From FDR’s New Deal to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the United States government has attempted to centralize extensive social policies. In the early eighties, when recession and inflation were at a high, Ronald Reagan took office and pronounced that the federal government needed to take a lesser role in the lives of the American people. As Theda Skocpol comments in her book Boomerang: Clinton’s Health Security Effort and the Turn Against Government in U. S. Politics, the Reagan administration instilled a dislike of centralized government in the American people.
This was a major reason, according to Skocpol, why the Clinton Administration failed to nationalize “Health Security”. It was this fear of centralized government and Clinton’s failure to reform Health Care that makes a more centralized social policy unlikely in the near future. There has been a necessity in the twentieth century (due in part to the Great Depression and World War II) for big government. The legislation behind Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal called for the involvement of the federal government to create a highly bureaucratic social policy.
The combination of Roosevelt’s political assertiveness and society’s willingness to allow such centralization that made big government possible. The laissez-faire mentality of the twenties was seen as the cause of the depression. The federal government and the ensuing reforms were seen as a way of insuring economic security. In the sixties President Johnson followed with a plan of social reform: “The Great Society”. In contrast to the severe economic circumstances of the thirties, the sixties were consumed with social unrest.
The predominantly white bourgeoisie saw such reforms as a financial threat. The civil rights act of 1964 was a distant promise to the underprivileged for a better way of living. The American people were not willing to give up some of their money so that the more unfortunate could a have a better way of living. The reaction to “The Great Society” conveyed the American public’s unwillingness to sacrifice their economic security for the unfortunate. The federal government would not take a bigger role.
In the eighties Ronald Reagan came into power and instilled an intense fear of big government into the American people. As Theda Skocpol says “…debt and disillusionment with the federal government were growing before the 1980s. But the republican ascendancy of that decade exploded the deficit and deliberately encouraged cynicism about public efforts to address national problems. ” The Reagan administration worked to cut taxes and spending on what was called “wasteful” government programs. The democrats, who in the Congressional majority, attempted to maintain the programs that already existed.
Yet the republican forces would eventually starve the existing programs in order to cut the federal budget. Twelve years after Reagan and Bush took office the annual deficit rose from 59 billion in 1980 to 300 billion in 1992 and the national debt rose from 914 billion to over 3 trillion in 1992 . Reagan’s plans were not carefully thought through and its repercussions would be felt into the Clinton administration. The Clinton administration ideally wanted to implement new social reforms when it entered the White House in 1992.
The plan for his Health Care reform had overwhelming support by the public and the media. On the Clinton home front, however, there was a lot of concern. According to Theda Skocpol “Clinton and his 1992 campaign advisors were obsessed with the avoidance of the word “taxes,”” . The Clinton administration was haunted by the republican parties policies of the eighties. Clinton was aware that the American people would be wary of new social reform if it included taxes because of the underlying fear of a strong centralized government.
Thus the Clinton administration attempted to keep a tight lip on the details of the health care reform, but this ended up backfiring on them. The public and media were not informed of the details surrounding “Health Security” plan and society thought the worst. By comparison; LBJ’s “Great Society” failed because people were not willing to be taxed on another seemingly excessive government policy. So less then a year after the health care plan was announced it was quickly shot down by congress like a goose in hunting season.
The American mentality to be economically frugal prevented the Clinton administration from passing the health care reform that would allow universal coverage. The inability of the White House to overcome this trend makes such grandiose reforms unlikely. Skocpol agrees with this assertion when she says “In the wake of failed Health Security effort of 1993-94 and the anti-governmental backlash it helped fuel, there is no prospect of starting again…” Even with the prospect of a democratic White House and Congress in 2000, such a highly bureaucratic and federally complicated bill does not seem likely in the near future.
Furthermore, with the budget surplus causing political gridlock, it is apparent that the democrats will not be able to use the economic surplus for any new government programs. In a time of economic prosperity, where the mailman has four televisions in his three-story house, the American public would rather invest in the stock market than big government.