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A Timely Message from a Bygone Era

address_photo(Editorial) The spirit that informs the State of the Union address (see excerpt below) by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 is very different from the political ideology dominant today – it is probably safe to say that a majority of listeners to the address by President Roosevelt in 1944 would understand our predicament as being due to a forewarned and successful “rightist reaction”.1

This address is from an extremely popular Twentieth Century American politician who won election to the presidency an unequaled 4 times (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944).2

In the last 3+ decades since 1980, the prevailing ideology among political and business elites has shifted far to the right of the political spectrum. For most of the post-war era, what passes today as centrist or “middle of the road” would have been characterized as far-right. Ideas popularly and publicly proclaimed by a sitting President in 1944 – like an economic Bill of Rights, are outside the boundaries of normal political discourse today.

The reasons for this state of political discourse are at least twofold: poor teaching of American history in both secondary and tertiary education, and conservative sponsorship of policy research from the late 1960s through today. Many conservative policy proposals adopted in the last thirty years would at one time have been unacceptable. It is timely for citizens in this country to reread their history, especially political and economic history, in order to relearn some important lessons taught to previous generations.

The following excerpt from President Roosevelt’s 1944 address concerns his call for a new Bill of Rights to cover economic security. It is rather lengthy, but the time spent reading is time well spent, because it provides an appreciation for just how different the dominant ideology today is.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, 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 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.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

1 Excerpt from FDR’s State of the Union Address in 1944 from the FDR Presidential Library. <http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/address_text.html >

2 <http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/scores.html#1932 >

Photo: “1944 State of the Union Address” from the FDR Presidential Library.



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