Did the GOP cut history class?

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comAugust 28, 2013 

The N&O’s popular Past Times column edited by Teresa Leonard is a sometimes-nostalgic, sometimes-serious look at stories about events of long ago, but often it connects in some way with the here and now. That’s never been more true than in this week’s column about the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era program that among other things provided hot lunches to poor kids during the 1930s, when, absent the drastic actions of President Franklin Roosevelt, the country might well have had a revolution.

Here is what that 1939 story said, in small part: “These are hot school lunches for underprivileged children whose parents cannot afford to pay for their mid-day meal. is the only hot food for the entire day. So many children have been protected from ‘studying on an empty stomach’ or staying away from school.” The story noted that the free lunches were served in the same rooms where children able to pay for their meals ate.

And many women and men got jobs through the WPA.

Roosevelt swamped President Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election, as the Depression was deepening. Hoover, a pro-business Republican, presided over a failed presidency and an economic catastrophe, but history shows that he wasn’t just sitting back and doing nothing for those in need. He just didn’t do enough.

On the same page with Past Times was a story of more modern times. It seems that Republicans in Congress are in the midst of a heated internal dispute as to how they should combat the Affordable Care Act which will require most Americans to have health insurance, and will try to ensure that the insurance they purchase is affordable (hence the name).

Some in the GOP want to figure a way to “defund” what they call snidely “Obamacare,” after the president they despise. In other words, just don’t appropriate the money to carry it out. This, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has supported the constitutionality of the plan.

And then there’s Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas. Here’s a Republican with another strategy to end Obamacare: shutting down the government. The strategy is positively wacky, of course, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich found out when he did it in 1995 and 1996, for a total of about 28 days.

Let’s just say it didn’t go over very well. And those who join the tea party in its hatred of Obama and think, what the heck, might consider that a full-fledged shutdown means no military pay, no Medicare, no Social Security. Yes, it would get the president’s attention. It also, as in ’95-’96, would get the attention of millions of Americans.

Now this brings us to our own North Carolina Republicans, from the fire-breathers who run the General Assembly to Gov. Pat McCrory and his “let them eat cookies” strategy.

They’re not exactly FDR, now are they? Instead of helping the unemployed still down and out from the Great Recession, they drastically cut unemployment benefits and passed on free continuation of unemployment money from the federal government. And they passed also on expansion of Medicaid to include more low-income people, another benefit the feds would have paid.

But by the time their embarrassing session ended, they’d done what they could to make things easier for businesses and the wealthy. Roosevelt in reverse. Beautiful!

OK, let’s go to school. Congressional Republicans have a laser focus on destroying a health care reform plan that would ensure better care for millions of people, including children who already are being helped from it, quite probably lower premiums for all, could contribute to bringing down costs and won’t increase the deficit. It would help tens of millions of people avoid bankruptcy and live better Social Security and Medicare ring a bell?

But Ted Cruz says, shut down the government and stop this nonsense.

And back here on Mother Red Earth, our North Carolina Republicans say, no expanded health care for low-income people and let’s cut unemployment for fathers and mothers who may need the money to keep their houses and feed their kids, but hey, Mr. Businessman, here’s another few million because your yacht looked like it could use a detailing.

Meanwhile, Gov. McCrory’s position is, “Would you like a croissant?”

So here’s some brief history: Franklin Roosevelt won four terms and his monument in Washington brings hundreds of thousands of people who survived the Depression thanks to him to tears. Social Security survives.

After the last shutdown in the mid-1990s, Newt Gingrich became a punch line and Bill Clinton left office with high approval numbers.

In North Carolina, Jim Hunt won four terms and remains wildly popular and he pushed the state into better days, much better, for public education and working people.

Better be a heckuva croissant, Gov. Pat.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at

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