On Native Ground
A CURE FOR REPUBLICAN LIES: ROOSEVELT'S IDEALS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- My antidote to the lies spewed out by Republicans at their convention last week was the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
I came across "Nothing To Fear," a 1946 collection of 62 of FDR's most important presidential speeches, a few months ago. After a week of hearing politician after politician shamelessly and cynically exploit fear as a campaign message, rereading Roosevelt's words became imperitive.
Three generations have gone by and FDR's most famous words - "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" - still ring true. His steadiness in the most difficult and turbulent time in American history stands as the greatest example of presidential leadership in the 20th century. If President George W. Bush possessed even a fraction of FDR's intelligence, integrity and courage, this nation wouldn't be in the mess it's in now.
It's considered passť in Democratic circles to invoke the name of Roosevelt. But to me, no Democrat ever issued a better creed for the party than he did in accepting the nomination in 1932 when he said: "Ours must be a party of liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook and of the greatest good to the greatest number of citizens."
He didn't need to smear Herbert Hoover or even mention him by name in that speech. But everyone knew whom he was talking about when he said: "Never before in modern history have the essential differences between the two major American parties stood out in such striking contrast as today. Republican leaders not only have failed in material things, they have failed in national vision, because in disaster they have held out no hope, they have pointed no path for the people below to climb back to places of security and safety in our American life."
That indictment holds true today. The Republican Party of 2004 holds out no hope to the American people, only a vision of endless war abroad against a nebulous foe and endless war at home against democracy.
Given the economic disaster that the country found itself in back in the early 1930s, a lesser leader could have easily exploited the fear and anger of Americans who believed that capitalism was finished and an alternative - any alternative - was needed immediately. Roosevelt was a skilled enough politician to know that unity, not divisiveness, was the answer.
Compare the divisiveness offered by the GOP in New York last week against this vision of unity offered by Roosevelt at his second inaugural in 1937: "In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that drive men together. In our personal ambitions, we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people."
Roosevelt's New Deal proved that government could make a difference in people's lives. It reduced poverty through programs such as Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It created public works programs that not only provided jobs for the unemployed but built bridges, roads, dams and other public facilities that are still in use today. It created the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage. It gave labor unions the right to organize. It helped stabilize farm prices and reclaim farm land ravaged by erosion and overuse.
"Under the New Deal the noble term 'commonwealth' was given a more realistic mean than ever before in our history," the historian Henry Steele Commager wrote after Roosevelt's death in 1945. But conservatives have been trying to repeal the New Deal for the last seven decades. They did not then and do not believe now in the principle of the responsibility of the state to provide for the welfare and security of its people.
In 1940, Roosevelt said that "the measure of greatness of any party is the measure in which it gets done in its time the big job that needs to be done." Lifting the nation out of economic chaos was the first big job that FDR and the Democrats got done. Preparing the nation to fight against the forces of global fascism was the other.
Roosevelt said that "a good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear." Just imagine what the response would have been in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks if this nation had heard words that were as honest as what FDR offered two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
"On the road ahead lies hard work - grueling work - day and night, every hour and every minute.
"I was about to add that there lies sacrifice for all of us.
"But it is not correct to use that word. The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one's best to our nation, when this nation is fighting for its existence and its future life.
"It is not a sacrifice for any man, old or young, to be in the Army or the Navy of the United States. Rather it is a privilege.
"It is not a sacrifice for the industrialist or the wage-earner, the farmer or the shopkeeper, the trainman or the doctor, to pay more taxes, buy more bonds, to forego extra profits, to work longer and harder at the task for which he is best fitted. Rather it is a privilege."
In his acceptance speech last week, President Bush didn't talk of the sacrifices needed to win the war on terror that he launched after 9/11. He didn't talk about the failures of vision and planning that gave us war against Iraq, a $200 billion (and counting) war we didn't need to fight that has cost this nation more than 1,000 (and counting) American lives. He didn't ask for more tax dollars to pay for this war, the first war this nation has fought without increasing taxes to help pay for it. All he asked for was for Americans to have faith in the course that he has set this nation upon.
It's telling that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said last week that President Bush "sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child." In other words, President Bush is the daddy and we should trust him to take care of us.
Roosevelt would have laughed at such talk. He believed in the collective strength of the American people, and that strength was best guided through an activist government that would ensure the greatest good for the greatest number.
As FDR said in his first inaugural address, "We now realize as we never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective."
This was the spirit that lifted this nation out of the Great Depression, and guided us through victory in World War II. This is what we need to get through the turbulent times that are ahead. This is the quality of leadership we need, but haven't received over the past four years.
Our nation doesn't need a daddy. We need honest, competent leadership. We need someone with integrity who will appeal to our hopes rather than our fears. Roosevelts don't come along but once or twice in a century, but we dearly need one now and President George W. Bush is not it.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.