Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Those Good Old Days?" - No Thanks

It always interests me when my conservative brothers and sisters long for the "good old days." As they view our nation today, they seem to want to return to days past. Although I am not sure what they are referring to (but I have an idea), nor am I certain of the particular era they are longing for, the "good old days" were not always so good.

For example, in those "good old days", women were basically second class citizens. They generally were encouraged to train as nurses and secretaries, if anything, outside of the home. Of course, if you go back to the early part of the 20th century, they could not vote, and even farther back, they were considered property.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "Jim Crow" laws and traditions in the South were the rule. In my hometown, lunch or a cup of coffee downtown for a person of color when I was growing up was out of the question...... let alone the opportunity for a decent job. Racism was rampant. If you go back far enough in America.......well I don't need to tell you what it was like for people of color.

Mentally challenged members of families were sent away to confinement in the "good old days" in many families. Depending upon the era to which our "take me back to the good old days" crowd wants to be taken, sweatshop conditions, child labor, and high rates of accidents were prevalent in the workplace. There were "work farms" and "county homes" where poor people of no means and "vagrants" were sent. Those were the "good old days."

In 1950, the mortality rate among children under age one in America was 3300 per 100,000. Today, it is still high among western industrialized countries, but it is 693 per 100,000. Prostitution was so pandemic after the Civil War that a number of cities seriously considered legalizing it. Crime and police graft was rampant in the first half of the 20th century. Food and water was unsafe and hospitals were unclean and unsterile. Epidemics were commonplace.

In the 1920s , according to the Brookings Institute, 60% of American families did not earn enough to satisfy basic human needs. 40% lived on less than $1500. a year. New York City has 20,000 homeless people today. In 1884, 43,000 families in the city were evicted from their homes. Half the city lived in slums.

Today, thank God for Social Security, for Medicare of the elderly, for Medicaid for the poor, for school lunch programs for hunger kids, for safe working conditions, for a clean environment, for health care reform efforts. Thank God for a nation that is moving forward, for a nation struggling daily with how to become a more effective economy in a transitioning world economy.......but for a nation that is moving forward. As a progressive, I love this country and I look for it to be moving forward, not backward.

Our standard of living is up, our productivity is up, our life expectancy is up, and great minds looking to plant seeds of prosperity in America continue to come here. Amidst our tremendous challenges and our political bickering, I have great confidence, and I am encouraged by American ingenuity and intellect.

One of the 20th century's great reformers and progressives, Robert Kennedy, put it this way, "All of us might wish at times to live in a more tranquil world, but we can't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are our challenges and opportunities." Let's not give in to those naysayers who harken back for those (so called) "good old days." Be a part of moving America forward.

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