Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Medicare Proposed

50 years ago today, on January 11, 1962, President John F. Kennedy formally endorsed the passage of Medicare, the government-funded health care program for seniors – which today enrolls approximately 48 million Americans. At the time of Kennedy’s State of the Union address, half of Americans aged 65 or older lacked health coverage, and nearly 30% lived below the federal poverty level. “Social security has long helped to meet the hardships of retirement, death and disability,” Kennedy noted. “I now urge that its coverage be extended without further delay to provide health insurance for the elderly.”

Health care has been a dominant issue in American politics for generations. Theodore Roosevelt supported including health care reform in the Progressive Party’s national platform in 1912. Franklin Roosevelt considered the exclusion of a national health program from the Social Security Act of 1935 a questionable concession. After the introduction of Congress’s first-ever national health bill, the Wagner National Health Act, in 1939, Roosevelt resolved to push for such a reform in his third term, though World War II would delay that effort until his Economic Bill of Rights campaign went underway in 1944.

But, it was Harry Truman who would most concertedly pursue universal health care. Truman endorsed the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Act, a medical plan covering doctors, nurses, laboratories, and dental care for all Americans not already covered by comparable insurance. Hopes for passage were dashed when Republicans won Congress in 1946, and as the policy battleground shifted from the hospital to the workplace during debates on the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, Truman’s push lost focus. Although he once again backed national health care in his 1949 State of the Union, Truman remarked years later that:

I have had some bitter disappointments as President, but the one that has troubled me most, in a personal way, has been the failure to defeat the organized opposition to a National compulsory health insurance program. But this opposition has only delayed and cannot stop the adoption of an indispensable Federal health insurance plan.

The greatest obstacle to government health care programs had always been the American Medical Association, which opposed all varieties of national health care proposed during the 1930s-50s. When Kennedy’s White House sought a piecemeal approach in promoting Medicare – a program intended only to aid the age group at the time likeliest to lack health insurance – it once again collided with vociferous AMA opposition. In May 1962, the Palm Beach Post reported that Kennedy viewed the argument as one between the AMA and “the people,” though the President noted confidently that “I think more and more doctors are supporting it.” At the time, Kennedy told reporters he was open to a televised debate with former President Eisenhower on Medicare. Two months later, Medicare failed in a 52-48 Senate vote, an outcome the St. Petersburg Times called Kennedy’s “biggest legislative defeat” to date.

Ultimately, Medicare would pass (with Medicaid for the indigent) as part of the Social Security Act of 1965. After resounding Democratic victories in the 1964 election, President Johnson redoubled his Medicare efforts; the Act passed 307-116 in the House and 70-24 in the Senate. Johnson presented the nation’s first Medicare card to Truman, in a nod to the former President’s efforts to reform health care.

46 years into its existence and 50 after a President endorsed its creation, Medicare faces new fiscal challenges and a daunting future of rising health costs and an expanding elderly population. President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, seeks to vastly expand health coverage by 2014 via subsidies, insurance exchanges, and more widely available Medicaid plans. But today, millions of seniors and even working-age adults fear that Medicare will be unable to pay their future health costs. It is perhaps of historical interest in this era of fiscal uncertainty to recall the spirit in which Medicare came to be, and the legacy its founders sought to establish.

Where is Medicare in the Russell Library's Collections?

The quick answer seems to be everywhere. Discussions over various proposals for medicare (or other such health insurance programs) occur in collections documenting the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s -- Richard B. Russell, Jr., Herman Talmadge, Williamson Stuckey, John Flynt, Robert Stephens, Mack Mattingly and J. Roy Rowland just to name a few.

One of my favorite parts of the Talmadge collection to search through is the Flexys series -- which is largely constituent mail divided by topic, collected from 1965 through 1980. These letters let researchers tap into what the public in Georgia was thinking about major events during this period -- and Medicare was on their minds, just take a look and see.

As always, if you have any questions about how to navigate our collections just shoot us an email at or call us at (706) 542-5788.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New Year, New Building

Welcome to Spring Semester 2012 at UGA! As you've read in recent posts, the Russell Library is now settled in its new home -- the Special Collections Building (300 South Hull Street) -- and we're once again open for regular research hours (8:30am - 4:30pm).

In August I blogged about our new exhibit galleries. Now, as we approach our grand opening on February 17th our exhibit fabricators are hard at work on the 2nd floor installing casework, furniture, and graphics that we've been developing with designers for the past two years. And, our staff is working like crazy to make sure all the objects, labels, and media for the galleries are ready for installation.

As promised in August, we have used our "Political Slang" series on the blog to preview some of the content that will fill our opening exhibition in the Harrison Feature Gallery (drumroll please...) On the Stump: What Does it Take to Get Elected in Georgia?

This exhibition considers the evolution of campaigning for political office in the state from the passage of the white primary in 1900 to the presidential election of 2008. The exhibition invites visitors to step into the shoes of a candidate and onto the campaign trail: from the initial decision to run to crafting a strategy, shaking hands, kissing babies, and everything in between.

Over the next few weeks we'll give you updates on the gallery -- showing pictures of the installation and some sneak peeks of the Hargrett and Brown archives gallery spaces as well.

