TIME politics

This Is the Childcare Program Obama Was Talking About

WW2 Poster USA
American propaganda poster showing a woman working in an airplane factory, circa 1943 Galerie Bilderwelt / Getty Images

A World War II-era program got a shout-out in Tuesday's State of the Union

On Tuesday, during his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of helping middle-class families afford childcare — and, he pointed out, we know we can do it because we’ve done it before. “During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority — so this country provided universal childcare,” he said. “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.”

That program, established in 1942, was a joint venture of the War Manpower Commission and the Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services. And, it turns out, getting the program in place wasn’t just a matter of freeing up men and women to contribute to the war effort — it was also a “national security” issue on the home front, as unattended children across the nation got up to no good.

Here’s how TIME explained the program in the July 27, 1942, issue:

If father & mother both must work to win the war, somebody will have to look after the children. In war factories alone there are already 1,000,000 women workers, and 3,000,000 more are expected by next year. The children of some of these women have been found locked up in cars and Washington Government offices, or wandering the streets with door keys around their necks. Child delinquency in the U.S. is up sharply; Washington itself has had a wave of juvenile housebreaking and shoplifting. Last week Washington decided it was time to do something about the wartime care of U.S. children.

Federal Security Administrator Paul V. McNutt had appointed a child-care coordinator: sandy-haired Charles Irwin Schottland of the Children’s Bureau. Mr. Schottland went straight to Mr. McNutt’s War Manpower Commission for help. His problem: how to overcome the scarcity of servants and of day nurseries. He also had a plan: let the U.S. make grants to States to finance a variety of child-care facilities.

WMPC promptly approved the plan and decided to issue a directive for the Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services to carry it out. This week Coordinator Schottland prepared to tackle Congress for the necessary funds. As a start, he already has $6,000,000 for 1,250 WPA nursery schools.

It’s worth noting that the Works Progress Administration nursery schools mentioned in that piece were not originally related to the war effort; in fact, economic concerns — like the ones facing the nation today — were the impetus for their establishment. During the Great Depression, the nation faced a double-whammy of needy children and unemployed teachers; so, in October of 1933, Harry Hopkins of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration announced that more than a thousand nursery schools would be established nationwide through the Emergency Education Programs.

Those original WPA nursery schools technically closed, along with the WPA itself, in 1943. By then, the defense program had launched, and nursery schools and childcare facilities were able to apply to be subsidized with Defense funds, through the Lanham Act, to try to stay open. And, as a bonus, defense funds — unlike the WPA programs — weren’t restricted to families in poverty, which meant that middle-class families could also benefit from those childcare centers, making the WWII-era program almost universal. (Communities did have to prove that they were impacted by the war effort in order to get federal funds.)

One 2013 study found that the decision to fund childcare with the Lanham Act did in fact lead to a greater rate of employment among mothers, and that their children were better off in the long run. But, unlike the program Obama envisions for the modern world, the Lanham Act childcare centers were always meant to be a temporary solution. As soon as peace came, women were expected to return home to care for their children themselves. Congress gave women a few extra months, through March of 1946, to make arrangements, and then the childcare centers were closed.

At least one person, however, thought back then the way the President thinks today.

In her “My Day” column from Sept. 8, 1945, the former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt described the letters she had received from women who wanted the centers to stay open: “But we have to face the fact that there are married women with young children who have to go to work. In such cases, it would seem to be in the interests of the community to organize child care centers and see that they are properly run,” she wrote. “These children are future citizens, and if they are neglected in these early years it will hurt not only the children themselves, but the community as a whole. Many communities can carry the expense of such organization for children’s centers without any state or federal help. But where state help is needed, it should be given; and when states are incapable of giving sufficient help, it should be forthcoming on a national scale as it has been in the war years.”

TIME politics

Michelle Obama Totally a Wore a Suit From The Good Wife to the State of the Union Address

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in the Capitol's House chamber before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, January 20, 2015. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, appears at right. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in the Capitol's House chamber before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, January 20, 2015. Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

Looks like the always-stylish First Lady is now taking fashion cues from Julianna Margulies

We already knew the Obamas watch Parks and Recreation and House of Cards, and now we’re wondering if they also tune in to The Good Wife.

At Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Michelle Obama sported a smart black and white Michael Kors suit. A few viewers began to realize it looked familiar — because it appeared to be the same exact suit once worn by Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) on a past season of CBS’s legal drama The Good Wife.


