Explore the rest of our special series “Aging America.”
Of all the major pieces of legislation passed in the past century, “Obamacare” is the second most divisive in terms of party support, coming in just behind President Barack Obama’s stimulus package. In comparison, passing the Social Security Act — a law that enormously redefined the role of the federal government — was like an afternoon of peach picking.
But that was a very different time. The Depression and the mass misery it caused stirred a new level of compassion for the tripped up and downtrodden. The Republican and Democratic parties were more diverse, the media was more centralized and civil, and World War II hadn’t happened yet, so political discussions didn’t inevitably devolve into Nazi analogies.
But even with all these factors, there was plenty of whipped-up rhetoric around the passage of Social Security, which introduced old-age assistance and unemployment insurance through a new tax on payrolls. And then there was a fresh round of hand-wringing during the Supreme Court trial that ultimately found that tax constitutional.
In 1936 manufacturers across Midwest stamped their workers’ paychecks with a slick piece of propaganda, announcing that they were “compelled” to turn over some of their wages to the government with “NO guarantee” they would ever get it back. The chairman of the Republican National Committee declared that the U.S. was entering a new era of police surveillance and that all workers would be required to hang stainless steel number tags around their necks.
Since Social Security is a recurring theme in our Aging America series this week, America Tonight looks back at some of the most memorable quotes about Social Security and “Obamacare” to see how political dialogue has — or hasn’t — evolved. Try to figure out which piece of major legislation each quote refers to, then click for the answer.