Epic Changes in the Country

Timothy Egan, The NY T, April 23, 2016

Consider the epic changes over the past century that brought lasting good to this country. Social Security and Medicare, allowing millions of Americans to live in dignity, were part one. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, which completed what Abraham Lincoln started with the 13th Amendment, were part two. Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which made the nation’s cities breathe able, waterways swimmable and the country more habitable for all living things, were part three. Clinton needs to fashion a part four, attacking inequality with an institutional uplift to the slipping middle class.

Those earlier initiatives were radical changes, the kind of big ideas the public is clamoring for now.

As you read the following think of the two Democratic presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President from 1933-1945 and Lyndon Baines Johnson, President from 1963 to 1969, during whose tenures as President were enacted most of the country’s principal welfare legislation. The two of them did help to grow our government, but in enormously beneficial ways. How many of the Acts mentioned below would you ever want to see undone? The Republican candidates have much to say about President Reagan. What did he do? I do remember he fired the Air controllers. What else?


Social Security: The Social Security Act of 1935 was created during Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘s first term by the President’s Committee on Economic Security, under Frances Perkins, and passed by Congress as part of the Second New Deal. The act was an attempt to limit what was seen as dangers in the modern American life, including old age, poverty, unemployment, and the burdens on widows and fatherless children. By signing this act on August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt became the first president to advocate federal assistance for the elderly.[2]

Medicare: Enacted in July of 1965  to provide a hospital insurance program for the aged under the Social Security Act with a supplementary health benefits program and an expanded program of medical assistance, to increase benefits under the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance System, to improve the Federal-State public assistance programs, and for other purposes.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: enacted July 2, outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.[6] It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations“).

The Voting Rights Act of 1965: a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement on August 6, 1965. Congress would later amend the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured voting rights for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.

The Clean Air Act of 1963: A federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It is one of the United States’ first and most influential modern environmental laws, and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. The 1955 Air Pollution Control Act was the first U.S federal legislation that pertained to air pollution; it also provided funds for federal government research of air pollution. The first federal legislation to actually pertain to “controlling” air pollution was the Clean Air Act of 1963.The 1963 act accomplished this by establishing a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorized research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution.

Clean water Act, or now referred to as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, was enacted in 1948. Major changes have subsequently been introduced via amendatory legislation including the Clean Water Act of 1977[3] and the Water Quality Act of 1987. The Clean Water Act does not directly address groundwater contamination. Groundwater protection provisions are included in the Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Superfund act.

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