The initial observers began spreading buzz on social media and people got pretty excited about the connection. Some even worked in Mean Girls references:

Now we’re just wondering if the First Lady’s next look will be inspired by Leslie Knope.

TIME politics

The 5 Worst Moments From Last Night’s State of the Union

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner watch as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 20, 2015.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 20, 2015. Larry Downing—Reuters

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Before the speech slides down the memory hole, here are five moments to remember and then forget again until next year

The annual State of the Union Address (SOTU) is a rotten, time-honored ritual that marks the effective end of the holiday season in America. It’s like one last fruit cake that nobody wants and quickly tosses away after a moment of utterly false contemplation.

There were some tasty bits, for sure, in Obama’s seventh SOTU: He is correct to push for change in our policy with Cuba and his “conversion” in favor of marriage equality, however long overdue and politically motivated, is all to the good.

He promised his speech wouldn’t be a “laundry list.” True enough: It was more like a laundry truck, stuffed full of old and misguided ideas from his previous SOTUs. Before the speech slides down the memory hole, here are five moments to remember and then forget again until next year.

1. “Today, fewer than 15,000 [troops] remain” in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Obama. That’s down from nearly 200,000 just six years ago. Well, what took so long, really? Obama’s administration did everything it could to extend our presence in both countries (even tripling troop strength in Afghanistan for a “surge” that was a resolute failure by all accounts). Now we’re droning the hell out of Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere (where innocent targets are hit 28 times for every intended target, according to the British group Reprieve). And we’re back in Iraq, fighting ISIS without a declaration of war or a clear plan. Maybe we’ve “turned the page,” as Obama asserted in the speech’s controlling metaphor, but we’re just in a new chapter in the same tired old playbook when it comes to what Candidate Obama called “dumb wars” and pledged to avoid.

2. “America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power.” It’s true that the United States is undergoing an energy boom, but it’s no thanks to President Obama. Apart from subsidizing companies that make “clean energy” (and have a record of not delivering on promises), his administration has looked with horror on the fracking revolution that is the main reason for the rise in our production. On federal land, oil production is down 16 percent since 2010 and natural gas production is down 24 percent. Last week, Obama’s EPA proposed regulations to reduce emissions from fracked wells by 45 percent from their 2012 levels. The energy revolution is happening in spite of Obama not because of him.

3. “Middle-class economics works…. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.” That’s all well and good, though it’s worth noting that government spending under Obama has been mostly flat precisely because of politics, shut downs, sequestration, and the like. Keeping spending constant is one of the major reasons deficits have reduced from record highs to “just” $483 billion last year. But if everything’s going in the right direction, why then is Obama calling for all sorts of new taxes and regulations on the business sector and high-income earners? Boosting the minimum wage, taxing college savings, mandating paid sick leave, pushing employers to offer to pay for college, and more: What theory explains how such costs will make employers likely to hire more workers and expand operations?

4. “During World War II…this country provided universal childcare….[Today, childcare is not] a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” It’s just short of obscene to invoke World War II’s privations in the current moment (and a gross overstatement, too; at its peak, the federal government helped to pay for “nurseries” for 130,000 children nationwide). Every aspect of America was commandeered to fight the Axis and staple goods ranging from butter to gas to steel to rubber and nylon were rationed. Today is nothing like that, and Obama’s “solution” to the cost of children is to subsidize daycare via direct payments and tax breaks. The predictable effect of injecting new money into a system will be an increase in prices. Which will then lead to calls for more subsidies.

5. “Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America. Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.” This is an Obama golden-oldie that makes it into almost every appearance he makes that’s longer than 30 seconds. If he’s serious about bringing jobs and profits “home” to America, the obvious place to start is with our corporate tax rate, which is the highest in the world among developed countries. What’s worse, though, is that we tax corporate earnings on a world-wide basis, meaning that companies headquartered here pay taxes (and then apply for credit) on what their overseas branches make. Just about nobody else does that and it’s that sort of policy that goosed Burger King to relocate its main headquarters to Canada.

Near the end of his speech—which assiduously avoided engaging how old-age entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security are already overwhelming the federal budget and will overtake it completely in the coming decades—Obama called (yet again) for new civility, pledging himself to deal kindly and openly with Republicans even as he noted that they were patently anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor people. He even lauded the fact that he had won re-election after noting he “had no more races to run” with the line: “I know, I won both of them.”

