Monthly Archives: December 2017

How anti-German hysteria in WWI killed U.S. national health care

Thomas V. DiBaccoGuest Columnist:

One of the great tragedies of the bitter partisan battle over keeping or repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is that it brings to the mind of the historian that America’s past afforded a lost opportunity a century ago to implement national health care. Indeed, in the early 1900s, reformers advanced prudent legislation dealing with matters of safety and health that drew bipartisan support. Only in the heat of emotion-laden foreign policies were these measures tossed aside.

The story begins with state reformers faced with pressing health issues: first, reducing on-the-job accidents that adversely affected workers and, second, promoting workers’ compensation for such accidents through the states. As early as 1902, Maryland enacted a workers’ comp law, with Montana and New York following eight years later. Although these measures were declared unconstitutional, Illinois in 1911 effected a law that passed constitutional scrutiny. Numerous states followed Illinois’ example, and workers’ comp would become an ingrained part of America’s safety and health structure.

Next, reformers used the state model to call for universal health insurance. Based mostly on German social legislation, the proposals covered all medical costs for workers and their dependents earning less than the average annual income in each state (ranging from $800 to $1,200). The measures were to be funded by a payroll tax on employers and employees, with states picking up 20 percent of the cost. In short, sick workers absent from their jobs would receive all medical care without cost, and two-thirds of wages up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Starting in 1913, these programs were formally proposed to legislatures in 16 states. They encountered no opposition from the American Medical Association, whose members represented about half of the nation’s doctors. In fact, at its annual meeting in San Francisco, the AMA accepted a favorable report on these state schemes.

What killed universal health insurance was the hysteria over World War I — and anything relating to the prime enemy, Germany, which had the oldest and most advanced social legislation at the time. No state was more progressive about health reform than California, which, in a referendum in 1918, a year after the United States entered the war, saw health insurance soundly defeated 358,324 to 133,858.

Anti-German feeling spread in an irrational manner. German foods were declared unpatriotic, including sauerkraut, beer and pretzels, and one physician even started a campaign to get the name of German measles changed to Victory or Liberty measles.

Little wonder that in California and all other states, universal health care was associated with being pro-German. Or, as the Los Angeles Times put it on November 3, 1918, health insurance was a “device borrowed from the imperial laws of Germany.”

To be sure, in the 1920s reformers worked to restore interest in universal health care, and when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933, hope was restored. For FDR’s prestige within months suggested he could get anything he wanted. Thus, when Social Security legislation was proposed in 1935, which covered not only old-age insurance but unemployment compensation and aid to the disabled, widows and children, health insurance advocates urged that he add their program to the act.

Roosevelt chose not to do so, nor did he support a national health bill in 1939 that provided federal grants to states for coverage. The reason: German leader Adolf Hitler was firmly entrenched in power, and the specter of health-insurance opponents raising anti-German rhetoric once more was in his mind.

Even when another popular, get-anything-done president, Dwight Eisenhower, came into power in 1953, the quest for health insurance was doomed, with the Soviet Union’s form of government giving rise to opponents reveling in the fear of “socialized medicine” being transported to America.

Say all you want about the imperfections of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama borrowed from German models by moving in the direction of compulsory participation and a heavily regulated system. With President Trump’s “America First” orientation, it’s no wonder that Republicans look only to their own limited knowledge about health care.

Thomas V. DiBacco, a 1959 Rollins College graduate, is professor emeritus at American University in Washington, D. C.

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Eisenhower quote                                 Sorry  General, their number is not so negligible today


 How else to explain the “Tax Reform Act of 2017”?

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(below courtesy of Social Security Works)

If the tax scam becomes law, those cuts to Medicare and Medicaid will be just the start. Rubio has made clear that Republican politicians will use the lost revenue from the tax scam as an excuse to end Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as we know them.

This is just one more battle — albeit a major one — in an ongoing war. Republican elites and their donors have been trying to dismantle these programs since they were enacted. As far back as 1961, Ronald Reagan (then pitchman/host of television’s General Electric Theater) gained political prominence by opposing the creation of Medicare, claiming that it would lead to “socialist dictatorship.” Decades earlier, Republican presidential contender Alf Landon ran for president promising to repeal and replace FDR’s brand new Social Security program.

Today’s Republicans are still fighting the battle. After the GOP gave their last giant tax giveaway to the wealthy, President George W. Bush attempted to privatize Social Security. He pointed to budget deficits created by his tax giveaway and claimed that our nation “couldn’t afford” Social Security — even though it doesn’t contribute a single penny to the deficit.

Just as Rubio recently revealed the true motivations and goals of the tax scam, back in 2005 a top Bush Administration staffer wrote a confidential memo explaining the real reason Republicans were pushing Social Security privatization. The memo, which was fortuitously leaked, stated, “For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win — and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country.”

The truth is that Republican donors have always hated Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They simply want to be richer, the rest of the country be damned. In the past, the American people have thwarted every effort in this longstanding, ongoing war.

Republican politicians have learned from past failures. Instead of being clear about their hatred of these programs, they argue that they are simply trying to “save” them. They claim that the United States — the richest country in the world at the richest moment in its history — suddenly can’t afford these efficient and effective programs.

ROBBER BARONS” ARE BACK, DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST. Congress, as in 1887, aided and abetted as ordered by today’s equivalent of the malefactors below.


Imagine a President who had respect for citizens of the Republic, explaining issues of the day!

President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat, March 12, 1933, “On Banks” (excerpt)

We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people’s funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was, of course, not true in the vast majority of our banks, but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government’s job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible. And the job is being performed.

I do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided; and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift. I can even promise you salvation for some at least of the sorely pressed banks. We shall be engaged not merely in reopening sound banks but in the creation of sound banks through reorganization.

It has been wonderful to me to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people for the loyal support they have given me in their acceptance of the judgment that has dictated our course, even though all our processes may not have seemed clear to them.

After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.


Wisdom from Frederick Douglass

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” Frederick Douglass,abolitionist and statesman, Speech, April 1886



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