Guest Author - Susan Gaissert
Senator Claiborne Pell, a Democrat from Rhode Island, died on January 1, 2009. If you Google-searched the phrase "Thank you, Senator Pell" a few days after his death, thousands of links appeared. Why? Claiborne Pell is the man who gave us the Pell Grant, formerly called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. It appeared in 1973 and helped an entire generation of smart, poor kids go to college and become law-abiding, tax-paying, voting citizens -- who hopefully voted for Democrats, since one good turn deserves another.
The history of the Democratic Party is filled with "good turns." Roosevelt's New Deal programs were all examples of helping people so that those people could in turn help others, even if the "help" meant simply that they lived good, decent lives and didn't hurt anyone else.
Sometimes, the help provided to others was profoundly important, as was the case with the Works Progress Administration. According to the Encyclopedia of American History, 7th Ed., Jeffrey B. Morris and Richard B. Morris, eds., 1996 and the Oxford Companion to American History, Thomas H. Johnson, 1966, members of the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, built over 600,000 miles of roads and worked on over 120,000 bridges, over 120,000 public buildings, over 8,000 parks, and over 800 airport landing areas. And that tangible “help” was all gravy; the primary goal of the program was to help the WPA members by giving them jobs.
Another example of help came when another Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Johnson declared of the Act that it provided “a deeper respect for human dignity." So, Johnson was supportive of human dignity, as was Pell when he made it possible for kids to further their educations, and as was Roosevelt when he made it possible for people to earn an honest living by doing meaningful work.
As we look around at the Democrats in our midst today, we hope that they, alongside President Barack Obama, will make policies true to the words he said in his August 28, 2008 speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party for President:
"We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage, whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma."
In his words, we hear echoes of Roosevelt and Pell -- jobs and education.
Obama continued by saying:
"We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have . . . but by whether . . . the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work."
And there we hear Johnson -- dignity.
As these examples show, the Democratic Party has a long history of caring about people and turning that caring into good policy. President Obama’s stimulus bill has the potential to help many people while reviving our ever-failing economy. If it does improve the lives of citizens, that bill will become yet another example of a good turn, and the recipients of the help will, I hope, go on to create a new generation of Democratic voters.