Worth a laugh, maybe, but also churlish, especially given the shellacking his party took just a few months ago. Arguably the most frustrating thing about Obama’s presidency is that he himself often barely seems to be inhabiting it. He reads about things in the newspapers, just like the rest of us, only playing commander in chief when it suits his fancy. That’s no way to run a country, especially one in which your position is weaker than it was just last year.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

50 Years Ago, the State of the Union Actually Meant Something

Lyndon B. Johnson
President Lyndon B. Johnson giving the State of the Union Address in 1965 Bill Eppridge—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

In 1965, LBJ's speech to Congress was ambitious—but also realistic

Fifty years ago today, 1.2 million Americans thronged to Washington to witness and participate in Lyndon Johnson’s second inauguration, which was the most elaborate in U.S. History. The extravaganza, featuring concerts, balls, banquets and receptions, was said to cost $1.5 million. No inauguration before that time–or thereafter until Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009–had attracted so many people.

The speech he gave that day echoed the State of the Union address he had delivered 17 days earlier, in which he had called for congressional approval of a host of Great Society programs: large-scale federal aid, for the first time in U. S. history, for elementary and education; ambitious new medical programs for the elderly (Medicare) and for many low-income people (Medicaid); more funding for his War on Poverty, which Congress had approved in 1964; national support for the arts and the humanities; overhaul of the nation’s racist immigration laws; and many other domestic reforms. And, as Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference was joining a struggle for voting rights in Selma, Ala., Johnson also promised to ask Congress for the elimination of “every remaining obstacle to the right to vote.”

It was, to say the least, an ambitious series of requests. But the scope of his demands is not what sets LBJ’s State of Union apart from the one President Obama will deliver on Tuesday, a half-century later. Obama’s speech is likely to be full of requests he’s already started to roll out—but Johnson’s speech included requests that, crucially, he actually expected the legislature to make happen. January of 1965 was perhaps the peak of U.S. liberal optimism, and the last year where a President might reasonably have expectations as high as Johnson’s. But how did we get from there to here?

The most obvious reason is that LBJ enjoyed huge congressional majorities in 1965 (295-140 in the House, and 68-32 in the Senate). No president since FDR in the early 1930s had such political advantages. Nor has any president since that time. But his backers were not limited to Congress. Indeed, popular expectations for liberal domestic reforms were stronger 50 years ago than they had been since the early 1930s. According to polls, 75% of Americans believed that they could “trust government to do the right thing most of the time.”

Underlying this extraordinary public confidence in January 1965 was an economy that had been booming since 1961. TIME, in an essay titled “Boom Without Bust,” rhapsodized, “economic policy has begun to liberate itself from the preoccupations of an earlier day and from the bitterness of class or partisan division that becloud rational discussion and hamper national action.”

Except for serious controversies over race—a big except, obviously—social harmony also seemed equally strong in January 1965. New York Times columnist James Reston foresaw an “Era of Good Feelings.” TIME, in a cover story titled “On the Fringe of a Golden Era,” celebrated the decline of generational tensions. “The classic conflict between parents and children,” it prophesized, “is letting up.”

The United States, moreover, was at peace in January 1965. The closest Johnson came in his inaugural to suggesting that the nation might go to war in Vietnam (which he did not mention) was one sentence: “If American lives must end, and American treasure be spilled, in countries that we barely know, that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and of our enduring covenant.”

Antiwar protesters were scattered and weak. The Students for a Democratic Society, which was soon to challenge LBJ’s military policies, claimed only 1,365 paid-up members at the time of its national convention in December 1964.

All that would soon change.

Within the next seven months, explosive racial confrontations, especially in the Watts area of Los Angeles that August, hastened the militancy of black civil rights leaders and the weakening of interracial strategies for change. These were also months of enormous military escalation of American troops in Vietnam. In January 1965, some 23,000 American “military advisers” were stationed there. By the end of year, which featured daily bombings of North Vietnam, 184,000 of our soldiers were fighting in Vietnam.

In these ways, the year 1965 featured unprecedented change. What we now think of as “The Sixties,” a time of extraordinary social turmoil and political polarization, had arrived. Liberalism, seemingly all-powerful in January, had fallen under siege. Ronald Reagan, who captured the governorship in California, led a Republican resurgence at the polls in 1966.

By that point, Johnson and his Democratic Congress had nonetheless achieved all his important domestic goals–notably a Voting Rights Act, federal aid to education, immigration reform, and establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. No congressional session in modern American history had managed to do more—and, since then, no presidential administration has dared to seek anything like the huge bundle of reforms that Congress enacted 50 years ago. On the contrary, conservatives threaten some of accomplishments of 1965, notably voting rights and immigration reform.

