Friday, September 21, 2007

Franklin Roosevelt's Endangered Legacy

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. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was - beyond a 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 that 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.
"So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself: Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Twenty seven 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 which 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. Home ownership was at an 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.
On a recent broadcast, Rush Limbaugh informed his mostly clueless listeners, "Franklin D. Roosevelt is dead. His policies survive but we're doing something about that." That blatantly arrogant statement is indicative of the real motivation of the right wing. Their rape of our beloved, tarnished country has been in overdrive for over a quarter of a century now. It has not a thing to do with "moral values". It never has. The enemies of the New Deal have used divisive issues such as flag burning, abortion, homosexuality, and Monica Lewinsky only to distract us while they looted our national treasure - and this massive thievery has had a devastating effect: Our bridges and highways are in disrepair; our health care system is broken down. And I don't think I need to remind you that the state of public education, as of September 2007, is a sick joke. This is a tragic, unforgivable situation which did not exist thirty years ago. The voodoo, trickle-up economics of these past twenty-seven years has achieved the desired result: The rich have, indeed, gotten richer; the middle class has gotten poorer. The poor don't even matter anymore.
During the campaign of 1936, Franklin Roosevelt said of the "Captains of Industry", as they were then called, "They hate me and I welcome their hatred." (Fortunately, he had the good sense not to declare, "Bring 'em on!"). What those words reveal is the undeniable fact that the man really was on the side of the people. Why is it, then, that so many otherwise intelligent human beings would turn their backs on the legacy of FDR and the New Deal? How could they possibly embrace the perverted ideology of a political party which exists only to their detriment? Why would the masses of working and middle class men and women want to return to the conditions that existed at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (an era that Mark Twain dubbed The Gilded Age) when the robber barons controlled most of the wealth of the nation while the overwhelming majority of the American people lived in grinding poverty?
The dreadful social inequities of that period were placed in check (if only temporarily) by another Roosevelt, Franklin's distant cousin Theodore (who was also the older brother of Eleanor's father, Elliot). Teddy Roosevelt's advocacy of "a Square Deal for every man and every woman in the United States" was such an inconvenient truth for the GOP's plutocratic power brokers of that day and age, he would be denied the Republican nomination in the summer of 1912 in spite of the fact that he arrived at the convention with all the delegates needed - and then some - to seize the mantle of standard bearer. What had so alienated him from his party's elite was his novel belief that big business exists only at the pleasure of the people - not the other way around. That is why today you never hear or see the name "Theodore Roosevelt" mentioned in any Republican campaign media or literature. He is anathema to the right wing fools and extremists who have hijacked that party.
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 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.
The Republican party used to be called the "Party of Lincoln". But that is so obviously no longer the case that their most blatant propagandists don't even attempt to use that sort of language any longer. Unless today's cowardly, incompetent Democratic Party wakes up and realizes that it is still, in fact, the "Party of FDR", America will only continue in its present, downward spiral.
The New Deal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered to the people of the United States of America needs to be resuscitated.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
No Ordinary Time
By Doris Kearns Goodwin
Yesterday morning I had an epiphany:
Do you want to know the major difference between the right wing and the progressives?
The right wing loves America for her body. The progressives love America for her mind.
That's pretty much it in a nut shell, isn't it?


To read more recent postings of this nasty, commie-loving site (And Heaven knows why you would!) please go to the following link:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

And remember, if you find yourself in the beautiful Hudson Valley, make a pilgrimage to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park. It's open all week long except Monday.


At 6:03 AM, Blogger Nancy said...

Hi Tom,
I think you might have meant to say "empathy" instead of "apathy" in the first paragraph.

I'll have to paraphrase this but it's a doozy.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in many ways a greater politician than her husband, was asked at a press conference "Do you think that the President's illness has affected his mind?"

After an appalled silence Mrs. Roosevelt said, "Yes, it has developed his compassion and sympathy for those who are suffering, and in pain."

Where are our modern Roosevelts? Maybe a great leader can only be someone who has suffered great pain.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you for pointing that out to me Nancy! I wrote that too late at night....

Like you, I'd like to believe that there are "modern Roosevely" out there but I just can't see them. But don't stop believing.

Tom Degan

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So right Tom, I was 2 months old when Roosevelt was elected the first time, my parents and paternal grandfather went to the polls in a large wooden sled pulled by horses thru deep snow and I went along wrapped in blankets. Folks in our part of the country wanted to see the last of the likes of Hoover.
As I was growing up we revered Roosevelt for his social programs that relieved the effects of the depression.
I believe his Social Security for the old folks, WPA which built highways, etc and gave employment to men who would othewise have none and the CCC camps for young men out of school and no job prospects staved off the success the Communists had in countries like Germany.
Also had FDR not outsmarted Republican isolationists like Robert LaFollette (I think of Wisconsin) and came up with lend-lease, England and Churchill would never had held off Hitler until our entry into WW2 after Pearl Harbour.
I also rememeber the March Of Dimes, Roosevelt's program to find a cure for polio. Until I think 1948 Polio was a scourge and our only defense was a war on flies who carried the germ . I will never forget the day Roosevelt died, tv was unknown and we only listened to the radio at night.
We were living in Lawrence Kansas and both my parents worked in the Hercules Powder Plant in DeSoto.
Mother sent me to the corner grocery a block away and some customers were telling about his death.
Roosevelt and Churchill should have been Time magazine's co-man of the century,not Einstein.
Einstein's theory of relativity has been discredited and I am not sure that giving us the atom bomb was not the big Pandora's box leading to the end times the Bible predicts.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Lena said...

