Thursday, January 30, 2014

The State of the Union - 1944: FDR's Second Bill of Rights

by Nomad

On January 11, 1944, Franklin Roosevelt gave his State of the Union address. Here is an excerpt:

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.
The Battle that Has Never Ended
It is a sad fact that after 70 years, Americans are still having to battle over these points. It's important to note that Roosevelt doesn't think these are just moral issues but are requirements for the prosperity but also the security of the nation.
A nation that denies its citizens- for whatever ideological reasons- these basic economic rights is risking a return to fascism. 

Indeed, the strict austerity programs implemented by the European Union- which, many critics charge is exactly the opposite of what FDR outlines- have created an atmosphere in ItalyGreece and Spain where extremist neo-fascist groups can flourish. 

If the Republican party had won the last presidential election, the same sort of austerity solution would have been put in place in the US. The views of the Republican party and the Tea Party are clear on issues like unemployment assistance, affordable health care, and education. (Their position on Social Security is a little more confused. And despite being adamant about slashing government spending to the bone, even there Medicare and Medicaid would be untouchable.) 

Billionaire and Republican candidate Romney said he was not worried about poor people. We have government programs to help them, a safety net, he said. Meanwhile, his own running mate was leading the crusade to cut spending on many of those very programs
“It’s an excellent piece of work.”
(Fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum said the only problem was that didn’t cut enough.) 

Since then, we have had the fiscal cliff debacle which the Republicans first hailed as a victory and then attempted to blame the Obama administration for allowing it to occur. This was then followed by very quiet, very under-reported attempts by both sides to undo the damage of the sequestration disaster.

Proving FDR Correct
The extremist rhetoric coming from some areas of the Tea Party what the military would do in the event of a Tea Party rebellion. 
has become so violent that reputable news sites, like Forbes, have given serious stories back in 2012 about

Movements to secede from the United States, the formation of tax-exempt organizations, financed by radical corporate activists like the Koch brothers, attempts to use "states' rights" to overrule the federal government, even direct threats of violence against the president; all these have become pretty standard fare for the Tea Party lately. 

In addition, they have used suspicious polling to spread their message of armed overthrow. They claim last summer that a full 29% of American voter thought that "an armed revolution might be necessary in the next few years in order to protect liberties." 

In recent days. a Fox News analyst and retired Army general told a Tea Party leader that he would, if necessary, he would lead a military coup against the U.S. government.
Paul Vallely, a retired major general and senior military analyst for the conservative news channel, told the Surprise, Arizona, Tea Party Patriots during a Dec. 3 speech that other retired military personnel and veterans groups had contacted him about the possibility.
If this isn't an actionable threat, then what is? If Fox News isn't guilty of sedition, then the definition of the crime needs to be re-written.

A Failure of Leadership
When the Tea Party leaders aren't threatening to overthrow the government, they are trying to take over the Republican Party. Even then, the Republican Party still hasn't accepted responsibility or disavowed the positions of the Tea Party. When strong leadership was needed to hold down the inflammatory rhetoric, the Republicans sat back and said nothing.

With the Tea Party attempting to force out moderate (?) candidates who do not follow orders, the relatively sane party members are now paying the price for their cowardice.
(In hindsight, the theme of the film "Game Change" was perhaps symbolic of the future relationship between the Tea Party movement- ramble-rousing Palin- and the old guard- McCain.)

As one writer for a progressive site explained:
The behavior of the GOP’s extremist faction is looking increasingly outlandish and unprecedented, like the machinations of some lunatic fringe in a country far, far away. But they're right here. They want to destroy the U.S. government and they will plainly thwart laws they don’t like in the name of foolhardy austerity and unregulated markets. Hindering a law by using threats or force, by the way, is sedition, and some have argued that the Tea Party members are guilty of this crime.
It is easy to take the minority fringe extremists too seriously.  They still represent a tiny minority of Republican voters. They are loud and sensational and so have received much more attention from the sensationalist press than they deserved.

Still, it is still proof that what Roosevelt warned our grandparents about - that when you deny citizens even basic economic rights, you are inviting catastrophe- is just as true today.