Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Speech From the Past, A Manifesto for The Future

Occasional readers of this occasional blog will remember that I regularly follow Professor David Kaiser’s blog, “History Unfolding.” In a recent post, dated April 4th, 2009, he quotes a campaign speech that FDR made on November 1, 1940. That speech is so eerily pertinent today that it justifies my re-quoting it here, despite its unbloglike length.

It perfectly characterizes and justifies what I believe to be the function of government and the unalterable opposition to that function by the Republican Party.

After nearly seventy years nothing has changed. 


Back in the 20's, in the years after the last World War, Americans worked and built many things, but few of our people then stopped to think why they were working and why they were building and whither they were tending.

Those were the days when prosperity was measured only by the stock ticker.

There were the factory workers forced to labor long hours at low wages in sweat-shop conditions. They could look forward to no security in their old age. They could look forward to no insurance during periods of unemployment. There were the farmers of the Nation, overburdened with debt and with farm surpluses, their income vanishing, their farms threatened with foreclosure.

There were the natural resources of the land, being wasted-soil, forests, minerals and water power.

There were millions of workers, unable to organize to protect their livelihoods, unable to form trade unions.

There were the small businesses of the Nation, threatened by the monopolies of concentrated wealth.

The savings of the many were entrusted to supposedly great financiers, who were to lose those savings in fantastic adventures of giant holding companies and giant investment trusts.

The crash came as it had to come. And then for three years the American people waited and suffered. For three years the American Government did nothing to help.In 1933, the American people began to bestir themselves. They had come to learn that inaction offered no escape from the problems of a troubled and changing world. The American people determined then and there that what could not be done by individual effort could be done through joint effort; that what the industrial and financial leaders could not do, or would not do, a democratic Government could do and would do

You all know the history of recovery, beginning in 1933, and progressing ever since.

Our economic system began again to function. Then came the suggestion from monopolistic finance that while the Government had done a good rescue job, the best thing it could do at that point was to forget all about it, and to turn the whole economic system back to Wall Street to run again.

But they little knew the temper of the American people. The New Deal was no mere rescue party to restore to a chosen few their old power over the people's savings, the people's labor, the people's lives.

We all remember how negligible was the opposition that this Administration met in the early days when it was cleaning up the wreckage, which had come from the era of speculation.

The bitter opposition from Republican leaders did not come until a little later. It came when this Administration made it clear that we were not merely salvaging afew things from the past, but that we were determined to make our system of private enterprise and private profit work more efficiently, more democratically, to fill the demands and needs of all the people of this land.

We understand the philosophy of those who offer resistance, of those who conduct a counter offensive against the American people's march of social progress. It is not an opposition which comes necessarily from wickedness—it is an opposition that comes from subconscious resistance to any measure that disturbs the position of privilege. It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.

I am, as you know, a firm believer in private enterprise and in private property. I am a firm believer in the American opportunity of men and women to rise in private enterprise. But, of course, if private opportunity is to remain safe, average men and women must be able to have it as a part of their own individual satisfaction in life and their own stake in democracy.

With that in view, we have pushed ahead with social and economic reforms, determined that this period in American life should be written down as an heroic era—an era in which men fought not merely to preserve a past, but to build a future.

You and I have seen nations great and small go down in ruin, or get backed up against the wall, because the reactionary men who led them could not see the real danger that threatened. They were afraid of losing their own selfish privilege and power. They feared the legitimate forward surge of their own common people, more than they feared the menacing might of foreign dictators.

From them, we in the United States take warning. Most Republican leaders in our own country for the last seven years have bitterly fought and blocked that forward surge of average men and women in their pursuit of happiness. And let us not be deluded that overnight those leaders have suddenly become the real friends of these average men and women.Oh, they may say at election time that they approve the social gains and social objectives of the last seven years. But I say that these men have not yet proven that they even understand what these social gains or social objectives have been.

The people throughout this country know how many and how difficult were the battles that we have fought and won in the last seven years.

Do you want to abandon the protection of people's savings from fraudulent manipulators, the curbing of giant holding companies that despoiled investors and consumers alike, by delivering them into the hands of those who have fought those reforms?

Do you want to abandon the responsibility for the well-being of those who live and work on the farms of the Nation to those who fought against the farm program every inch of the way?

Do you want to abandon collective bargaining, the outlawing of child labor, the minimum wage, the time-and-a-half for overtime, the elimination of sweat-shop conditions, by turning them over to the proven enemies of labor?

Do you want to hamstring the old-age pension system, or unemployment insurance, or aid for children, or maternity welfare, or vocational training for the physically handicapped, or financial aid to the blind by delivering them into the hands of those who have fought and misrepresented those reforms?

Do you want to abandon slum clearance to those Republican leaders who have fought against every appropriation for decent housing?

Do you want to turn over your Government to those who failed to have confidence in the future of America and who now preach fear for the future of America? As an example of that doctrine of fear, certain insurance companies are now sending letters to their policyholders, warning them that if this Administration is retained in office, their policies will shrink in value.

That is just another form of things we have seen before, another form, for instance, of that pay-envelope campaign—that campaign of fear of the last week of 1936.

The fact is that the very existence of most of these insurance companies I speak of was saved by this Administration in 1933. They are today more solvent than they ever were before.

Our program in the past, our program for the future, is, as you know, equality of economic opportunity. Such a program calls for many things. It requires an orderly settlement of industrial disputes not by those devoted to company unions, but by agencies alert to the requirements of labor and mindful of the responsibilities of industry.

This program entails old-age insurance and unemployment insurance, operating on an increasingly wider base, so that eventually it will include every man and woman in the country.

It makes available cheap credit to impoverished tenants, to consumers, and to small business. In fact, it has always seemed to me that our program starts with small business, so that it may grow and flourish.

It curbs the old predatory activities of high finance and monopoly practices.

It guarantees that our national resources are used for the benefit of the whole people—and not exploited for the benefit of a few.

It provides for the resettlement of farmers from marginal lands to richer lands, and for farm ownership for enslaved tenants.

Monopoly does not like this program. Certain types of high finance do not like it. Most of the American plutocracy do not like it.

But the vast majority of American business, the backbone of American business, continues to grow and flourish under it. For that business is interested in reasonable profits, not in promoters' tribute. That business is interested in freedom from monopolistic restraints and economic imperialism. That business knows that the farmers and the workers, the great mass of our citizens, have never asked for more than equality and fair play.

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