Who is Claude Pepper?

Claude Pepper


by Tom Walls

Claude Pepper's Life and Death

Claude Pepper was an elder Florida politician who served as both a senator and U.S. Representative for Florida for decades. His Bassett-hound like southern drawl is remembered by just about anyone who heard him speak. Born on September 8, 1900, Claude Pepper's childhood background was rural Alabama. He graduated from high school in 1917 while World War I raged, and finished his studies at the University of Alabama in 1921 and Harvard Law School in 1924. Those few years at Harvard changed the life of a young hayseed from Alabama! He returned to the University of Alabama to teach law and then set up his own practice in good old Perry, Fla the very next year.

His career in politics began in 1929 as a representative in the Florida Legislature. Claude Pepper appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1935 and in 1982. A staunch Roosevelt man, Pepper espoused egalitarianism and cradle-to-grave (with emphasis towards the grave) government beneficience. In the late '40s, Pepper courted Joe Stalin. Red-baiters accused him of being a communist sympathizer and he earned the nickname "Red Pepper." His openly left-liberal stances and and efforts to appease the Soviets invited attacks from all corners.

George Smathers, whose name adorns a library at the University of Florida, campaigned against Pepper in the Senate primary, using a hilarious rhetorical trick now immortalized in political annals:

"Are you aware that the candidate is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a wicked thespian in New York. He matriculated with co-eds at the University, and it is an established fact that before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy."

Smathers ended up taking Pepper's Senate seat in 1952. Pepper practiced law with offices in Miami and Tallahassee until he was elected to the U.S. House in 1963 when redistricting gave Florida extra House seats. He wore a toupee until it unsanctimoniously blew off as he went to greet President Carter at the Miami airport. Under Ronald Reagan, Pepper mustered millions of seniors to send in postcards opposing any changes in cost of living adjustments to their Social Security payment. Sadly, Claude Pepper passed away in 1989.

After Pepper's death, actor Kelly Reynolds toured schools and nursing homes portraying the late politician. His presentation was entitled "An Evening with Claude Pepper." We have no doubt that many of the retirement home residents thought that it was in fact Claude Pepper paying them a visit.

Believe it or not, an acquaintance of ours (who shall remain unnamed) had to stand watch over the body of Congressman Pepper in a Miami funeral home. He was so touched by the sight of the restful body of Claude Pepper that he secretly whispered the words to Barry Manilow's "Mandy" in Pepper's ear. We found this out after we named the band.

Claude Pepper's Legacy

Seriously, and most importantly, Claude Pepper was (and still is) known best for his strong advocacy of generous transfer payments to retirees.

The band's name is light-hearted and innocuous and should not necessarily be understood as malicious or insulting to the memory of the late Congressman Pepper or even old folks. However, Pepper's very name calls attention to an extremely serious problem we'll be facing in 15 to 20 years.

Pepper defended the Social Security system enthusiastically over the course of his whole political career. In actuality, the system is more like a pyramid scheme than a retirement plan. The first few generations of workers get more than they put in upon retirement, later generations will be finding out that there'll be not enough new contributors (workers who pay the taxes) to support them, and something drastic will have to happen.

Only in the past few years has this phenomenon come to the attention of pundits and politicos; it's always been the deadly third rail of politics. Seniors have well organized lobbies like the AARP, who will lynch anyone that questions their unconditional claim on an ever-increasing share of your paycheck.

In 1950, there were 16 workers paying taxes into the Social Security fund for every retiree. In the meantime, taxes have been raised and benefits have increased. This has kept the system solvent for a long time, but the equation is radically changing. Nowadays, there's only 3.3 workers per retiree on Social Security. By 2025, there'll be less than two. The demographic pyramid is reversing itself, and Social Security will not be able to continue as it is without a tremendous increase in what you contribute out of your paycheck. The whole system is becoming worse of a deal for the young. We just thought you'd like to know.

A current proposal is to let young workers divert the retirement portion of their payroll taxes into individual accounts, where the money could be put into more productive investments, generating more money for their retirement. For further details, look into some of the links below.

Relevant links to Social Security (and Claude Pepper):