There Was Also Some Opposition To Social Security
|Prepared by a hopeful vendor|
When Congress debated the Social Security bill, in 1935, hysteria on the right certainly ran high. The business lobby, echoed by its Republican allies on Capitol Hill, charged Franklin Roosevelt with a plot to extinguish liberty in America—to establish “socialistic control of life and industry,” as the National Association of Manufacturers put it. “Never in the history of the world,” declared Rep. John Taber, of New York, after what one trusts was a thorough review of the history of the world, “has any measure been … so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery [and] to enslave workers.” To another New York congressman, James W. Wadsworth, Social Security represented “a power so vast” that it threatened to “pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.” Still, its opponents in the House, and later the Senate, buckled in the face of popular opinion, swallowed their hatred of Roosevelt, and the Social Security Act passed by wide margins.
Another wave of panic crested on the eve of the 1936 election—an eleventh-hour attempt to seize on public anxiety about the Social Security payroll tax, slated to take effect on January 1, 1937. The Republican nominee, Governor Alf Landon of Kansas, called the program “unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed.” He and his campaign raised the specter of mass fingerprinting, of Washington snoops pawing through people’s “life records,” and of a bureaucratic scheme to erase workers’ names and replace them with numbers. This rhetoric reached its crescendo on Halloween, fittingly enough, when John Hamilton, chairman of the Republican National Committee, stood before a crowd of twenty thousand in Boston, clutching a stainless-steel “specimen” tag stamped “Social Security Board”; Hamilton thrust it in the air and insisted that if F.D.R. were reëlected, tags just like it would be “hung around the necks of twenty-seven million” working men and women. The Roosevelt Administration, he asserted, had already sought bids for machines to manufacture the tags. (Hamilton refused to divulge where he’d gotten the sample, but after the rally, he let reporters pass it around and inspect it.)
Labels: Social Security History