Jan Levinson, Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Bradley Effect

After correctly projecting winners of gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and presidential elections in California in 76 out of 80 statewide contests since 1948, the Field Poll is widely considered the state’s most accurate pollster. Indeed, the last Field Poll survey of a general election often tracks the actual election margin within one or two percentage points, and the last survey to predict the wrong winner in a polled contest came in 1982. At the time, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, the Democratic nominee for governor, was shown leading Republican state Attorney General George Deukmejian by a convincing margin of eight points. As potentially the first elected African-American governor in history, Bradley’s candidacy had generated considerable excitement. On Election Night, exit polls indicated a Bradley victory. But once the votes were tallied, Deukmejian won the election by about 100,000 votes and 1.2% of the total 7.5 million votes cast. Ever since his unexpected triumph pollsters have spoken of a supposed Bradley effect that plagues black candidates. This theory suggests that voters often tell pollsters they are either undecided or will support the black candidate in an election, but will actually stay home or vote for a white candidate on Election Day. Whether or not a Bradley effect exists—and a former Deukmejian pollster denies that it did even in that 1982 contest—its causes are hotly disputed.

Deukmejian won popularity during his governorship as a fiscal conservative following President Reagan’s mold of slashing allegedly wasteful domestic programs. He defeated Bradley once more in 1986, this time by a lopsided margin of 61-37. Ultimately, the first elected black governor in American history would arrive in 1989 when Democrat Doug Wilder won the governorship of Virginia. Again, observers noted a “Bradley effect” in that Wilder’s margin was close enough to warrant a statewide recount after polls had shown him leading Coleman by four to 15 points and even the Election Night exit poll had predicted a 10-point Wilder win. The same night, David Dinkins, also a Democrat, became New York City’s first African-American mayor, defeating Republican nominee Rudy Giuliani by some two percentage points after leading him by 18 and 14 points, respectively, in the two final polls of the race. A similar outcome had occurred in the Chicago mayoral election of 1983.

Wilder and Dinkins both left office after elections in 1993—Wilder was limited to one term in office and Dinkins lost another close race to Giuliani. The later 1990s and early 2000s proved a fairly poor era for black candidates, with no African-American governors elected and the only black U.S. Senator (Carol Moseley Braun) defeated for reelection in 1998. After the election of another black governor, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, in 2006, and Sen. Barack Obama’s 2007 presidential announcement, the Bradley effect received considerable scrutiny regarding its continued applicability in an age of purportedly higher racial tolerance.

Throughout the 2008 primary campaign, pundits speculated whether Obama’s poll numbers would significantly overstate his on-the-ground support. However, with the single exception of a campaign-resuscitating come-from-behind win for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, Obama’s numbers largely matched or exceeded the polls when votes were tallied. In Southern states particularly, he was known to surpass his polled support. In South Carolina, the poll aggregator website RealClearPolitics showed an Obama lead of 12 points, but he won by 29. He similarly over-performed in Democratic primaries in Georgia, Virginia, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. During the general election campaign, with “Bradley effect” talk again in full swing as Obama maintained consistent polling leads over Republican Sen. John McCain, popular analyst Nate Silver wrote in Newsweek that “there is no reason to conclude that the polls are systematically overestimating Obama’s support.” Indeed, RealClearPolitics’ final poll average on November 3 showed an Obama popular vote lead of 7.6%, an almost perfect match for the eventual 7.3% outcome. RealClearPolitics also projected that Obama would win 338 electoral votes to McCain’s 200. The final result was 365-173.

Whether or not the Bradley effect existed in the 1980s, most agree that there is little evidence for it in closely watched, competitive elections today.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fond Farewell

As we returned to work this week at the Russell Library, we were sad to learn of the passing of Ed Jenkins, who represented Georgia's 9th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress from 1977 until 1993. Our staff would like to extend heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.

Edgar Lanier "Ed" Jenkins was born in Young Harris, Georgia on January 4, 1933. From 1952 to 1955, he served in the Coast Guard. He attended both Young Harris College and Emory University, and graduated from the University of Georgia Law School in 1959. After graduation, he served as an administrative assistant to Congressman Phillip M. Landrum from 1959 to 1962. He practiced law in Jasper, Georgia, and served as an assistant United States attorney in Atlanta. He was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat in 1976. While in congress, he was active in the Ways and Means Committee, passing and supporting bills involving taxes, trade and land and mountain preservation. He also served as chairman of the Textile Caucus and as a deputy whip in the House. After 16 years in congress, a large mountain tract in North Georgia was designated the "Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area." Jenkins was a member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and a partner in the firm of Winburn & Jenkins in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Jenkins was interviewed as part of the Reflections on Georgia Politics (ROGP) oral history series in 2006 and again in 2008. You can stream these interviews using the links below:

Ed Jenkins Interview, Part 1:

Ed Jenkins Interview, Part 2:

From left to right: Ed Jenkins, Bob Short, Cathy Cox, and Zell Miller at the Reflections on Georgia Politics luncheon, May 2010.

We're Back

The Russell Library is now open for research in its new space in the Special Collections Library Building at 300 South Hull Street. Hours for research access are Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30 p.m. For more information, please check out the "Visit" page on the Russell Library website, or contact Russell staff at

The Russell exhibit galleries will open in mid-February after the building dedication on February 17, 2012.