The U.S. government, even more so than during World War I, instituted radical policies during the Second World War that altered—permanently—the economic and political history of Oklahoma and the rest of the nation. According to historian Clarence Carson, the Roosevelt Administration waged war “within the framework already established by the New Deal, of government regulation and control over the economy, of deficit spending, progressive taxation, of government planning, of redistribution of wealth, and of the concentration of political power in Washington.” It also advanced a well-intentioned but Constitutionally-questionable, taxpayer-funded safety net for the ill, aged, unemployed, poor, and others among society’s needy.
To finance the gargantuan war effort, Roosevelt engineered a host of policies that founded the modern U.S. welfare state. The number of Americans required to pay income taxes increased from four million in 1939 to fifty million just three years later. The graduated tax policy of wresting not just more taxes from higher incomes but a higher proportion skyrocketed to an 82% rate. Above a certain income level, the government took virtually everything.
It also forced employers to “withhold” taxes from workers’ paychecks before the worker even received that income. Still unable to pay for the war with its existing resources, the government did something many families facing large bills and small paychecks would love to do. It simply printed more paper money—lots more. The amount of currency in circulation more than tripled during the war years, greatly reducing its value to the citizens who needed it to pay for those bills.
All of these Constitutionally-questionable innovations were long ago washed out to sea in the national memory with the incoming tide of reverence for Franklin Roosevelt and the sacrifice and triumph of World War II. But wartime Oklahomans had lived through a decade of the New Deal and the promises of its architects and held their own view of them. In 1942, in a state where history, geography, and practicality had long conspired against any consistent political party challenge to the Democrats, Oklahomans voted against or stayed at home and refused to vote for incumbent New Deal U.S. Senate champion Josh Lee. Instead, they elected conservative, 71-year-old Republican oilman Ed Moore, who himself had been a registered Democrat until only months before.
Lee won barely more than one-third of the votes he had six years before, when the failures of New Deal programs were not yet confirmed. As chronicled by historians Danney Goble and James R. Scales:
“Oklahoma’s reception of the New Deal had cooled perceptibly since the worst years of the depression, and in that respect they were not unlike other Americans. Ed Moore’s new Senate post was only one of fifty-one gains made by the GOP in the 1942 (Congressional) elections.”
According to Goble and Scales, Moore garnered waves of Democratic voters by hammering Lee with two primary themes: 1) his and Roosevelt’s enabling of increasingly violent, “treasonable,” and “irresponsible” labor unions (mostly up north and back east), and 2) the increasingly inflationary and autocratic New Deal. The Republicans demonstrated a gradually emerging viability by nearly beating wealthy and influential Robert S. Kerr for the governor’s seat, and by tripling their number of legislative seats.
The lavish patronage and other offerings of the New Deal had won a lot of elections for the Democrats. It also set in motion, however, once its economic fallacies grew apparent, a long sea change in Oklahoma, and across the South, from one-party rule, to two-party rivalry, to conservative Republican dominance.
The U.S. government instituted radical policies during the Second World War that altered—permanently—the economic and political history of Oklahoma and the nation.
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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