One of my favorite movies is “It's A Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart plays the central role, and during a moment of wondering about his life he's visited by his guardian angel who shows him the difference he's made in his town and among his friends and loved ones.
While I'm not going to compare Democrats to angels or to Jimmy Stewart, it might be illustrative to consider that our lives today would be less than they are without Democrats since, say, the beginning of the last century.
Without Democrats, Hugh Gallen, who became our governor in the late 1970s, and legislative leaders Chris Spirou, Dudley Dudley, Eileen Foley and legions of other Democrats and some Republicans, too, we'd have the Aristotle Onassis Memorial Oil Refinery at Durham Point, with ships docking at the Isles of Shoals offloading crude and picking up the refined stuff. And maybe a spill or two by now. Certainly the smell of it all. Democrats stopped the plans of Republican Mel Thomson, who was our governor in the early 1970s.
Without Gallen and Jeanne Shaheen, another former Democratic governor — plus Seacoast Democrats Paul McEachern, Bob Preston, Bev Hollingworth and Renny Cushing among others — we'd have a completed second dome at Seabrook's nuclear power plant, doubling the chances of catastrophe. Their efforts in the 1970s stopped Dome II, and guaranteed the plant that was built had to meet higher, though not perfect, safety standards. Republicans fought us every step. Every step.
Today, without Democrats fighting for funding and change, we wouldn't have the fairness and more level economic and political playing field that we have, statewide and nationally. It used to be that the “robber barons” controlled America in the latter part of the 1800s — the very greedy and selfish super-wealthy accumulated money and power and ruled the rest of us. That battle still goes on, of course, but now — although still only about 5 percent of Americans have most of the wealth — there is a solid middle class because Democrats fought for decades to make a level playing field for everyday people — who are most of us.
Without Democrats, including Gov. John Lynch, we would have a so-called “right-to-work” law in our state, which would reduce the opportunities for working women and men to join together as a family (that's what a “union” is) to fight for fairer wages, safer working conditions and reasonable hours of work.
In fact, it was Democrats who nationally fought to create the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and minimum-wage laws. Republicans continue to fight efforts to equalize pay for women, who still receive an average of about 25 percent less than men in comparable jobs.
Nationally, thanks to Democrats (remember Franklin D. Roosevelt?) we wouldn't have Social Security for our senior citizens. More would be homeless, hungry and on our streets and alleyways begging for handouts.
Without Presidents Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and, again, mostly Democrats fighting against mostly Republicans, we wouldn't have Medicare, which has improved the lives of many millions of our citizens, making a level of health care available in our older ages even for those of us who aren't millionaires or otherwise beneficiaries of other insurance systems.
Thanks to President Barack Obama, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, and almost exclusively Democrats, we have a new law going into effect making health care affordable to most Americans, providing for a stronger nation and healthier population during the upcoming unpredictable decades of international challenges.
On diversity and rights: Civil rights? Thank Democrats. Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Yep, Democrats. Marriage equality? A cause led mostly by Democrats — statewide and nationally, with often bitter, and hateful (I can attest personally to that) opposition from right-wingers. Women's choice? Mostly Democrats. Voting rights? Democrats.
And it was mostly Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s who stopped the institutionalization of our mentally and physically challenged. Democrats stopped the policy of shutting away our challenged citizens behind doors of the Concord State Hospital and Laconia State School, then passed laws nationally and in our state giving rights of education and employment for them. Despite massive Republican-led cuts in programs, those rights continue.
There are good Republicans who have joined with Democrats on many of these causes. But when I hear the right-wingers claim that life would be better with larger bank accounts for the rich, I'm reminded that “It's A Wonderful Life” was more about people having faith in one another and helping each other than it was about how much money they had in their Bedford Falls Bank.
Because we're all in this adventure of life together. And while Democrats have led the way so far, in the rest of this 21st century, perhaps more Republicans can step forward and join the effort — because they're good people, too, who are just sometimes misdirected by their leaders.
Today's quotes: “Got Equality? Thank Democrats.” “Gay marriage doesn't scare me. No health care does.” “Help N.H.'s Economy: Keep gay marriage.” — Bumper stickers on my car.
Today's thought: When each of us is on our death bed, will we be prouder of having been cheerleaders for our fellow human beings during our life, or of the possessions we accumulated and the gold and silver we stored away?
Next time: On turning 65. Better than the alternative!
Jim Splaine is a former longtime Democratic state representative, state senator and assistant mayor from Portsmouth. His political column appears every other week in Seacoast Sunday, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org