The New Deal, Social Security, The Great Society, Medicare, Medicaid - concern for the welfare of "the little guy." These are the things which have defined the modern Democratic Party and have been the essence of its commitment to its constituency for decades. Great Presidencies have been built on these sorts of acheivements and the good that they have done for Americans.
An article entitled, "Defining the modern Democrat," lays out the basis of the identity of the Democratic Pary:
The modern Democratic Party was born, just over a century ago, when another young orator from the Midwest—William Jennings Bryan—rocked the national convention in Chicago in 1896. Because of its stirring climax, Bryan's address is widely known as the "Cross of Gold" speech and, in most histories, is accompanied by an arcane explanation about the gold standard and 19th-century monetary policy.The ambitions of William Jennings Bryan were carried out by other great Democrats and enacted with the enthusiastic support of Americans. They are the bedrock of our social contract and a legacy of the 20th century that most Americans would like to keep vital and secure.
Unfortunately, the focus on gold obscures Bryan's real import. His candidacy redefined the Democratic Party as the voice of the common man. It ultimately led to Woodrow Wilson's election and the formation of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal coalition, which dominated American politics for most of the 20th century. ...
Bryan and his Democrats promoted a wide, rich menu of reforms — a graduated income tax, the Federal Reserve, women's suffrage, direct election of U.S. senators — that became law in the Progressive Era.
The Great Commoner, as Bryan was known, was "the first leader of a major party to argue for permanently expanding the power of the federal government to serve the welfare of ordinary Americans.
The Democratic Party has not always been the party of the common man, as the article about points out, Grover Cleveland had a notably different approach, more consistent with the 1% ass-kissing agenda of Republicans as this incident illustrates:
To the House of Representatives:
I return without my approval House bill number ten thousand two hundred and three, entitled "An Act to enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought-stricken counties of Texas, and making an appropriation therefor."
It is represented that a long-continued and extensive drought has existed in certain portions of the State of Texas, resulting in a failure of crops and consequent distress and destitution.
Though there has been some difference in statements concerning the extent of the people's needs in the localities thus affected, there seems to be no doubt that there has existed a condition calling for relief; and I am willing to believe that, notwithstanding the aid already furnished, a donation of seed-grain to the farmers located in this region, to enable them to put in new crops, would serve to avert a continuance or return of an unfortunate blight.
And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.
Cleveland's attitude towards the 1% was considerably more compassionate and deferential, as reported by the New York Times:
"No harm shall come to any business interest as the result of administrative policy so long as I am President. I intend to surround myself with the best and broadest minds in the party, and then bend all my energies toward making an Administration that shall at least assure every element that a transfer of executive control from one party to another does not mean any serious disturbance of existing conditions.
It is almost incredible to me that there should be any feeling of uncertainty whatever as to the future, so far as the result of the recent election is concerned. ... It would be unnatural for the party not to be actuated by a desire to continue in power by demonstrating that it deserved the highest confidence of the people. ... Naturally they will be careful about pronouncing for a policy inimical to the interests of the very class which more than any other. has thus honored us with its confidence.
Howard Zinn offers this eerily revealing thumbnail sketch of Grover Cleveland's administration in his People's History of the United States:
When Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, ran for President in 1884, the general impression in the country was that he opposed the power of monopolies and corporations, and that the Republican party, whose candidate was James Blaine, stood for the wealthy. But when Cleveland defeated Blaine, Jay Gould wired him: "I feel ... that the vast business interests of the country will be entirely safe in your hands." And he was right.It's interesting to see so baldly exposed above how politicians see the art of boiling frogs, that the heat may be applied to the pot gently by the 1% and their government lackeys are quite happy to do so and warn the 1% to be judicious in their demands. Too great a theft at once may induce powerful rebukes endangering both the 1% and their lackeys in government.
One of Cleveland's chief advisers was William Whitney, a millionaire and corporation lawyer, who married into the Standard Oil fortune and was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Cleveland. He immediately set about to create a "steel navy," buying the steel at artificially high prices from Carnegie's plants. Cleveland himself assured industrialists that his election should not frighten them: "No harm shall come to any business interest as the result of administrative policy so long as I am President ... a transfer of executive control from one party to another does not mean any serious disturbance of existing conditions."
