If you are, like me, somewhat of a history geek, then you will love the resources of USCB's American Presidency Project, particularly the database of past party platforms. You can learn a lot about the evolution of our political parties by reading their platforms--seeing which issues rise and fall, seeing how frames and principles change.
A study of the relationship between the Democratic Party platform and the goal of full employment, for example, is quite revealing.
The term "full employment" refers to the economic state in which everyone who is eligible and willing to work is gainfully employed. Unemployment would only be "frictional," i.e. that resulting from transitions between jobs. The term "full employment" is most commonly known as the goal of Keynesian economic policy, and as a goal, it was a defining feature of the post-war economic consensus. Unsurprisingly, mentions of "full employment" began in 1944.
For the next four decades, full employment was featured as a prominent part of the economic agenda presented by the Democratic Party platform. The first year that the Democrats abandoned discussion of full employment was 1992. The term "full employment" has never been mentioned in a Democratic Party platform since.
The abandonment of "full employment," perhaps unsurprisingly, aligns with the ascent of the Clintonites of the Democratic Leadership Council and the so-called "New Democrat" or "Third Way" wing of the Democratic Party, who sought to move away from the New Deal liberalism of the past and embrace the fundraising potential of an affinity with Wall Street.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
To speed victory, establish and maintain peace, guarantee full employment and provide prosperity —this is its platform.1948 Platform
Harry S. Truman
To serve the interests of all and not the few; to assure a world in which peace and justice can prevail; to achieve security, full production, and full employment—this is our platform.1952 Platform
Full Employment1956 Platform
The Democratic Administration prudently passed the Employment Act of 1946 declaring it to be national policy never again to permit large-scale unemployment to stalk the land. We will assure the transition from defense production to peace-time production without the ravages of unemployment. We pledge ourselves at all times to the maintenance of maximum employment, production, and purchasing power in the American economy.
In the section "The Republican Brand of Prosperity"
Substituting deceptive slogans and dismal deeds for the Democratic program, the Republicans have been telling the American people that "we are now more prosperous than ever before in peacetime." For the American farmer, the small businessman and the low-income worker, the old people living on a pittance, the young people seeking an American standard of education, and the minority groups seeking full employment opportunity at adequate wages, this tall tale of Republican prosperity has been an illusion.
In the section "Democratic Principles for Full Prosperity for All"
(1) We repudiate the Republican stunting of our economic growth, and we reassert the principles of the Full Employment Act of 1946;1960 Platform
John F. Kennedy
Full Employment1964 Platform
The Democratic Party reaffirms its support of full employment as a paramount objective of national policy.
For nearly 30 months the rate of unemployment has been between 5 and 7.5% of the labor force. A pool of three to four million citizens, able and willing to work but unable to find jobs, has been written off by the Republican Administration as a "normal" readjustment of the economic system.
The policies of a Democratic Administration to restore economic growth will reduce current unemployment to a minimum.
Thereafter, if recessionary trends appear, we will act promptly with counter-measures, such as public works or temporary tax cuts. We will not stand idly by and permit recessions to run their course as the Republican Administration has done.
Lyndon B. Johnson
In "The Economy"
Full employment is an end in itself and must be insisted upon as a priority objective.In "Full Employment"
In 1960, we reaffirmed our—
"support of full employment as a paramount objective of national policy."
In July 1964, total employment in the United States rose to the historic peak of 72,400,000 jobs. This represents an increase of 3,900,000 jobs in 42 months.
In the past twelve months, total civilian employment has increased by 1,600,000 jobs, and nonfarm employment by 1,700,000. Most of this job expansion has occurred in the past eight months.
In July 1964, the jobless total was one-half million below a year ago, and was at its lowest July level since 1959.
In July, 1964, the overall unemployment rate was 4.9%—compared with 6.5% in January 1961; and the jobless rate for men who are heads of families was down to 2.7%.
There have been more than a million full-time jobs added to the private profit sector of the economy in the past 12 months. This is the largest increase in any one-year period in the past decade.
We have brought ourselves now within reach of the full employment objective.
