By Derrick Crowe
March 8, 2019
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 field. But without the ideas that Republicans called “socialist” at the time, there would literally be no Friday Night Lights.
In 1932, 90 percent of rural America lacked electric power. That meant no refrigerators, no running water–virtually none of the amenities of modern life that you could find in every big city. And there were certainly no electric scoreboards and floodlights for the football fields and no radios for the folks who couldn’t make it to the stadium.
The problem was, big corporations didn’t think they could make a profit from bringing electric power to small towns and farms across the country. They thought farmers would be too poor to even afford to pay an electric bill. They checked their spreadsheets and wrote us off.
So to get power to rural areas left behind by capitalism, two New Deal legislators–Republican Senator George Norris from Nebraska and Democratic Congressman Sam Rayburn from Texas–drafted the Rural Electrification Act. After Roosevelt signed the legislation drafted by Norris and Rayburn, small-town electric cooperatives all over the country could get loans from the Rural Electrification Administration to build local power. After they built the power systems and paid back the loan, they–the members of the cooperatives–owned them.
Republicans, of course, called it socialism.
Big-business Republicans like Henry Ford called Norris a ‘socialist’ over his support of the Tennessee Valley Authority and rural electric cooperatives. They forced Norris out the Republican Party.
But we didn’t let them stop us.
Thanks to the bill Norris and Rayburn authored and signed by Roosevelt, by 1945, 90 percent of farms had electricity. According to the Roosevelt Institute, “The access to electricity completely changed rural life, bringing appliances into the house and onto the field, improving health and sanitation with running water and refrigerators, and connecting farms to the outside world via the radio.” Norris, for his part, ran as an independent and won his next election.
Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans are screeching “That’s socialism!” at the top of their lungs right now about virtually every Democratic proposal. That’s probably a good sign. Republicans have shouted “socialism” every time our government acted to promote the general welfare. But the ideas they called “socialist” built the country we know today.
So the next time you’re sitting in the bleachers on a Fall night cheering for the home team and enjoying some Coke and Frito pie from the concession stand, look up at those Friday Night Lights and remember: “That’s socialism!”