Like all national elections, the 2016 campaign has highlighted the fact that there are a large number of Americans who are angry at their government and are desperately seeking an agent of change. Many of them have every right to be unhappy with Washington, because we have been saddled with a broken political system for many years.
No matter which party is in control of Congress, there is always some faction that blocks progress. When the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, they had many opportunities to make major changes in the country, but the liberal faction of the party consistently got in the way. Obamacare may in time prove to be a success, but it was the only meaningful law that came out of a one-party Congress.
Once Congress was controlled by the Republican Party, the right wing decided that President Obama must not have any legacy when he leaves office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to “make this president a one-term president” wasn’t fulfilled, but McConnell, with the help of the Tea Party faction in the House, stalled anything that would have enriched the lives of people in need.
So it’s no surprise that the public gives Congress such low favorable ratings, because it deserves them. The real question is, how do we deal with the groups that have legitimate gripes about their government? I’m not referring to the bigots and the racists who have embraced the candidacy of Donald Trump. Their idea of “making America great again” is turning back the clock to segregation, outright discrimination and marginalizing ethnic groups. We’ve come a long way since the 1960s, and no one should be allowed to bring back those ugly times.
There are many Americans who can’t find jobs, through no fault of their own. Every new technology that you read about results in some group of people losing their jobs. The need for the country to clean up the environment causes coal miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania to lose their jobs, with virtually no possibility of being trained for new ones. Politicians like Trump can promise to bring back coal and steel jobs, but in his heart he knows that those jobs are never returning.
At the risk of being nostalgic, I’d like to bring back some of the old days as a way to jump-start our economy. In 1935, America was hurting. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, millions of people were out of work. While our country today is much healthier, with booming industries, we need to get the poorer areas of the nation working again. A simpler solution would be to copy the old Works Progress Administration.
The WPA was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to Wikipedia, in the 1930s it was the most aggressive government agency, hiring mostly unskilled men to carry out public works projects, the construction of buildings and roads. Many of today’s post offices contain murals painted by out-of-work artists. Almost every city or town in America had a park, bridge or school built using federal funds. Workers were paid the prevailing wage, and at least it gave them something that politicians strive for — hope.
The WPA created 8.5 million jobs and gave unskilled workers across the country the chance to feel wanted. Many years later, President Jimmy Carter got money for programs that allowed police departments to hire civilian workers to relieve uniformed employees from desk duties. It wasn’t as big as the WPA, but it helped people get a paycheck and gave them the chance to be productive. I’m not in favor of big handouts, but there are a lot of people out there who are ready to help rebuild our sagging infrastructure.
I’ve heard all of the arguments about government giveaways, but this Congress hasn’t figured out a way to appropriate one extra dollar for rebuilding our country. Taking a look back at the past could result in a brighter future for many Americans.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.