In "Price Stability with Growth"
The answer to rising prices will never be sought, under Democratic administrations, in unemployment and idle plant facilities. We are firmly committed to the twin objectives of full employment and price stability...In "Jobs and Training"
To the maximum possible extent, our national goal of full employment should be realized through creation of jobs in the private economy, where six of every seven Americans now work. We will continue the Job Opportunities in the Business Sector (JOBS) program, which for the first time has mobilized the energies of business and industry on a nationwide scale to provide training and employment to the hard-core unemployed. We will develop whatever additional incentives may be necessary to maximize the opportunities in the private sector for hard-core unemployed.1972 Platform
In "Jobs, Prices, and Taxes"
These losses [in income] were unnecessary. They are the price of a Republican Administration which has no consistent economic philosophy, no adequate regard for the human costs of its economic decisions and no vision of what a full employment economy could mean for all Americans.In "Jobs, Income, and Dignity"
Full employment—a guaranteed job for all—is the primary economic objective of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is committed to a job for every American who seeks work. Only through full employment can we reduce the burden on working people. We are determined to make economic security a matter of right. This means a job with decent pay and good working conditions for everyone willing and able to work and an adequate income for those unable to work. It means abolition of the present welfare system.
To assure jobs and economic security for all, the next Democratic Administration should support:
A full employment economy, making full use of fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate employment;
The system of income protection which replaces welfare must be a part of the full employment policy which assures every American a job at a fair wage under conditions which make use of his ability and provide an opportunity for advancement. H.R. 1, and its various amendments, is not humane and does not meet the social and economic objectives that we believe in, and it should be defeated. It perpetuates the coercion of forced work requirements.In "International Economic Policy"
End the high-unemployment policy of the Nixon Administration. When a job is available for everyone who wants to work, imports will no longer be a threat. Full employment is a realistic goal, it is a goal which has been attained under Democratic Administrations, and it is a goal we intend to achieve again;
Support reform of the international monetary system. Increased international reserves, provision for large margins in foreign exchange fluctuations and strengthened institutions for the coordination of national economic policies can free our government and others to achieve full employment;1976 Platform
In the subsection "Republican Mismanagement"
I. Full Employment, Price Stability and Balanced Growth
The Democratic Party's concern for human dignity and freedom has been directed at increasing the economic opportunities for all our citizens and reducing the economic deprivation and inequities that have stained the record of American democracy.
Today, millions of people are unemployed. Unemployment represents mental anxiety, fear of harassment over unpaid bills, idle hours, loss of self-esteem, strained family relationships, deprivation of children and youth, alcoholism, drug abuse and crime. A job is a key measure of a person's place in society—whether as a full-fledged participant or on the outside. Jobs are the solution to poverty, hunger and other basic needs of workers and their families. Jobs enable a person to translate legal rights of equality into reality.
Our industrial capacity is also wastefully under-utilized. There are houses to build, urban centers to rebuild, roads and railroads to construct and repair, rivers to clean, and new sources of energy to develop. Something is wrong when there is work to be done, and the people who are willing to do it are without jobs. What we have lacked is leadership.
A return to full employment will eliminate such deficits. With prudent management of existing programs, full employment revenues will permit the financing of national Democratic initiatives.In the subsection "What Democrats Can Achieve"
We have met the goals of full employment with stable prices in the past and can do it again. The Democratic Party is committed to the right of all adult Americans willing, able and seeking work to have opportunities for useful jobs at living wages. To make that commitment meaningful, we pledge ourselves to the support of legislation that will make every responsible effort to reduce adult unemployment to 3 per cent within 4 years.In the subsection "Full Employment Policies"
Institutional reforms and the use of conventional tax, spending and credit policies must be accompanied by a broad range of carefully-targeted employment programs that will reduce unemployment in the private sector, and in regions, states and groups that have special employment problems.In the section "Economic Justice"
The lack of formal coordination among federal, state and local governments is a major obstacle to full employment. The absence of economic policy coordination is particularly visible during times of high unemployment. Recessions reduce tax revenues, and increase unemployment-related expenditures for state and local governments. To maintain balanced budgets or reduce budget deficits these governments are forced to increase taxes and cut services—actions that directly undermine federal efforts to stimulate the economy.
Consistent and coherent economic policy requires federal anti-recession grant programs to state and local government, accompanied by public employment, public works projects and direct stimulus to the private sector. In each case, the programs should be phased in automatically when unemployment rises and phased out as it declines.
