From: Steve Weiss
Date: Mon Apr 18, 2005 10:28 am
By BOB HERBERT
Last week - April 12, to be exact - was the 60th anniversary of the death
of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "I have a terrific headache," he said, before
collapsing at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga. He died of a massive
cerebral hemorrhage on the 83rd day of his fourth term as president. His hold on
the nation was such that most Americans, stunned by the announcement of his
death that spring afternoon, reacted as though they had lost a close relative.
That more wasn't made of this anniversary is not just a matter of time;
it's a measure of the distance the U.S. has traveled from the egalitarian ideals
championed by F.D.R. His goal was "to make a country in which no one is left
out." That kind of thinking has long since been consigned to the political
dumpster. We're now in the age of Bush, Cheney and DeLay, small men committed to
the concentration of big bucks in the hands of the fortunate few.
To get a sense of just how radical Roosevelt was (compared with the
politics of today), consider the State of the Union address he delivered from
the White House on Jan. 11, 1944. He was already in declining health and,
suffering from a cold, he gave the speech over the radio in the form of a
After talking about the war, which was still being fought on two fronts,
the president offered what should have been recognized immediately for what it
was, nothing less than a blueprint for the future of the United States. It was
the clearest statement I've ever seen of the kind of nation the U.S. could have
become in the years between the end of World War II and now. Roosevelt referred
to his proposals in that speech as "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 rights, he said, 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
"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."
I mentioned this a few days ago to an acquaintance who is 30 years old.
She said, "Wow, I can't believe a president would say that."
Roosevelt's vision gave conservatives in both parties apoplexy in 1944 and
it would still drive them crazy today. But the truth is that during the 1950's
and 60's the nation made substantial progress toward his wonderfully admirable
goals, before the momentum of liberal politics slowed with the war in Vietnam
and the election in 1968 of Richard Nixon.
It wouldn't be long before Ronald Reagan was, as the historian Robert
Dallek put it, attacking Medicare as "the advance wave of socialism" and Dick
Cheney, from a seat in Congress, was giving the thumbs down to Head Start. Mr.
Cheney says he has since seen the light on Head Start. But his real idea of a
head start is to throw government money at people who already have more cash
than they know what to do with. He's one of the leaders of the G.O.P. gang (the
members should all wear masks) that has executed a wholesale transfer of wealth
via tax cuts from working people to the very rich.
Roosevelt was far from a perfect president, but he gave hope and a sense
of the possible to a nation in dire need. And he famously warned against giving
in to fear.
The nation is now in the hands of leaders who are experts at exploiting
fear, and indifferent to the needs and hopes, even the suffering, of ordinary
"The test of our progress," said Roosevelt, "is not whether we add more to
the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those
who have too little."
Sixty years after his death we should be raising a toast to F.D.R. and his
progressive ideas. And we should take that opportunity to ask: How in the world
did we allow ourselves to get from there to here?