Sunday, May 04, 2008

The New Deal lives on, 75 years later

"The legacy of the New Deal is evident today not just in buildings, roads, bridges and trails across the United States. It can still be seen in the ongoing existence of unemployment insurance, insured bank deposits, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Housing Authority.

"The spirit of the New Deal also lives on in the social programs that we consider important to our society -- those that care for the elderly and the poor, and offer a safety net for even the most productive of our citizens who sometimes fall on hard times."

This comes from Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal's introductory letter for the program distributed at the 75th anniversary New Deal celebration Saturday, May 3, at Guernsey State Park. It's ironic that these are some of the programs that the Republicans have tried to dismantle since they were enacted. Social Security privatizations anyone? John McCain still has that on his agenda.

FDR recognized that difficult times demanded bold solutions. The Civilian Conservation Corps was a program that put men back to work building roads, bridges, and buildings, paying them $30 a month for their hard work. Of that, the CCC men had to send $25 home to their families. Wyoming had 19 CCC camps, two of them at Camp Guernsey in Platte County. Many of the structures built by the CCC around the reservoir are still standing and part of Guernsey State Park.

The federal government had many programs putting people back to work during the Great Depression. The Works Progress Adminstration employed artists composing guides to each state, painting murals in post offices, and staging plays. Such well-known American writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel and James Baldwin were active in the Federal Writers Program. Idaho's renowned writer, Vardis Fisher, was writer and editor for the state guide, still recognized as best-written of all the guides. Fisher fought to finish and release the Idaho guide first, even though the WPA honchos insisted the Washington, D.C., book be first.

Not all writers were excited about government work. Ernest Hemingway, for one, another writer who ended up spending a lot of time in Idaho -- eternity, too. Other writers and artist and performers turned up their noses at the WPA, but many already had a career and means of their own. It's possible they wanted to avoid some of the controversies engendered by some of the plays and films produced by WPA creative types. They often focused on the poor and downtrodden, and aimed the laser of satire at big business. Critics contended that people accepting taxpayer funds should not be biting the hands that fed it. Sound familiar?

It all comes down to your feelings about the role of the federal government. Should it step in when the country is going to hell in a handcart? Yes, I say, as do both Democratic Party candidates for the presidency. No, says John McCain, who wants a market-based health care system, which is what we have now and is failing so miserably.

Governor Freudenthal obviously believes in government's active role. Not only is that evident from his words about the New Deal, but by the fact he's supporting Sen. Barack Obama. He'll be speaking on behalf of Obama May 10 in Montana. I, for one, am happy that he's come out of the closet politically and is ready to stand up for the Democrats. Yes, Wyoming is a Republican-dominated state and most of its residents like the careful balancing act that Freudenthal does with his politics as homegrown free-thinker, hunter and wearer of fine cowboy boots. But, when your country is in trouble, you have to act. As FDR did with his many New Deal programs.

For more about the Gov's support of Obama, go to the May 3 Casper Star-Tribune article at

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