The presidential election itself had avoided real issues; there was no clear understanding of which interests would gain and which would lose if certain policies were adopted. It took the usual form of election campaigns, concealing the basic similarity of the parties by dwelling on personalities, gossip, trivialities. Henry Adams, an astute literary commentator on that era, wrote to a friend about the election:We are here plunged in politics funnier than words can express. Very great issues are involved.. . . But the amusing thing is that no one talks about real interests. By common consent they agree to let these alone. We are afraid to discuss them. Instead of this the press is engaged in a most amusing dispute whether Mr. Cleveland had an illegitimate child and did or did not live with more than one mistress.
In 1887, with a huge surplus in the treasury, Cleveland vetoed a bill appropriating $100,000 to give relief to Texas farmers to help them buy seed grain during a drought. He said: "Federal aid in such cases .. . encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character." But that same year, Cleveland used his gold surplus to pay off wealthy bondholders at $28 above the $100 value of each bond-a gift of $45 million.
The chief reform of the Cleveland administration gives away the secret of reform legislation in America. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 was supposed to regulate the railroads on behalf of the consumers. But Richard Olney, a lawyer for the Boston & Maine and other railroads, and soon to be Cleveland's Attorney General, told railroad officials who complained about the Interstate Commerce Commission that it would not be wise to abolish the Commission "from a railroad point of view." He explained:The Commission ... is or can be made, of great use to the railroads. It satisfies the popular clamor for a government supervision of railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal. . . . The part of wisdom is not to destroy the Commission, but to utilize it.
Cleveland himself, in his 1887 State of the Union message, had made a similar point, adding a warning: "Opportunity for safe, careful, and deliberate reform is now offered; and none of us should be unmindful of a time when an abused and irritated people ... may insist upon a radical and sweeping rectification of their wrongs."
The politicians game of being, "the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks" is a double game that it is about time that we shut down.
For comparison and contrast to the pre-modern Democrats, here are some statements from modern Democrats about the duty of government to provide for the common man:
In broad terms, I assert that modern society, acting through its government, owes the definite obligation to prevent the starvation or the dire want of any of its fellowmen and women who try to maintain themselves but cannot. To these unfortunate citizens aid must be extended by the government, not as a matter of charity but as a matter of social duty.LBJ
That principle which I laid down in 1931, I reaffirm. I not only reaffirm it, I go a step further and say that where the State itself is unable successfully to fulfill this obligation which lies upon it, it then becomes the positive duty of the federal government to step in to help.
In the words of our Democratic national platform, the federal government has a "continuous responsibility for human welfare, especially for the protection of children." That duty and responsibility the federal government should carry out promptly, fearlessly, and generously. ...
We must economize in other ways, but it shall never be said that the American people have refused to provide the necessities of life for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to feed, clothe, and house themselves. The first obligation of government is the protection of the welfare and well-being, indeed the very existence, of its citizens.
"Thirty years ago, the American people made a basic decision that the later years of life should not be years of despondency and drift. The result was enactment of our Social Security program. . . . Since World War II, there has been increasing awareness of the fact that the full value of Social Security would not be realized unless provision were made to deal with the problem of costs of illnesses among our older citizens. . . . Compassion and reason dictate that this logical extension of our proven Social Security system will supply the prudent, feasible, and dignified way to free the aged from the fear of financial hardship in the event of illness."Jimmy Carter
"The Social Security program is a pact between workers and their employers that they will contribute to a common fund to ensure that those who are no longer part of the work force will have a basic income on which to live. It represents our commitment as a society to the belief that workers should not live in dread that a disability, death, or old age could leave them or their families destitute."In modern times, the Democratic Party's identity has been as a party of the people, a party that supports the creation and maintenance of government institutions to aid the citizen in all walks of life. The Democrats have been the party of the social safety net for decades now.
Now that President Obama has placed the social safety net on the negotiating table for cuts the question is, is the Democratic Party redefining itself, or are those that support this stab in the back of their constituents defining themselves as something other than Democrats?
Obama said this in an interview with Univision:
So, what do you think? Can you work to diminish the social benefits that millions of average Americans have paid for and still call yourself a Democrat? Is being a Democrat a matter of adhering to the ideals of the party and working to benefit the party's traditional constituency; or, is it a matter of slavishly following the druthers of the currently elected leadership?