The Greater Boston network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline hosted a discussion on the State of the New Deal, and what needs to change for Millennials to support similar programs today.
On Tuesday night, the Greater Boston network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline gathered for a panel discussion on “The State of the New Deal,” reflecting on President Roosevelt’s historic achievements and considering what could come next. Pipeline, a national network of young people in their 20s and 30s collectively organizing to engineer innovative policies and promote effective civic leadership in their communities, convened a multigenerational panel to discuss what’s become of the New Deal safety net, and what would be needed to create similar programs today.
The program opened with David Woolner, a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Resident Hyde Park Historian, providing some historical context: FDR’s legacy, the political environment of the day, and how the New Deal was perceived when it was happening. One of the most important thing he noted was that FDR worked in a far less politically divided era: some of the strongest supporters of New Deal programs were moderate Republicans. It’s much harder to pass any legislation in today’s Congress.
Following his keynote, Woolner joined Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz and Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist Joelle Gamble for a panel moderated by Roosevelt Institute President Felicia Wong, where they expanded the discussion to today’s issues: health care, student debt, Occupy, low-wage work, and more. They probed at the relationship between Americans and their government today, which is often one of distrust and skepticism. As Woolner explained, with the dismantling of much of the New Deal in the Reagan era, government was no longer a creator of economic opportunity.
Aronowitz focused on the question of economic security, posing the question of why Millennials should trust government to work for them. “They’re craving … this baseline of economic security,” and aren’t seeing any way to get it, she said. Were government to help create that baseline, it would be easier to see the potential for other New Deal-style programs. She was also skeptical of the Occupy movement, noting that while the Tea Party and Occupy are frequently compared as political extremes, the anti-establishment and anti-leadership nature of Occupy means that they have limited political power. Meanwhile, Tea Party Republicans like Ted Cruz work against more moderate policymakers to prevent legislation and control the right’s agenda.
Gamble presented the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s “Government By and For Millennial America” project as proof that it is possible to create a government that would speak to Millennial ideas and needs. This government would be an innovator, a lawmaker, and a steward of the common good, and would truly engage all citizens. Unfortunately, she noted, for most Millennials their first real encounter with government systems is with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and federal student loans. FAFSA is often seen as a frustrating system, and student loan servicers as even worse. Woolner noted in his introduction that “what Roosevelt accomplished was a complete transformation of the relationship between the federal government and the American people,” and it’s hard to imagine a similarly positive relationship today – especially if the student loan system is how people form their impression of government.
The question and answer session demonstrated the insight and engagement of the audience. The Affordable Care Act was a topic of serious discussion, and Aronowitz pointed out that for many middle-class Millennials, it doesn’t seem to help much. Woolner passed the mic to James Roosevelt Jr., Franklin and Eleanor’s grandson and an attorney who works on health care, who argued that “if Obamacare succeeds, it will be the New Deal success of our lifetime.” His comment echoed one of the common themes that threaded through the discussion: Millennials need some proof that these programs will help before they will buy in fully. If the Affordable Care Act does lower costs and make insurance more accessible, it could lead to broader support of other programs, like infrastructure-based jobs programs.
After the event, I spoke with some attendees who are involved in Boston-area politics. They seemed to mostly agree: buy-in is tough. Creating change is tough. But the people I spoke to and those posing questions seemed determined to work together and create something new. They want to trust in government to create the safety net needed for that baseline of economic security that Aronowitz brought up early on. They want government to demonstrate that it’s ready to be an equal partner in decreasing economic inequality. It’s just a matter of figuring out the next steps toward that goal.
For more information on Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, visit their website. The Pipeline | New York network will be hosting a screening of the documentary “My Brooklyn” on September 16th at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
Rachel Goldfarb is the Roosevelt Institute Communications Associate.