Even during periods of normal economic growth there are communities and regions of the country—particularly central cities and rural areas —that do not fully participate in national economic prosperity. The Democratic Party has supported national economic policies which have consciously sought to aid regions in the nation which have been afflicted with poverty, or newer regions which have needed resources for development. These policies were soundly conceived and have been successful. Today, we have different areas and regions in economic decline and once again face a problem of balanced economic growth. To restore balance, national economic policy should be designed to target federal resources in areas of greatest need. To make low interest loans to businesses and state and local governments for the purpose of encouraging private sector investment in chronically depressed areas, we endorse consideration of programs such as a domestic development bank or federally insured taxable state and local bonds with adequate funding, proper management and public disclosure.
Special problems faced by young people, especially minorities, entering the labor force persist regardless of the state of the economy. To meet the needs of youth, we should consolidate existing youth employment programs; improve training, apprenticeship, internship and job-counseling programs at the high school and college levels; and permit youth participation in public employment projects.
There are people who will be especially difficult to employ. Special means for training and locating jobs for these people in the private sector, and, to the extent required, in public employment, should be established. Every effort should be made to create jobs in the private sector. Clearly, useful public jobs are far superior to welfare and unemployment payments. The federal government has the responsibility to ensure that all Americans able, willing and seeking work are provided opportunities for useful jobs.
Our commitment to full employment and sustained purchasing power will also provide a strong incentive for capital formation.In the section "Health Care"
A return to full employment and the maintenance thereafter of stable economic growth will permit the orderly and progressive development of a comprehensive national health insurance program which is federally financed.In the section "Environmental Quality"
Protecting the worker from workplace hazards is a key element of our full employment program.In the section "International Relations"
Our country can—and under a Democratic administration it will—work vigorously for the adoption of policies of full employment and economic growth which will enable us to meet both the justified domestic needs of our citizens and our needs for an adequate national defense.In the section "The Challenge of Interdependence"
We are committed to trade policies that can benefit a full employment economy—through creation of new jobs for American workers, new markets for American farmers and businesses, and lower prices and a wider choice of goods for American consumers.
We pledge constant efforts to keep world monetary systems functioning properly in order to provide a reasonably stable economic environment for business and to prevent the importation of inflation. We will support reform of the international monetary system to strengthen institutional means of coordinating national economic policies, especially with our European and Japanese allies, thus facilitating efforts by our government and others to achieve full employment.1980 Platform
In the section "Solving Economic Problems"
Full Employment—We specifically reaffirm our commitment to achieve all the goals of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act within the currently prescribed dates in the Act, especially those relating to a joint reduction in unemployment and inflation. Full employment is important to the achievement of a rising standard of living, to the pursuit of sound justice, and to the strength and vitality of America.In the section "Women and the Economy"
We will adopt a full employment policy, with increased possibilities for part-time work.In the section on "Welfare Reform"
As state and local governments modify other benefit programs on which low-income people depend, the Food Stamp Program becomes increasingly important. We will continue to work toward full employment in recognition of the importance of self-support. Until that goal can be attained, and for those who cannot be self-supporting, we remain committed to our current policy of full funding for the Food Stamp Program.1984 Platform
In the section "Investing in Our Cities"
Toward that end, the Democratic Party pledges:In the section "Meeting the Challenge of Economic Competition"
—a commitment to full employment. We believe the federal government must develop a major, comprehensive national job skills development policy targeted on the chronically unemployed and underemployed. We must launch special training programs for women who receive public assistance. We need to increase government procurement opportunities for small and minority firms and to encourage deposits of federal funds in minority-owned financial institutions. And to build for the future, the Democratic Party calls for a new national commitment to education, which must include raising standards, insisting on excellence, and giving all children a chance to learn, regardless of race, income or sex.
—We need a vigorous, open and fair trade policy 'that builds America's competitive strength, and that allows our nation to remain an advanced, diversified economy while promoting full employment and raising living standards in the United States and other countries of the world; opens overseas markets for American products; strengthens the international economic system; assists adjustment to foreign competition; and recognizes the legitimate interests of American workers, farmers and businesses.1988 Platform
We believe that, as a first-rate world power moving into the 21st century, we can have a first-rate full employment economy, with an indexed minimum wage that can help lift and keep families out of poverty, with training and employment programs—including child care and health care—that can help people move from welfare to work, with portable pensions and an adequate Social Security System, safeguarded against emasculation and privatization, that can help assure a comfortable and fulfilling old age, with opportunities for voluntary national public service, above and beyond current services, that can enrich our communities, and with all workers assured the protection of an effective law that guarantees their rights to organize, join the union of their choice, and bargain collectively with their employer, free from anti-union tactics.