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Behind the front-stage soap opera–or is it the Shakespearean tragedy? The Moliere farce? The Marx Brothers stateroom buffoonery?–that is Washington today, much of import is going on backstage.

Legions of conservative activists, former corporate executives, and former lobbyists are working to dismantle the modern American state. Most of this would be happening if we had a President Cruz or Walker, too. (Some of us are old enough to recall an earlier such period, when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, only then the deconstruction was done with some finesse and principle.) In such an era, it is worth taking a brief historical glance at how the federal government, stepping in for an ineffective market, has sustained average Americans–even if many of these instances of help are now largely forgotten.

Postal Savings

Boy Scout Making Deposit, 1913

Indeed, forgetting such help from the past–and even overlooking it in the present– seems to be a general American trait.

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