Progressive Revival

President Obama got his stimulus package passed, Now the real work begins. The next months and years will be a new opportunity to prove the effectiveness of government to create jobs, keep people in their homes and make life better for the average American. The crisis that confronts us will require all of America’s moral and intellectual power.

The knee jerk response from purported fiscal conservatives (where have they been the last 8 years?), that the cutting taxes will solve every problem, is grounded in the fundamental belief that government is bad. As their mascot Ronald Reagan famously said: “Government is not the solution to our problems, Government is the problem.”

Try telling that to the millions in this country who have lost their jobs over the last months because of bank and commerce mismanagement and waste, and whose only source of sustaining incoming during this (hopefully short) period of unemployment is their unemployment compensation check. The safety net provided by unemployment compensation did not appear by magic – it was the result of smart government that grew big enough to provide this service for all Americans in need.

I have a particular reason to praise the creation of unemployment compensation as my grandparents, Paul A. Raushenbush and Elizabeth Brandeis were two of its original creators. Paul was the son of the social gospel pastor Walter Rauschenbusch, and Elizabeth was the daughter of the Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis. They both studied at the University of Wisconsin, where the met, married and eventually taught economics.

In Madison there was a close relationship between the university and the government known as “the Wisconsin Experiment.” Paul and Elizabeth worked closely with Governor Phil Lafollette to pass the first state unemployment insurance 1932 which became the model for Unemployment Compensation nationwide. Millions of Americans have had the burden of unemployment eased because of this governmental program.

In this age of cynical criticizing anything done by the government, this story reminds us that we can harness intellectual energies towards the practical concern of making people’s lives better during this crisis. It is time for all of us to join President Obama and bend our best thought and strength in the service of the economic and moral recovery of our country and to the world.

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