GREAT piece, Tom. I'm even closer to the FDR home (about 15 mi) and visit often. Even though your predictions have not yet come to fruition, I like your idealism. I come to your rant for moral support, and I thank you muchly for that.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. It was in 1936 that I became a lifelong Democrat at the age of 4 when our precinct committeeman pinned a celuloid donkey on my new winter coat and dubbed me a Democrat. I didn't know what a Republican was but after what the Republicans under Hoover had done to our country and the mudslinging by the opposition in the '36 election I knew I didn't want to be one and have never wavered since.
Mrs Roosevelt was a consummate politician, too bad politics were almost closed to women.

At 3:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Mother told me that when FDR passed away, she felt as though her own father had died. I remember the sadness in her face,when she told me that. FDR was able to institute great social change. He was a man of wisdom and compassion. As you have pointed out, these are traits totally lacking in the current administration and much of Congress. What, however, paved the way for the social programs that FDR gave us, was the Great Depression. Before that disaster, Americans voted Republican. It took a great deal of suffering, a hard kick in the pants, and a lot of lost jobs, lost homes, lost farms, and lost souls to usher in the era of the New Deal. I suspect such a crisis will be pre-requisite for any substantial change in the current situation. People are too greedy, too apathetic, too much in denial to see the economic collapse that is lurking around the corner. The Fed's decrease in interest rates is nothing more than a bandaid, placed over a festering wound. Congress has had to increase the debt limit once again. The dollar keeps losing value. Creeping inflation will be made worse by the decrease in interest rates, which means the cost of food, fuel, and other essentials will continue to rise. Health care is absurdly inflationary. The war in Iraq is consuming billions, with no end in sight under Bush. Job creation is iffy. Property taxes are going up,up, up in many states. Home-owner's insurance is doubling in cost. Meanwhile, Dimwitted Dubya continues his tax breaks for the wealthy, and ignoring offshore, no-tax paying accounts for the likes of Halliburton, et. al;and any other BS that the Fat Cats want, to line their coffers to the max. We simply cannot continue down this road to perdition. I just watched a young couple on HGTV buy a 230,000+ house, while both have huge car payments and large credit card debt. This is typical of millions in America. It is a ship of fools, ready to sink. My only consolation is to hope that substantive change will occur when the dust settles.

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...As a part-time anarchist and casual reader of your well-written prose, I must cast a few clouds upon your sunny description of FDR - first off, yes, as far as american presidents go, FDR, and Lincoln deserve much props.

That being said, if you don't like the idea of being ruled at all and don't buy that crap about "politicians are our employees, and serve us", then the idea of a good president vs. bad president is kinda like saying, would you prefer a good king or a bad king?

I'm not trying to be overplay FDR's detention of Japanese-Americans either (some of whom, my Grandmother knew) - FDR was as much a passenger on the ship of governmental policy as he was the captain. BUT, by that same token, to give him credit for decades of organizing and agitating by well intentioned communists and socialists is a tad disingenuous.

Furthermore, it has always been my understanding that while FDR initiated socialized work programs (he didn't have much of a choice given the desperation of the starving masses), it really wasn't until Dec.7th, 1941 that the modern American war economy started to pick up.

But perhaps you and I have different understandings of history. Perhaps you and I will agree that while Dubya stole the 2000 election and knew about 911 before it was going to happen, JFK did not do the same thing in Chicago 1960; and FDR didn't know Japanese planes were headed for a country we annexed and turned into a military base/pineapple production facility.

My point is, we should be careful when heaping praise on past "leaders" - indeed, from people like me's perspective, they're just a little overrated.

At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heaping praise on past leaders is much easier than heaping praise on the present leader. Tho the best thing that can be said about many past leaders they are dead; I cannot think of one good thing I can say about the present one except he "only" has slightly over one more year to serve unless he cooks up some crisis, declares martial law, suspends the Constitution and becomes the dictator he mentioned on his first inaugeration day.
His road is shorter as he has in effect already suspended the constitution

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Don said...

Teddy and FDR are probably my favorite Presidents - faced with crises and able to effectively manage and overcome them. While I consider myself a conservative and do take objection to what I view is mindless (little thought for reality in some cases)liberalism in this country, the Republican party has become an embarassment and as you point out, hijacked by those that are more concerned with profit than the individual welfare of the nation.

Excellent article!

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Gerard Leary said...

Questions. Why did the depression not end until 1946? Why were prior recessions so much shorter? Why were farmers even farming in a drought prone area? Why did he seize all the gold form the average working man? Who paid for all those bridges built by the WPA? What would they have spent the money on instead?

I believe FDR was one of our worst Presidents ever. On the economy he was terrible, on war and peace? Ugh. On liberty, well, he interred Americans in camps for Pete's sake. He also forced businesses into cartels, something his cousin tried to break up. I can't really think of anything he should be lauded for. Social Security takes from the working man and gives to wealthy retirees, and will bankrupt us. Putting people on government support is not a sign of greatness, and he destroyed a huge amount of the nation's wealth, through poor economic policy, wasteful spending and a massive war.

Don't even get me started on Lincoln!


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