Government should work for the people

President Abraham Lincoln believed that democracy is a form of government that is “by the people, of the people and for the people.” In a democracy, the government administers programs that are for the public good.

Presently, there are ideas being presented by some Democratic presidential candidates and members of Congress that have the interests of the majority of Americans in mind. These progressive programs have been identified by the term democratic socialism.

Throughout our history, there have been presidents who have truly cared for the people. These progressives strove for an America where people cared about each other, not just themselves, and acted with strength and effectiveness to help each other.

Each generation has the opportunity to make its mark on advancing the common good. From 1901-1921, the Progressive Era brought about needed reforms. Three presidents — Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson — had administrations that saw intense social and political change.

In this age when big business seemed all-powerful, the United States appeared to be abandoning its promise of freedom and opportunity for all. These presidents felt that problems could best be solved by making the government play a stronger role in promoting democracy and solving national problems.

Roosevelt believed that workers and consumers were not receiving fair and honest treatment. His program of reform, which became known as the Square Deal, focused on regulating big business and protecting the common man.

Corporations were becoming too large for Taft. He fought to limit the power of big corporations with “trustbusting” legislation.

Wilson pushed through other progressive reforms to give a greater voice to the average citizen. He also thought there was too much corporate influence. He wanted to reduce the corruption in the federal government. Among his most notable achievements were laws on banking and tariff reform and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission.

Children in the early 1900s were put to work. Under Taft, the Department of Labor established the Children’s Bureau to “investigate and report upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children.” Wilson went further to push for a ban on child labor. In 1916, he signed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, which prohibited companies involved in interstate commerce from hiring workers under 14 years of age.

Workers at that time could be required to work long hours. Companies had resisted unions’ demands to shorten the work-day hours. Under Taft, the eight-hour day became to rule for government employees.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, poverty rates among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent. Another progressive, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed the Social Security Act in 1935. The act was an attempt to limit the dangers of old age, poverty, unemployment, and the burdens of widows and fatherless children.

Workers continue to make contributions to a “trust fund” from their paychecks to pay for their retirement and other benefits they’ll need in the future. Since the 1930s, provisions of Social Security have changed based on concerns for those with disabilities and changing gender roles.

In 1965, it was virtually impossible for those over 65 years of age to get health insurance coverage. About one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance. One in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns. Medicare was created under President Lyndon Johnson. This popular program has helped improve the health and longevity of older Americans ever since.

All these progressive achievements were brought about because of a need for change. A liberal attitude toward anything means more openness to change. Government action can bring about equal opportunity and equality for all. Its obligation is to solve problems that are affecting it citizens.

Problems cannot be solved if we do nothing. Conservatives have opposed many of the reforms of the past. Social Security was controversial when originally proposed because it was thought it would reduce the labor force and bordered on socialism. When Medicare was first introduced it was framed as “socialized medicine.”

The struggle to maintain Social Security and Medicare for the American people continues. President Donald Trump’s budget outlines massive cuts. However, these programs are sustainable for at least 20 years if the present level of funding continues.

To the conservative mind, socialism may be thought of as a society in which no one is held accountable, and no one has to work for what they receive. These social programs are only sustainable because of free markets and capitalism. Businesses are owed by the private sector, but they are only profitable if there are workers employed to make the products.

Today, there continues to be monumental problems that need solutions. As in the early 1900s, we again have the domination of large corporations. The wage gap has widened, and many working individuals are having a hard time making ends meet. Many are without health insurance. In addition, our planet is undergoing undesirable changes because of climate change.

When the government in a democracy steps in to administer programs that improve the life of its citizens, it could be called democratic socialism. Paying workers $15 an hour, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal have all been proposed as solutions to current problems.

Government can be helpful in bringing about change for the common good. Our democracy must continue to be by the people, of the people and for the people.

Jan Koch is a Shawano resident and the chairwoman for the Shawano County Democratic Party.