How socialism built rural America

How socialism built rural America


High-school football is an anchor of
community life in small-town America. I grew up in rural Texas, and I learned a
lot of the most important lessons in life out on the football field. But,
without the ideas that Republicans called socialist at the time, there
would literally be no such thing as Friday Night Lights. In 1932,
90% of rural America lacked electric power. That meant no refrigerators, no
running water–virtually none of the amenities of modern life that were
available in the big cities. And certainly no electric scoreboards or
floodlights for the football fields and no radios for the folks that couldn’t
make it to the stadium on Friday night. The problem was, big corporations didn’t
think they could make a profit from running power lines to small towns and
farms across the country. In fact, at the time, they thought that farmers would be
too poor to pay power bills, period. They checked their spreadsheets and they just wrote us off out in small-town America. So, to get power to the areas left behind
by capitalism, two New Deal legislators, Rep. Sam Rayburn from Texas and
Sen. George Norris from Nebraska authored the Rural Electrification Act. Now,
Sam Rayburn was the Democrat. Norris was a Republican, and after Roosevelt signed
their bill, the small-town electric cooperatives all over the country could
get loans from the Rural Electrification Administration to build local power. And
after they built those power systems and paid back the loan, the members of the
co-ops themselves owned the power grid. Republicans, of course, called it
socialism. “When we were working to get the EMCs in this area, a businessman said to me, he said, ‘What you’re doing is
socialism.’ I replied, ‘If it is socialism, it is good socialism and I like it.'”
Big business Republicans like Henry Ford called Norris a socialist. They actually
ran him out of the party over his support for the Tennessee Valley
Authority and rural electrification. But we didn’t let him stop us! Thanks to the bill that Norris and Rayburn authored and that Roosevelt signed, by 1945,
90% of farms had electricity. Remember: 90% of small-town
America had no electricity when they started this effort. And according to the
Roosevelt Institute, access to electricity completely changed rural
life, bringing appliances into the house and onto the field, improving health and
sanitation and adding running water and refrigerators and connecting
farms to the outside world via radio. Norris, for his part, had to run as an
independent, but he won because people love the programs that he had fought for.
Now, right now, Donald Trump and the Republicans are calling every Democratic
proposal, from the New Deal to strengthening Social Security, socialism.
“Socialism!” “Venezuela!” “Single-payer universal health care universal jobs”
“They put in socialism right there front and center and they are going for it man!”
That’s probably a good thing. It probably means we’re gonna again be improving the quality of life in this country, because every time our government has acted to
promote the general welfare, Republicans have just started screeching “socialism!”
at the top of their voices. But the ideas that they called socialist built the
country that we know today. So again, the next time you’re out on a fall night
sitting in the bleachers, cheering on the home team, having a Coke from the
concession stand, take a look at those bright lights overhead and remember to
think to yourself: “That’s socialism.” Thanks for watching!
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