To me one of the most important dates in American history is December 7th. This year we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which precipitated America’s entry into World War II. When thinking of what I could write that was fitting I decided that it would be a perfect time to enshrine our 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, into the Progressive Hall of Fame. Although he did not live to see the Allies final victory in the War, he inspired a nation through it as well as the Great Depression. Either one of those achievements would have been sufficient cause for induction; couple the two and it is very easy to forgive his human frailties and have him take his rightful place in the Hall.
Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Depression, few expected greatness; so daunting were the challenges. I have selected 14 of his quotes to build this tribute around. The first comes from his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With an inspirational line like that delivered to a beleaguered nation in Roosevelt’s great oratory voice the nation should have taken it as a portent of greatness.
Like the challenges facing our current President, there were Roosevelt haters. FRD, as he was commonly known, could see the clouds of war gathering and knew America would have to become involved if the free world were to continue to exist as such; nonetheless he was confronted with a considerable bloc of isolationists in Congress who apparently thought if they would simply ignore the problem it would go away. He called America an, “Arsenal of democracy,” in a December 29, 1940 radio address. Through his “legislative manipulation” that is what we were prior to and after our entry into the conflict.
Perhaps the most famous words he ever uttered were the opening to his December 8, 1941 speech before a joint session of Congress where he asked for and received a declaration of war against Japan: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy.”
As I researched this article I was struck by the poignancy that his words had both then and today. How he spoke of issues that are still with us. How the deniers of truth he faced are so similar to those Obama faces.
FDR needed to defend the institution of democracy itself and the importance of voting, which he did with the following:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
“I have an unshaken conviction that democracy can never be undermined if we maintain our library resources and a national intelligence capable of utilizing them.”
You will notice that education is the great defender of democracy in both of these statements. Is it any wonder that our current President’s critics also attack public education?
On the topic of education itself he had the following profound words: “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”
FDR even appears to have envisioned our growing inequity problem. Perhaps that is because the period in American history that most closely resembled today was 1928; the eve of the October1929 stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Here are a few of his quotes:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more for the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”
“More striking still, it appears that, if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already.”
“It is the purpose of government to see that not only the legitimate interests of the few are protected but that the welfare and rights of the many are conserved.”
“The liberty of democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.”
One thing that apparently is consistent with the opposition to anything even remotely progressive is the opposition to taxes. Roosevelt handled it succinctly with the following: “Taxes, after all, are the dues we pay for the privilege of membership in an organized society.”
Being a child in the 1950’s I remember that the environment was not nearly the concern it is today. That is one of the reasons my childhood home of Western New York is left scared with a place like Love Canal. FDR was ahead of his time with this pearl of wisdom: “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
The one that is most applicable to today is: “Repetition does not transform a lie into truth.” Despite the efforts of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their echo chamber this simple statement still reflects reality.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, enjoy your enshrinement into the Progressive Hall of Fame on this December 7th. Interestingly, and quite by coincidence, the last inductee was your cousin Theodore on July 4th of this year.
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