In the early 20th century, the Democratic Party shifted from a party that supported slavery to a party that embraced minorities, civil rights and women's suffrage. With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, the Democrats, for the first time, adopted sweeping social and welfare programs that changed the landscape of American politics and altered the role of government in the life of everyday citizens.
New Deal Social Policies
In the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt and the Democratic Party ushered in a new era of government that focused on social policies to help the poor, the working class and the elderly. The New Deal was a new ideology in the United States, which had previously favored a laissez-fare or limited government approach to economic and social policy. Under the New Deal, the Democrats held the view that government should take a larger role in social policy. Roosevelt advocated a "social gospel," which favored cooperation rather than competition. Social reforms under the New Deal included the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservative Corps, which put many unemployed people to work during the depression. The most significant New Deal reform that solidified the Democrats' commitment to the social gospel was the creation of the Social Security Administration, which through payroll deductions provided income to the elderly and the poor.
The Great Society Social Policies
Democrats advocate a Keynesian approach to social policy and welfare reform. In short, this philosophy states that demand dictates economic growth and that the federal government should use its fiscal power to spur demand when necessary. President Lyndon Johnson used the expanded role of government in his Great Society program to institute civil rights reforms for African-Americans and women. The 1964 Voting Rights Act and the 1965 Civil Rights Act outlawed discriminatory voting tactics and prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color and gender respectively. President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, which included Head Start for young children and a food stamp program. Johnson's signature program was the Medicare Act of 1965. This act provided money for medical expenses for the elderly and the Medicaid program assisted individuals on welfare who didn't have health coverage.
Welfare Reform and Social Policy: The Clinton Years
The election of President Clinton in 1992 was a new era for the Democrats and their views on social services and welfare. President Clinton put comprehensive health-care reform at the top of his agenda, even appointing his wife, Hilary Rodham Clinton, as the head of his health-care task force. The health-care reform failed due to intense ads from health-care insurance companies and push-back from conservatives. President Clinton, a neoliberal style Democrat, decided to reform the national welfare program -- to the chagrin of members within his own party -- who favored federal top-down policies. The new welfare reforms replaced the Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC) with block grants to the states. The welfare reform instituted a new work requirement for all welfare recipients.
Health-Care Reform Under President Obama
In 2010, the Democratic Party with both houses of Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. The law mandated sweeping new guidelines for health insurance coverage. The law was considered a victory for the Democratic Party, which had long held the view that health care is a human right and should be provided to all. According to an article on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services online, "Key Features of the Affordable Care Act By Year," the law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to children and adults with preexisting conditions. Additionally, the law offers small businesses health insurance credits so they can provide coverage for their employees. The law also operates health insurance exchanges where people may apply for coverage
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- Encyclopedia Britannica: Democratic Party
- The Miller Center.org: American President: Bill Clinton: Domestic Affairs
- HHS.gov: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Key Features of the Affordable Care Act Year by Year
- Bloomberg: Obama Puts Democrats Back in Welfare Reform Trap
- Encyclopedia.com: New Deal
- Democrats.org: Our History
- Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images