Compromise 5: Medicare’s Complicated Birth

LBJ passes comprehensive federal insurance for seniors with shrewd politics and a strong dose of compromise

In 1965, after winning in a landslide against Barry Goldwater and helping to carry Democratic supermajorities into both houses of Congress, President Lyndon Johnson set out to enact a battery of Great Society reforms, including Medicare, government insurance for seniors. Despite his political mandate, 60 years of conservative opposition to such a measure meant proceeding with caution. Later, California Governor Ronald Reagan, for example, would characterize the Medicare bill as the advance wave of a socialism that would “invade every area of freedom in this country.” Reagan predicted that this reform would compel Americans to spend their “sunset years telling our children and our grandchildren what it was like in America when men were free.”

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Cartoonery

When Donkey and Elephant First Clashed

One hundred forty years ago, Harper’s Weekly’s cartoonist of genius, Thomas Nast, sired the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant into ridicule. In an environment of flourishing editorial cartoons, Nast’s ready vocabulary of political symbols caught on. Within a decade the donkey and elephant had evolved from the focal points of partisan mockery into the popular mascots they are today. Read more »

Democratic Debacle

The Republican party ensured a landslide defeat when it nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964, but the Democrats did far more lasting damage to themselves at their convention that year. In fact, they still haven’t recovered.

When several busloads of black Mississippians showed up in Atlantic City, they were there to drop a political bombshell.

Earlier this year sen. John Kerry caused a stir by saying that the Democratic party “always makes the mistake of looking South.... Al Gore proved he could have been President of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own.”

The Lives Of The Parties

The two-party system, undreamt of by the founders of the Republic, has been one of its basic shaping forces ever since their time

Recently I got a letter from a friend of mine, Max Lale, the current president of the Texas State Historical Society, that gave me a quick glimpse of a vanished world. Lale recalled that on election day of 1928, when he was twelve, he accompanied his father on a mile-and-a-quarter walk to their local polling place in Oklahoma. There he waited while his Southern-born father, faced with a choice between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover, agonized over which would be worse: to support a Catholic or a Republican. In the end he cast no vote for President.Read more »

“I Hardly Know Truman”

Thus did Franklin Roosevelt characterize the man who was to be his running mate in 1944 and—as everyone at the astonishing Democratic Convention knew—almost certainly the next President of the United States. Here is FDR at his most devious, Harry Truman at the pivot of his career, and the old party-boss system at its zenith.

 

 

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Why the Candidates Still Use FDR as Their Measure

It’s not surprising that Democrats seek to wrap themselves in the Roosevelt cloak; what’s harder to understand is why so many Republicans do too. A distinguished historian explains.

When the American people got their first look at the entries in the 1988 presidential race, they sensed immediately that not one of the contenders measured up to their highest expectations.

 
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Douglas, Deadlock, & Disunion

In 1860, Southern delegates bolted the Democratic convention at Charleston. An eyewitness describes the first giant step toward secession

 

Late in April, 1860, a strife-ridden Democratic party met at Charleston, South Carolina, to choose a presidential candidate. This was to prove one of the most fateful meetings of its kind in American history. At a time of mounting sectional antagonism, the Democratic party was the one remaining political organization that represented both North and South; its disruption would mean nothing less than a complete, if not irrevocable, division of the Union.

 

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