Sixty-seven years ago today, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. The reason the United States is in the mess it is in (in my humble opinion anyway) is because the people of this diseased country have forgotten the economic lessons the New Deal taught us. This piece is an edited compilation of four different articles I wrote between the years 2007 and 2012 about FDR and his legacy to the American people. I know, I'm cheating. So sue me!
"Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it, these forces met their master."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the 1936 campaign
It was said of him at the time of his death on April 12, 1945, "Although he never regained the use of his legs - much as he wanted to; much as he tried - he taught a crippled nation how to walk again."
He was the pampered son of privilege from Hyde Park, NY whose battle with polio, begun in the summer of 1921, ingrained into his soul a deep and abiding empathy for the suffering of others that had previously been somewhat lacking in him. Through the development of a series of radical, revolutionary programs - unparalleled in history - which his administration brought into the main stream of American social engineering, he was able to usher millions of regular people into the ranks of a middle class that had not even existed before he took the oath of office on March 4, 1933. It is now almost a cliche but it is as true as the rising sun: He saved capitalism by "tempering its excesses." The people would elect him to an unprecedented four terms, something that will never happen again. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was - beyond any doubt - the greatest president in American history.
His smiling, jolly disposition which was always on display for the press and the news reel photographers, belied the hidden reality of a deeply complex man - many layered, indefinable, even tormented. His closest confidantes would testify years after his passing that they always had the feeling they never really knew him. Emotionally, he would keep even his loved ones at bay - so difficult was it for him to reach out on an intimate level to another human being. Throughout his life he would project to the world and to those around him, a cheerful - albeit guarded - amiability.
That he could be devious at times, there is no doubt. He enjoyed setting members of his own cabinet against one another in order to to play for time in pursuit of the desired solution to whatever pending political problem that might have been manifesting itself at any given moment. But his all-too-obvious human frailties should not distract us from the larger picture: We are a better nation because of Franklin Roosevelt - and far too many Americans are abysmally ignorant of this fact.
Every once in a while, I visit the Roosevelt mansion and museum in Hyde Park, less than forty miles from where I now sit. It is the birth place and the final resting place of the man who saved America from the corruption and greed of its elitist class, and more than likely prevented a Communist revolution. What is largely forgotten is the fact the the American Communist Party, in response to the economic horror that riddled the American landscape during the administration of Herbert Clark Hoover, was gaining serious ground by 1933. It was only after Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to prove to his fellow countrymen and women that the American way of government could work for the benefit of all the people, that it withered and died. I always walk away from the Roosevelt Library feeling better about America. The place is a gentle reminder that, what once worked so beautifully for "WE THE PEOPLE", can indeed be made to work again.
On entering the grounds of the FDR Library, a person with a decent sense of historical perspective is overcome by the aura of Roosevelt - or, as I like to call it "the Frankie vibe". A new exhibit which was added in 2008 is called "The First Hundred Days". It is a grim reminder of what life was like for too many people in this country eighty-years-ago. It might also be a disturbing precursor to what may yet come to pass. We shall see.
It is not by accident that FDR has been the most talked about former president in recent years. The similarities (and there are a number of them) between the economic calamities of 1932 and today are close enough that one should be forgiven for breaking out in a cold sweat. The situation is not - at this writing anyway - at the point of no return - or at least I don't think it is. But while walking through the corridors of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, it is next-to-impossible to avoid asking the musical question: Why? Why did the American people essentially reject the tried and true philosophy of the New Deal three decades ago and replace it with the "trickle down" insanity of the Reagan/Bush era? After thirty years of consistently voting against their economic interests, the middle class has awaken to find themselves teetering on the edge of the precipice. Did you have a nice little nappy time, kiddies?
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were as good as it has ever gotten in American politics. When he died someone remarked that a century into the future, people would get down on their knees and thank God for Franklin D. Roosevelt. I can't speak for the people of 2045, but sixty-seven years after his passing - two thirds of a century - this person is very grateful indeed. And take into consideration that I didn't even live through that era. When I was born he had been dead for thirteen years.
For my money, the most interesting part of the museum is the Eleanor Roosevelt Wing. God blessed America by uniting this extraordinary man with so extraordinary a woman. We now know that theirs was a difficult, troubled union. Eleanor's discovery in 1918 of Franklin's love affair with her secretary, Lucy Paige Mercer, forever ended the intimacies of their marriage. But the political partnership between these two remarkable human beings - which slowly evolved in the years after he was stricken with infantile paralysis in 1921 - would change the way the American people viewed their relationship with government.(HISTORICAL NOTE: Lucy Mercer was a distant cousin of mine. We are both direct descendants of the Carroll family of Maryland, America's first Catholic dynasty; one of whom, Charles Carroll, signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. Once while talking the tour of the mansion I told our guide, Ranger John Fox, "I come from a long line of home wreckers").
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were guided by the peculiar notion that our government is the servant of the people. According to them the purpose of representation in Washington involved a whole lot more than making war and passing bad laws. For their effort and collective vision, the sociological face of America would be permanently altered - or at least until 1981.
Almost everyone is under the impression that the modern civil rights movement began on that December afternoon in 1955 when an exhausted Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. They're off by almost seventeen years. December 1, 1955 merely marked the day the child went out into the world for the very first time. April 9, 1939 was the moment she breathed her first breath.
