Monday, December 19, 2005

A President of Hope: A President of Fear

I was thinking recently about how another president who presided over a war and wondered about how he approached talking to the country about the progress of the war and the future of the United States. The president was Franklin Roosevelt and his talk was his last inaugural address to the nation. This is what he had to say:

After talking about the war, which was still being fought on two fronts, the president offered what should have been recognized immediately for what it was, nothing less than a blueprint for the future of the United States. It was the clearest statement I've ever seen of the kind of nation the U.S. could have become in the years between the end of World War II and now. Roosevelt referred to his proposals in that speech as "a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed."
Among these rights, he said, are:

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
"The right of every family to a decent home.
"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
"The right to a good education."

Roosevelt's vision gave conservatives in both parties apoplexy in 1944 and it would still drive them crazy today. But the truth is that during the 1950's and 60's the nation made substantial progress toward his wonderfully admirable goals, before the momentum of liberal politics slowed with the war in Vietnam and the election in 1968 of Richard Nixon.

It wouldn't be long before Ronald Reagan was, as the historian Robert Dallek put it, attacking Medicare as "the advance wave of socialism" and Dick Cheney, from a seat in Congress, was giving the thumbs down to Head Start. Mr. Cheney says he has since seen the light on Head Start. But his real idea of a head start is to throw government money at people who already have more cash than they know what to do with. He's one of the leaders of the G.O.P. gang (the members should all wear masks) that has executed a wholesale transfer of wealth via tax cuts from working people to the very rich.

Roosevelt was far from a perfect president, but he gave hope and a sense of the possible to a nation in dire need. And he famously warned against giving in to fear.

The nation is now in the hands of leaders who are experts at exploiting fear, and indifferent to the needs and hopes, even the suffering, of ordinary people.

David M Goldberg

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