Woody Guthrie wrote about the national debt debate in the 1940s

The debt ceiling debate between the House GOP and President Joe Biden could, if not resolved, lead to economic chaos and destruction — so it seems strange to wonder what a mag- singer and activist during the Great Depression about this particular political era.

In fact, of all the research I did in compiling my book “Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie“I never saw any comment that Woody Guthrie made about the debt ceiling.

But he lived through the Great Depression and its aftermath. He also stood as a witness to the lawmakers who struggled to correct the direction the country was headed during the 1930s and early ’40s.

He has a lot to say about Congress in general and how it’s handling the national debt in particular.

One time he made a folksy joke suggesting his feelings about said august body.

“The Housewives of the country are always afraid at night, afraid that they are a robber in the House. No, Milady most of them are in the Senate,” he wrote in his regular column for The People’s Daily, called “Woody Sez.”

Guthrie often mocked politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who he thought represented their own selfish interests rather than those of worthy working men and women.

What if he could survey America today? His comments on the state of the country in the past suggest that he will have something to say in 2023?

Indeed, some of his observations seem to have been written about this political moment – rather than his own.

‘Hear’ the hens a cacklin’

When Guthrie visited Washington, DC, in 1940, he was able to listen to some debates in the Senate and give his thoughts on their effectiveness.

“I gathered the Reactionary Republicans because I love the Reactionary Republicans; also that Liberal Democrats love Liberal Democrats. Each presented a brief case of statistics that proved that other brief cases of statistics, were mistaken, misread, misquoted, mislabeled, and misrepresented,” he wrote in his column.

And what are the politicians arguing about? The national debt.

Bipartisan legislative efforts The debt ceiling has been raised three times under President Donald Trump. Now, the House Republicans quit unless certain conditions are metwhile the Democrats demanded a clean bill without restrictions.

Guthrie witnessed a similar situation in his time. During his visit to Washington, DC, he listened to “senators make speeches – on every imaginable subject under the sun, ‘though the way they presented their arguments, their polished wit, and subtle maneuvers, all very entertaining. , I came out of it as empty as I came in,” he wrote in “Woody Sez.”

He then compared their debates to “hearing chickens cacklin” – and to a runnin’ to the barn. Although the scene was “noisy, boisterous, and lots of fun,” the result was “no eggs.”

There is a lot of noise coming from Congress today too – but no results.

What will happen if the two sides do not agree? A prime example occurred in 2011, when the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling it was too late that Standard & Poor’s was downgraded the country’s credit rating – which raises the interest that must be paid on the US debt.

But if an agreement does not happen, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that such a crisis would lead to “economic and financial disaster” on a national and global scale.

Guthrie finds this kind of brinkmanship troubling. Not because he is a political operative, with an intellectual understanding of the risks. Instead, he is motivated by a personal knowledge of daily difficulties, the number of people in such important political decisions. His family fell from middle-class safety to extreme poverty even before the onset of the Great Depression.

Due to the drop in agricultural prices after World War I and his father’s land speculation in several small farms surrounding their hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, the Guthries could not keep up with their debts. They are forced to seize.

Guthrie joked that his father was “the only man in the world who lost a farm in a day for thirty days.”

Foreclosures are probably just one of the the harmful effects of default now, with rising interest rates, slashing social programs, rising unemployment and shrinking pension plans. All negative results, but this is certain the poor and working class are hit hard the hardest.

Those were the people Woody Guthrie championed throughout his career. Those were the people whose hardships he lamented in such songs as “I Have No Home” and “Dust Bowl Refugee.”

But he also expressed optimism about the power of those same people to make a positive change, such as “Union Maid“and”A Better World A-Comin’.” It takes individual and collective action, according to Guthrie, and he celebrates both. The union helper “always agrees when he asks for better pay,” and in “Better World” he sings, “we’ll all be in a union and we’ll all be free.”

Perhaps his most famous comments about the country can be found in “This Land Is Your Land,” with a popular version praising the American landscape. But in his first version of the song, he ends it with his narrator surveying the line of starving people lined up “at the relief office” and then asking, “Is this land made for you and me?”

That question could arise again in 2023: If congressional leaders debating the debt ceiling fail to find common ground for the greater good of the country, someone might challenge them and ask if politicians are in office for the American people, or for themselves – just like Woody Guthrie.

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