The Civil Rights Movement in America was born on that day. As fate or luck would have it, this historic day would coincide with Easter Sunday in that year. That was the day that Mrs. Roosevelt made the arrangements for African American contralto Marian Anderson
(photo left) to perform a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin. Eleanor Roosevelt, a life-long member of the DAR, resigned in disgust at that moment.
On that sacred Easter Sunday, under the statue of the great emancipator, as Marian Anderson sang Schubert's Ave Maria before an integrated audience of seventy-five thousand people - and millions more across the land via the new medium of radio - who among the multitudes gathered would have dared to dream that they were bearing witness to the beginning of a long chain of events that would lead to the inauguration of the first African American president seventy years later?
Hooray for Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt!
"There is nothing I love as much as a good fight."
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt
There are a lot of good reasons why Franklin D. Roosevelt is usually rated by historians as one of the three greatest presidents in the history of this country. One of those reasons is because the guy loved a good fight - and never shied away from one. He never tried to appear "above it all". He loved to say, "We must take action. NOW!" And he took action, Buster - you'd better believe it. That is why most of the people who write history hold him in such high regard today. FDR was a fighter. Are you listening, President Obama?
And he has been gone for a very long time, hasn't he. My mother will be eighty-one on August fifth. On the day Franklin Roosevelt died she was not yet in high school. Maybe that is related to the reason why the legacy of the New Deal is on life support these days. There aren't many people alive today who remember what life was like in the United States before FDR - and those who do remember were mere toddlers when the stock market crashed in October of 1929. In 1932 the voting age was twenty-one. The youngest person to cast his or her vote for Roosevelt that year would be one-hundred-and-one years old today. Think about that.
It has been said that those who refuse to remember their history are doomed to repeat it. It's so true. Just look out your window onto America's economic landscape. It was never supposed to get like this again. Why did it? What happened?
The people of this country forgot about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That's what happened. Show most Americans a photograph of his smiling face and they will not even be able to identify him. That's gratitude for you! And if the spin doctors for the plutocracy have their way, his name (and good works) will be eradicated from America's consciousness forever.
They've already started with their onslaught of lies and disinformation. Since there are few left who remember and loved the living, breathing FDR, and who can attest to what he meant to the working people of the United States, now is the perfect time for the far right to commence with the assassination of his character - to demean everything he ever stood for - in other words: progressive policies. It is now a common right wing tactical talking point to preface the term "New Deal" by using words such as "the failure of" or "the disastrous". It's starting to work, too. There are people out there who see President Roosevelt, not as being the architect of a new American social structure, but rather as a contemporary of John Dillinger.
Thirty-one years ago, FDR's legacy, the New Deal, came under assault by the reactionary political ideology of the so-called Reagan Revolution. As a result, today the middle class that he literally brought into being is in danger of total extinction. The privatization of America, begun during the administrations of Reagan and Bush I, passively enabled during the Clinton years - and accelerated under under Bush II - has decimated the quality of life in a country that used to be a nice place in which to live.
From the early 1940s until well into the 1970s, working men and women in the United States thrived because of the programs put into place by President Roosevelt and the brilliant men - and one woman, Francis Perkins - who comprised his cabinet (the "Brain Trust" as they were known in the press). Home ownership was at a historical high and the chances for the children of people of modest means to receive a college education were better than they had ever been before and, sadly, might ever be again. During this period, the rich - the plutocracy - had to contribute their equitable share to the nation's tax burden. Corporate America was also obligated to pay into the system as the price of doing business in a country with such an abundance of wealth and prosperity. The result of this was a social and economic infrastructure that was the strongest, most envied in the world. All of that has changed - possibly forever? Time will speak untold volumes.
"Franklin D. Roosevelt is dead. His policies survive but we're doing something about that."
-Rush Limbaugh, Autumn 2007
Pay no mind to the right wing scream machine. We're a better nation today because in 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt sought and won the office of the presidency. As I stated earlier, very few people are alive today who have a conscious memory of what life was like in America for ordinary people before the New Deal ushered in a great new society for this country. Because of FDR, people began to see their government as a partner. It's been one of my missions to make sure that my generation understands this. They've pretty much forgotten that it was Roosevelt's liberal policies that saved America. Today many see the government as their enemy - and in some cases that's the truth. It doesn't have to be that way. We should strive for the perfection of government - not its abolition.
Walking away from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, one is reminded that what once worked so well for the American people can indeed be made to work again. That is not meant to imply that we are the same country we were eighty-years ago - we're not. But the basic premise of President Roosevelt's legacy - that government can be a tool to provide for the comfort and happiness of all people - is an idea that is far from dead. Like the man said:
"So first of all, let me express my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...."
Aw, hell. You know the rest of it.
No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin
The best book ever written about the White House during the twelve crucial years that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt lived there. TEN STARS!
The photograph at the bottom of this piece of the author of this hideous commie screed was taken on February 11, 2012 at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. The photographer was Lori Buttafuoco DeGeorge.
The Second Bill of Rights, as articulated by Franklin Roosevelt on January 11, 1944. Sadly, he passed away a year later. His dream for the eternal economic security of the American people would never be fulfilled:
He spoke to us then, He speaks to us still. It doesn't get any better than the Frankster. Seriously.
Here is a link to view Marian Anderson's historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial seventy-three years ago this week. From a Hearst Movietone Newsreel:
This moment was the beginning of the end for Jim Crow in America, A special "THANK YOU" to Mary Jaco for posting this on my Facebook page!
For more recent postings on this site please go to the link below:
"The Rant" by Tom Degan
Franklin D. Roosevelt would have approved.