment account.
After President George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 he embarked on a campaign to sell the ‘privatization’ idea. Immediately after his reelection in 2004 he stated he now had political capital and intended to use it to privatize Social Security. The opposition to this idea was swift and intense and the proposal died quickly.