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FDR’S 1936 ADVICE – A THUMBNAIL SKETCH

August 16, 2016

FDR’S 1936 ADVICE – A THUMBNAIL SKETCH

I am indebted for research on this topic to Harold Meyerson in his essay published in the Summer Edition of The American Prospect, my favorite political magazine.

Eighty years ago this summer in Philadelphia Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a second term as president. On the last night of the Democratic convention, the delegates (along with about 100,000 other Democrats), went to Franklin Field to hear FDR’s acceptance speech. It was a remarkable speech redefining, as it did, what Democrats and citizens of Depression-era America were about. It obviously found favor with voters across the country – he carried 46 of the then 48 states the following fall, losing only Maine and Vermont.

FDR noted that it was in Philadelphia that Americans first adopted a constitutional creed in their break with the British crown, and he equated that break with his New Deal’s break with the “economic royalists” of 20th century America. His speech was prescient; he put his finger on the country’s problems and promised more “New Deal” responses to solve them. Now that the New Deal is effectively gone with the purchase of our government by the new “economic royalists,” zillionaires such as the Kochs and others, we are back to where we were in Hoover’s day marked by worsening wage inequality and a booming Wall Street, a situation which can only mean that we the people are being unfairly treated.

Think not? Just take a look at where we are today with FDR’s words in Philadelphia as a guide. He stated that “Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital – all undreamed of by the founding fathers – the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service. . .  It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. . . The political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.” In words of the street, beating the British didn’t help if we are to be relatively free but hungry afterwards. Free for what? To be abused by greedy “economic royalists” (aka Wall Street)?

That description of the situation then and the one now are at least congruent if not identical. During the so-called “Roaring Twenties” Republicans and Wall Street were in charge of the White House and the under-regulation of the activities of those on Wall Street was the chief factor in bringing about the Great Depression, much as today as a result of the repeal of the New Deal Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and Wall Street’s big banks’ under-regulated excesses brought on Bush’s Great Recession, bailouts, and an underperforming economy ever since. Wall Street has recovered nicely from Bush’s Great Recession but wages remain stagnant as the rich continue to plunder the lion’s share of the economy’s income from their corporate workers, even though labor productivity is at historic highs.

FDR in his acceptance speech in 1936 rightly said (then and I say now) that the task of the nation was (and is) to equalize both economic and political power. He stated that “If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place,” noting further that “The success of American democracy – of democracy itself – depended upon its ability to create a more broad-based prosperity, a more egalitarian economy,” noting yet further that “Ours is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy.” Amen! Those are pearls of wisdom and words for the ages and have as much application for today and for our future as for yesteryear.

In summary, either we even up our economic equality with our political equality (such as it is), or we risk losing our most precious asset, our democracy, a risk I, for one, am unwilling to take.    GERALD      E

 

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