Opinion

The Great Debate

What about Social Security’s rollout?

After the nation’s major social program finally became law, critics regularly blamed it for a slowing economy and a swelling federal bureaucracy. Fierce congressional opposition led to the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to overhaul the measure. Obamacare in 2013? Not quite. It was Social Security in 1937.

Meanwhile, after enrollment began for the far-reaching health insurance initiative, administrators wrestled with myriad, unexpected problems. Implementation, according to the man who oversaw the introduction of Medicare in 1965, “took the form of a whole year of consultation with literally hundreds of people in identified areas of concern.”

The tortuous, often controversial implementation of both Medicare and Social Security serves as an early template for the current controversies over the Obamacare rollout. The ultimate success of those social programs ought to calm the overheated atmosphere surrounding the first days of enrollment for the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare is but a few weeks old, and partisan opponents like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have already denounced supporters of the fledgling program — comparing them to Neville Chamberlain and other appeasers of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Even thoughtful critics like former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson are depicting the healthcare insurance program it as an “intellectual crisis for modern liberalism.”

Meanwhile, voices on the political left have called the launch a “failure.” Or they have leapt on the website glitches as evidence of the need for a simpler, universal single payer system.

Death in Bangladesh: Triangle fire redux

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

So now we are to have Senate hearings on the deadly conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories, and so must pretend to discover what we have known all along — in seeking to save a few dollars on our next trip to the mall, we are willing to let other people suffer the worst horrors of our own past.

More than a hundred years ago, we were willing to ignore the awful conditions that prevailed in factories and sweatshops here in America. Then came the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, in New York’s Greenwich Village, on Mar. 25, 1911, when 146 garment workers died in the space of 15 minutes. Many of them perished by falling or leaping from the ninth floor of the factory building, crashing through a glass roof, impaling on the spikes of an iron fence, smashing on the paving stones below.

The spectacle of so many workers — almost all women, many of them teenagers — dying in broad daylight, on the streets of a pleasant Manhattan neighborhood before a crowd of stunned and helpless onlookers, made their plight impossible to deny.

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