So it is that as President Obama delivers his own State of the Union address today, he will do so anticipating that many of his proposals will fall on deaf ears. A man who is well versed in recent American history, he can only dream that the extraordinary liberal mood of 1965 will some day return.

eve of destruction
Basic Books

James T. Patterson is professor of history emeritus at Brown University, and author of The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America (Basic Books, 2012, paper 2014).

Read TIME’s original 1965 reaction to Johnson’s State of the Union that year, here in the TIME Vault: A Modern Utopia

TIME conflict

Freed Iranian Hostages Weren’t Sure Whether to Criticize Carter or Thank Him

Free After 444 Days
United States hostages departing an airplane on their return from Iran after being held for 444 days, in January of 1981 Express / Getty Images

Jan. 20, 1981: Iran releases 52 Americans who have been held hostage for 444 days

When the Iran Hostage Crisis ended on this day, Jan. 20, in 1981, 52 Americans were freed after being subjected to “acts of barbarism,” as President Carter phrased it, for 444 days.

The crisis had started with American support for the Iranian Shah in the 1970s; when Iranian revolutionaries declared him anti-Islamic and forced him from office in 1979, they quickly moved on to their next target: the American embassy in Tehran, where a group of students took more than 60 people hostage. Iran’s new leader released those among the group who were female, black or non-U.S. citizens, saying that they had already suffered “the oppression of American society.”

Called spies by the Iranians, they were physically and mentally tormented to an extent the American public was unaware of at the time. It was later reported that, in addition to regular beatings, they were subjected to mock firing squads and games of Russian roulette. Many of the hostages later said they never expected to survive the ordeal; TIME reported that one of Iran’s Foreign Ministers thought the hostages could be held “more or less forever.”

Though he was wrong, the situation did end up costing President Carter the 1980 election, many believe, since it was hard to appeal to the public when, for more than a year, the evening news regularly broadcast images of angry Iranian mobs shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Carter.”

But as for the hostages themselves, they had mixed feelings for Carter, whose policies could be blamed for getting them into the crisis, but who worked with single-minded devotion to get them out. During his last few days in office, he worked nearly around the clock on the final negotiations that secured their release, occupying the Oval Office until 15 minutes before Ronald Reagan arrived for his inauguration.

The hostages were released minutes after Reagan was sworn in. Carter flew to Germany to meet with them. The encounter was bittersweet. According to the New York Times’ account, the hostages sat in a circle, passing around copies of American newspapers Carter had brought with him, all bearing headlines about their release. Some were critical of the former president. One asked why a botched rescue mission Carter had authorized the previous spring hadn’t been tried sooner; another asked whether it should have been attempted at all.

But they applauded when he said that the Iranians had not succeeded in their attempts to extort money from the U.S., using the hostages as leverage.

When Carter left, L. Bruce Laingen, the ranking diplomatic officer among the former hostages, escorted him to his limousine. According to the Times, “Mr. Laingen embraced the former President once, held him at arms length and then embraced him a second time before letting him go.”

Read a 1981 account of what the hostages went through, here in the TIME Vault: The Long Ordeal of the Hostages

TIME state of the union

Watch 5 Years of Obama’s State of the Union Addresses in 90 Seconds

How things have changed

President Obama will give his seventh annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, giving a temperature reading of the nation before both Houses of Congress and a TV audience of millions.

The speech is a platform for the president to give a progress report of how the country has fared over the past year, and to set out plans for the coming one.

It is also a good indicator of how the president and the country have changed from year to year. Watch this compilation of five years of Obama’s State of the Union Address.

TIME politics

7 State of the Union Quotes That Sound Like Lines From Spider-Man

Even before Spider-Man existed!

With great power comes great responsibility. The oft-quoted Spider-Man line dates back, in one form or another, to Spidey’s earliest days, in the 1960s — but for at least a century before that, U.S. Presidents have been saying pretty much the same thing.

The constitution requires the President to talk to Congress about the state of the union — though the fact that he does so annually and with an in-person speech is more a matter of tradition — so the record of such addresses dates all the way back to 1790. Unsurprisingly, the themes evolve: early messages tended to focus on whether the U.S. stood a chance of continuing to exist; those in the middle years, which were not delivered as speeches, read more like interoffice memos; more recent ones, especially since they began to be broadcast to citizens, are full of feel-good inspiration.

