Welfare state: old songs, new singers

The debate on the welfare state started in 1949. Harry S. Truman championed it then; Barack H. Obama champions it now. Conservatives then and now fought against it. Today’s messengers carry the same message now as their counterparts carried more than sixty years ago. And nothing has changed. Except that America has come sixty years closer to financial disaster.

What is a welfare state?

The phrase welfare state did not start with Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear’s All in the Family theme song. That phrase dates from World War II. The concept goes back even earlier, to 1870 in Imperial Germany.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that a welfare state promotes the “economic and social well-being of its citizens.” A state should protect the basic rights to life, liberty and property. But the welfare state works to put food on people’s tables, clothes on their backs, and roofs over their heads. (And anything else it deems “necessary to a good life.)

Britannica mentions another concept: equitable distribution of wealth. That phrase suggests that some people might have more than others, and that in itself is not fair. Now if the one having more cheated the one having less, fine. Charge him with fraud and prove it in open court. But the welfare state doesn’t ask why some people have more than others. It takes from some to give to others.

Harry S. Truman promotes the welfare state

On November 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman made this speech in the Twin Cities. (Minnesota had made the day Truman Day. So Presidential personality cults didn’t start with Barack Obama, either.) In that speech Truman defended the welfare state and did not apologize for it. He compared it to the Louisiana Purchase. He said the arguments against the welfare state were the same arguments against that Purchase. (Likewise he defended the industrial policy” he promoted.) Then he said:

Our economic frontiers can be expanded only if we follow sound public policies. We must rely, as we have always relied, upon the spirit of initiative and free enterprise. But we know that it is necessary for the Government to follow policies that will make it possible for initiative and free enterprise to succeed.

Not quite

If you have a business, that…you didn’t build that! Somebody else made that happen!

But close. Very close.

Conservatives rebut Truman

Ode to the Welfare State
Ode to the Welfare State. Story credit: The New York Daily News/Associated Press, November 4, 1949. Photo credit: anonymous.

Next day, The New York Daily News published the “Ode to the Welfare State.” It ran thus:

Father, must I go to work? No, no, my lucky son

We’re living now on Easy Street on dough from Washington.

We’ve left it up to Uncle Sam. So don’t get exercised.

Nobody has to give a d__n—we’ve all been subsidized.

 

But if Sam treats us all so well and feeds us milk and honey,

Please, Daddy, tell me what the h__l he’s going to use for money!

Don’t worry, Bub. There’s not a hitch in this here noble plan—

He simply soaks the filthy rich and helps the common man.

 

But, Father, won’t there come a time when they’ve run out of cash?

And we have left them not a dime when things have gone to smash?

My faith in you is shrinking, son, you nosy little brat!

You do to d__n much thinking, son, to be a Democrat!

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Who wrote it? Representative Clarence Brown (R-OH) said that “a prominent Democrat in Georgia” wrote it. The Democratic Party still had conservatives in those days.

The only thing left of the original piece is a scan of yellowed newsprint. But Snopes.com found an edition of the Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald that published it, too, exactly as The Daily News printed it.The Los Angeles Times ran it as a letter to the editor.

So “The Ode to the Welfare State” is authentic. And its warning was correct.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Perhaps John F. Kennedy did too much thinking to be a Democrat, either. He proposed cuts in marginal tax rates shortly before he died.

Ronald Reagan certainly did too much thinking to be a Democrat. He stopped being one. And he warned his fellow Americans to choose: welfare state or freedom. One or the other. You can’t have both.

And perhaps Bill Clinton did too much thinking to be a Democrat. He at least signed the welfare reform bill that a Republican Congress sent him. It moved many people off the public dole. Today Barack H. Obama wants the people right back on it.

Does Barack Obama think? Like Harry Truman before him, he promotes the welfare state for all it’s worth. To him, it is worth a great deal. The welfare state takes power from the people. It offers “Easy Street” instead. But things are going to smash today. We are out of cash. So the government prints more. Already our creditors warn: “This debtor might not make it good.”

And soon, this might be our reality.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

history, politicians, president, tax


Terry A. Hurlbut

Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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