New Deal at 80 - Nixon at 100
I had an interesting experience the other night that I wanted to share with you. On Monday my friend, Carolyn Karkosza, asked me to take her to Hyde Park, NY. She wanted to visit the Vanderbilt mansion and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum. Having seen the Vanderbilt pad on a fifth grade field trip long ago, I had no desire to see it again, but I'm the sort who just cannot say no to an old friend. I saw it again late Monday afternoon for what will be the final time, I assure you. Our plan was to visit the Roosevelt place the following day.
After checking into the Quality Inn across the road from the FDR Library, I watched a bit of TV, had a couple of drinks and went to bed. Waking up at 3AM and unable to to get back to sleep, I decided to take a nocturnal stroll. I silently ventured across a deserted Route 9 and entered the FDR grounds in total darkness, the only light visible being the gentle glow of a crescent moon.
|Roosevelt grave site|
After about twenty minutes of silent contemplation, I wished the President and Mrs. Roosevelt golden slumbers. I then journeyed back to my room and slept like a baby.
March 4, a little less than two months from now, will mark the eightieth anniversary of the dawn of the New Deal. That day will be as good as any to pause and talk about what liberalism has meant to America. It's a conversation that is worth having, and long overdue. Think about this: The youngest person to cast his or her vote in the election of 1932 would today be one-hundred and one years old. There are few people alive today who have a conscious memory of how difficult existence was for ordinary people prior to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
On the other hand, a lot of people have clear memories of the administration of Richard Milhaus Nixon. Hell, even I remember Nixon! Mentioning Roosevelt and Nixon in the same sentence is a bit of a stretch, I know. They were two completely different men with two completely different worldviews. Politics indeed makes for some very strange bedfellows. I am mentioning Nixon's name in this context simply because today is the centennial of his birth. That's right, kids! One-hundred years ago today Tricky Dick was born in Yorba Linda, California!
My purpose here is not to defame the name of Dick Nixon. He did that all by himself with no help from me. But in light of what's come since he left the White House in disgrace on August 9, 1974, the guy is starting to look pretty good. Even his most ardent detractors (myself included) have to agree that Nixon, as strange and as dark as he might have been, was possessed of a brilliant mind. With very few exceptions he was one of the most intelligent people ever to live in the Executive Mansion. His problem was simply the fact that he was so psychologically bent-out-of-shape, his administration's implosion was almost a foregone conclusion - at least when viewed in historical hindsight. In light of what we now know about the internal makeup of Richard M. Nixon, it is easy to conclude that he was temperamentally ill-suited for the job of chief-executive. His administration, cut short by scandal, was a disaster waiting to happen.
And yet for all his personal failings, Dick Nixon understood a few, basic realities that (with the exception of Gerry Ford) all of his Republican successors have never been able to figure out. Nixon was pretty much an Eisenhower Republican. As Dwight Eisenhower's VP, he was loyal to and respectful of the president's agenda. Although each man was uncomfortable in the presence of the other (It is said that Ike in particular didn't much care for Nixon personally) they saw the world through the same lens. President Eisenhower's views on American social engineering can best be summed up in a letter he wrote to his brother, Edgar, on the eve of the 1952 election:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
He can't be accused of political pandering here. This was a private letter that was not made public until decades after his death. Here are the key words which we really need to pay attention to: "....you would not hear of that party again in our political history." Eisenhower understood - as did Nixon, I think - that the institutions that make for a stable and thriving middle class are tampered with to the detriment of the political party doing the tampering. In other words, "Mess with Social Security and you're history, Buster!" This is the reason the Republican party is within a decade of extinction.
At one point Dick Nixon tried to outdo Roosevelt himself. He made the attempt to bring health insurance to everyone - a move that was thwarted by Senator Edward Moore Kennedy. He didn't want affordable health care to be a Republican legacy. It was not one of Teddy's mountaintop moments to be sure. And it was Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the far right's worst nightmares! We must give credit where credit is due - even to the likes of The Trickster.
It's ironic but true enough: had Nixon come around today, his party wouldn't nominate him for any office - let alone the presidency. That is how far down the ideological sewer it has descended. Strange days indeed.
And things are getting stranger by the moment.
The victims of Hurricane Sandy will finally be receiving desperately needed aid from the government - but only after the Congress of the United States was publicly shamed into providing it. In 2005, within a week of Hurricane Katrina's devastation in the south, the people of that region were handed a check for over sixty-five billion to help with the clean-up and rescue. Nearly three months after Sandy made her wrath known, the people of the northeast are still waiting. The right wing have made themselves clear. The only thing that matters to them are tax cuts for billionaires. We in northeast don't matter. We have lots of Negroes, Arabs and Jews living here, you know.
President Roosevelt would be appalled. President Nixon's jaw would be dropped to the floor. These are different times.
And I'm afraid the situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets half-a-shade better. The 113th Congress, which was sworn in on January 3, is still controlled by what used to be called "the party of Abraham Lincoln". They have no intention of doing right by the people they are sworn to represent. In the next two years you can expect more obstruction and legislative sabotage. I like to call it "treason".
Richard Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt were men who strenuously guarded their privacy. Each of them found it difficult to share intimacies with even those closest to them. But that's where the similarities end. You could not contrive in fiction two men as different in temperament and personality as these guys. Franklin was talkative and jovial; Dick was cheerless and intimidating. Their one common denominator, at least as far as governance was concerned, was that neither of them believed that economic expansion could be achieved at the expense of the working and middle classes. Too many politicians (of both parties) have forgotten this. Maybe someday they'll remember....Maybe.
Carolyn and I never made it to the tour of the FDR Library on Tuesday. We were both a bit out of sorts when we woke up and anxious to get back to Goshen. That's okay. Franklin, Eleanor and I were able to spend some quality time together in the darkness of the Rose Garden. They say hi.
No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin
The best book ever written about the FDR White House. You can't go wrong with Doris. You just can't!
I had an article published on Britain's "Carnage Report" on Monday. Here's a link to have a look:
Cheerio! Pip! Pip!
BREAKING NEWS FROM DEMOCRACY NOW:
"Two new colors have been added to Australia's weather maps to show temperatures exceeding 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the country's fiercest heat wave in more than 80 years. Wildfires are raging through Australia's six states, including in Tasmania where some 50,000 acres of forests and farmland have been destroyed."
Forget all about that stuff about "global warming". It's just an evil, LIBERAL myth, you know.