But one theme has been constant: with great power comes, well, you know…

Abraham Lincoln in 1862: “We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free–honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.”

William McKinley in 1899: “Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities. The power confided to us increases the weight of our obligations to the people, and we must be profoundly sensible of them as we contemplate the new and grave problems which confront us. Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err.”

Theodore Roosevelt in 1902: “As a people we have played a large part in the world, and we are bent upon making our future even larger than the past. In particular, the events of the last four years have definitely decided that, for woe or for weal, our place must be great among the nations. We may either fall greatly or succeed greatly; but we can not avoid the endeavor from which either great failure or great success must come. Even if we would, we can not play a small part. If we should try, all that would follow would be that we should play a large part ignobly and shamefully.”

Calvin Coolidge in 1923: “The time has come for a more practical use of moral power, and more reliance upon the principle that right makes its own might. Our authority among the nations must be represented by justice and mercy. It is necessary not only to have faith, but to make sacrifices for our faith. The spiritual forces of the world make all its final determinations. It is with these voices that America should speak. Whenever they declare a righteous purpose there need be no doubt that they will be heard. America has taken her place in the world as a Republic–free, independent, powerful. The best service that can be rendered to humanity is the assurance that this place will be maintained.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945: We cannot deny that power is a factor in world politics any more than we can deny its existence as a factor in national politics. But in a democratic world, as in a democratic Nation, power must be linked with responsibility, and obliged to defend and justify itself within the framework of the general good.” (FDR would have loved Spider-Man, if it’s any indication that his 1938 address also said that “in every case power and responsibility must go hand in hand.”)

John F. Kennedy in 1963: “In short, both at home and abroad, there may now be a temptation to relax. For the road has been long, the burden heavy, and the pace consistently urgent. But we cannot be satisfied to rest here. This is the side of the hill, not the top. The mere absence of war is not peace. The mere absence of recession is not growth. We have made a beginning–but we have only begun.”

George H.W. Bush in 1992: “Much good can come from the prudent use of power. And much good can come of this: A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and preeminent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right.”

As for whether 2015 will add another quote to this list, we’ll find out on Tuesday, when President Obama delivers the State of the Union.

TIME People

Virginia Governor Gives MLK Day Speech Fresh From Hospital With 7 Broken Ribs

Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe gives his annual State of the Commonwealth address at the state capitol in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 14, 2015 Steve Helber—AP

There's no stopping him

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe suffered seven broken ribs after he was thrown from his horse over the Christmas holidays while on safari in Tanzania with his family.

McAuliffe was admitted to hospital in Virginia on Monday after doctors decided it was necessary to drain his chest cavity as fluid had built up around his lungs, the Stafford County Sun reports.

Regardless, the governor continued to work from his bed. And since his return from Africa, he had stuck to his regular work schedule, even managing to deliver an hour-long State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night despite his debilitating injuries.

Hours after he was discharged from hospital Monday, McAuliffe gave a speech to mark Martin Luther King Day in Norfolk, Va.

[Stafford County Sun]

TIME politics

How MLK Day Became a Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech in Washington DC in 1963 Francis Miller—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Legislation designating the national holiday was passed in 1983

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day is no long-standing tradition. The holiday is a little more than three decades old, and its establishment was no sure thing. Here’s how the occasion became as central to January in America as New Year’s resolutions.

Beginning almost immediately after King’s assassination, members of Congress proposed that his birthday ought to be a national holiday, but bills mandating the occasion went nowhere. The effort received more publicity when, after about a decade, shortly after the failure of a bill that was introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan in September of 1979, Stevie Wonder released a song called “Happy Birthday.” Despite its cheery title, it was specifically meant to make a case for the holiday, calling out anyone who didn’t support the idea:

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan came into office, and he was reluctant to support the idea.

As TIME reported in February of 1982, his administration early on had trouble with a “sensitivity gap” when it came to minorities and women. When his Chief of Staff James Baker proposed a committee to try to fix that, one of the questions TIME suggested they might consider was the matter of MLK Day. “Until now the White House has been noncommittal,” TIME’s Laurence I. Barrett wrote. “The reason says something about this Administration’s isolation from the nation’s largest minority. An official explains that the White House has appeared so indifferent to other pleas involving racial matters that embracing the national holiday idea would seem condescending.”

