As Democrats, we sometimes have difficulty articulating our beliefs. What do we stand for? It's like asking what does America stand for.
Over the past century in this nation, nearly every advance made in civil rights, educational opportunity, economic justice, workers' rights, environmental and consumer protections, retirement security, and political freedom has been a direct result of the efforts of the Democratic Party.
At nearly every turn, the conservative movement has resisted these advances. Even today they would like to roll back the clock to the days of robber barons, child labor, and endemic poverty. If you think this is mere partisan hyperbole, you have not been paying attention.
We've established this FAQ section of our website to answer some of the questions often asked of us. As Democrats, we should never forget that we are the party of progress. As Americans, we should never forget that history will judge us by how well we serve our fellow citizens.
What has the Democratic Party done to increase educational opportunities for Americans?
A democracy cannot function without an educated citizenry. A nation that advances based on the efforts of its workers cannot prosper if that workforce is not up to the task.
How did American workers get the benefits of a 40-hour work week, overtime pay, collective bargaining, and workplace safety regulations?
These benefits were developed over a period of years, but may of them can be traced to the incredible legacy of Franklin Roosevelt's administration. American workers had been agitating for shorter work weeks almost since the time of the American Revolution. Several American industries had standardized on the 8-hour day and 40-hour week by the beginning of the 20th century, but it was not until the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act that all American workers were granted the protections of a standard work week.
What would our air quality be today without the Clean Air Act of 1963?
If you've seen the extremely poor air quality in parts of China, Russia and the Baltic States you have an idea of how bad it would be.
The first Clean Air Act was passed in 1963 and created a regulatory program in the U.S. Public Health Service. The 1967 Air Quality Act mandated enforcement of interstate air pollution standards and authorized ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections.
In the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, Congress greatly expanded the federal mandate by requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both industrial and mobile sources. The law established four new regulatory programs:
- National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
- State Implementation Plans (SIPs)
- New Source Performance Standards (NSPS); and
- National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 required Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) of air quality for areas attaining the NAAQS, and added requirements for non-attainment areas.
The 1990 Clean Air Act added regulatory programs for control of acid deposition (acid rain) and stationary source operating permits. The NESHAPs program was expanded to control additional toxic air pollutants, and the NAAQS program was also expanded. Other new provisions covered stratospheric ozone protection, increased enforcement authority, and expanded research programs.
Where did the idea for Social Security retirement benefits come from?
The Social Security Act was drafted during Roosevelt's first term by the President's Committee on Economic Security, under Frances Perkins, and passed by Congress as part of the New Deal. The act was an attempt to limit what were seen as dangers in the modern American life, including old age, poverty, unemployment, and the burdens of widows and fatherless children. By signing this act on August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt became the first president to advocate federal assistance for the elderly.
I know President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act in 1964, but weren't most Democrats in the South opposed to it?
It's true that many Southern Democrats opposed Civil Rights legislation and some supported segregation. However, roughly two-thirds of Democrats in both chambers supported the landmark legislation.
The bill was called for by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of June 11, 1963, in which he asked for legislation "giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments," as well as "greater protection for the right to vote."
After Kennedy's assassination, President Johnson used his experience as a former Senator to push the bill through in just a few months. It's clear that without the moral and political leadership of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, this legislation would not have seen the light of day.
Prior to 1963 the former states of the Confederacy had been known as "The Solid South" because of the virtually complete control by the Democratic Party over local, state and federal offices. Passage of this legislation led those opposed to equality for African Americans to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republican party.