By the following summer, however, it was clear that some version of the holiday bill was sure to pass. (It had been reintroduced in July, by Rep. Katie Hall of Indiana.) “Faced with inevitable congressional passage of a bill to make Martin Luther King‘s birthday a national holiday, Reagan swallowed his longstanding objections that this would open the door to many other groups seeking similar holidays and decided that he would support the measure,” TIME’s Walter Isaacson wrote. Furthermore, the next election season was already beginning. Though the Reagan campaign didn’t hope to win among black voters in 1984, making a grand gesture out of Martin Luther King Jr. Day could appeal to more moderate white voters.

Sure enough, that fall, King was granted an honor that had, until that time, belonged only to George Washington. Congress passed a bill designating his birthday as a national holiday, to be celebrated on the third Monday in January, starting in 1986.

It wasn’t an easy accomplishment: right up until the bill passed, Senator Jesse Helms concentrated on the idea that King had sympathized with Communists as a reason not to create the holiday, and Reagan in a news conference said that there was nothing wrong with Helms’ “sincerity” when it came to the issue. Helms had threatened a filibuster, tried to open King’s sealed FBI files and estimated that the cost of a new national holiday would be $12 billion in lost productivity. Reagan’s middle-of-the-road stance was also confirmed by the publication of a letter in which he told New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson, who opposed the idea of a holiday, that he had reservations about King’s sympathy for Communists too, but that it didn’t matter because “here the perception of too many people is based on image, not reality.”

Nevertheless, Reagan signed the bill on Nov. 2, 1983. And, as two TIME readers wrote in a letter to the editor that ran in the Nov. 21, 1983, issue, the difficulty getting the holiday created wasn’t necessarily a bad thing: “As supporters of the King holiday bill, we thank Senator Jesse Helms for helping to secure the bill’s passage,” wrote Retta and Charles Gray of North Carolina. “Helms reminded us by his behavior of the freedoms the Rev. Dr. King fought for.”

Read the full account of the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here in the TIME Vault: A National Holiday for King

TIME politics

Sen. Rand Paul: Break Down the Wall That Separates Us From the ‘Other America’

Protesters stand during a demonstration against the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Foley Square in New York City on Dec. 4, 2014. Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

We need to notice and be aware of the injustices embedded in our criminal justice system

In his 1967 address to Stanford University, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of two Americas. He described them as, “two starkly different American experiences that exist side by side.”

In one America, people experienced “the opportunity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all its dimensions.” In the other America, people experienced a “daily ugliness” that dashes hope and leaves only “the fatigue of despair.”

The uneasy coexistence of the two Americas is brought to bear by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Although I was born into the America that experiences and believes in opportunity, my trips to Ferguson, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago have revealed that there is an undercurrent of unease.

Congressman John Lewis, who heroically marched in Selma, still sees two Americas. He writes: “One group of people in this country can expect the institutions of government to bend in their favor, no matter that they are supposedly regulated by impartial law.”

The other group: “[C]hildren, fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers . . . are swept up like rubbish by the hard unforgiving hand of the law. They are offered no lenience, even for petty offenses, in a system that seems hell-bent on warehousing them by the millions . . . while others escape the consequences of pervasive malfeasance scot-free.”

We need to notice and be aware of the injustices embedded in our criminal system. However, we shouldn’t be misled to believe that excessive force is the norm, not the exception. I believe that most police are conscientious and want only to provide safety for us.

The blame should be directed to the laws and the politicians who order police into untenable positions, that insist on “taking down” someone for selling a couple of untaxed cigarettes.

Our pursuit of justice should not obscure the fact that on many occasions, good people do step forward to find justice.

This past fall, Helen Johnson was desperate to feed her two daughters and their small children who had gone two days without food. When she got to the store, she discovered that the $1.25 she had was not enough to buy eggs. She was a mere fifty cents short, so she stuffed the eggs in her pocket.

Helen didn’t even make it out of the store before the police were notified.

When Police Officer William Stacy arrived, something special happened. Instead of handcuffing Helen and taking her to jail, he used discretion and compassion to mete out justice. He warned Helen not to steal again and he bought her the eggs himself. Helen saw Officer Stacy again on Thanksgiving Day. He delivered a truckload of groceries to Helen’s home. Her grandchildren were overjoyed and proclaimed that they had never seen so much food in all their lives.

It isn’t hard to find injustice around us, but we must not let injustice smear the good deeds that do occur everyday.

I am optimistic, but peace will only come when those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream become more aware of those who are missing out on the Dream.

The future of our country will be secure when we break down the wall that separates us from “the other America.”

Let’s commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King by uniting the two Americas into one: an America that includes justice for one, and justice for all.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

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