Albion Monitor /Commentary

Clinton and Democrats Dishonor FDR

by Randolph T. Holhut

Bill Clinton is a mockery of all that FDR stood for
The man who's doing his utmost to dismantle the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to do a reasonably genuine job of paying tribute to him.

President Clinton delivered his usual moving oratory when he helped to dedicate the new Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 2. Clinton paid lip service to the greatness of FDR, but the man who proclaimed that the era of big government is over was not convincing in honoring the man who created big government and guided this country through economic disaster and global war.

In a week that he pushed volunteerism rather than government as a solution for the nation's ills; on the day that he gave his initial approval to a federal budget plan that will gut social welfare programs; almost a year after he signed off on the end of the federal guarantee of assistance for poor families, there stood Bill Clinton in front of the Roosevelt Memorial -- a mockery of all that FDR stood for.

The social welfare programs created by FDR helped millions of people by stabilizing the excesses of the boom-and-bust business cycle
Today's Democratic Party is running from Roosevelt's legacy. Now captive to the same corporate interests that control the Republican Party, the Democrats are now scarcely distinguishable from the Republicans.

Just before he ran for a third term in 1940, Roosevelt told a group of young Democrats that "there is just one agency potent enough to defeat the Democratic Party, and that is the Democratic Party itself. It can commit suicide by abandonment of the policies that brought it to power."

FDR's words became reality in the Republican Party's Congressional triumphs in the 1994 and 1996 elections. President Clinton and the center-right Democratic Leadership Council think they can keep voters in the Democratic Party by being more like Republicans. They have turned their backs on the idea of using government as an agent of social change to improve the life of what Roosevelt called "the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid."

Even worse, the Clinton Democrats have allowed the Republican Party to portray government as the enemy of the American people. Anyone who still believes that using government to work for positive social change is a good and honorable thing is dismissed as a starry-eyed idealist.

But Roosevelt's New Deal proved that government can make a difference in people's lives. It reduced poverty through programs such as Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It created public works programs that not only provided jobs for the unemployed but built bridges, roads, dams and other public facilities that are still in use today. It created the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage. It gave labor unions the right to organize. It helped stabilize farm prices and reclaim farm land ravaged by erosion and overuse.

"Under the New Deal the noble term `commonwealth' was given a more realistic meaning than ever before in our history," the historian Henry Steele Commager wrote after Roosevelt's death in 1945.

The social welfare programs created by FDR helped millions of people by stabilizing the excesses of the boom-and-bust business cycle. Roosevelt once said there was nothing wrong with free enterprise, but it could only be maintained "if we recognize the fact that the individual system of our day calls for the collaboration of all of us to provide, at the least, security for all of us. Those words 'freedom' and 'opportunity' do not mean a license to climb upwards by pushing other people down."

But conservatives have been trying to repeal the New Deal for over 60 years. They did not then and do not believe now in the principle of the responsibility of the state to provide for the welfare and security of its people.

If you're not poor and hungry, if you're not old and sick, if you have plenty of money and plenty of friends to sustain you, it's easy to believe that philosophy. The one percent of America that controls 40 percent of this nation's wealth would be more than happy to get government out of the social welfare business.

Government is "us." It's all of us, working together for the common good
The oldest among us still vividly remember what life was like in America in 1932, before Roosevelt changed the role of government.

President Hoover and the conservatives then believed that the Great Depression would run its course without the intervention of the Federal government. They felt private charity and volunteerism was the solution.

But communities and private charities were overwhelmed by the poor. Over 15 million men -- a quarter of the workforce -- were jobless. The farm economy had collapsed. There were about two million Americans roaming from state to state looking for food and jobs that were not to be found.

The shantytowns of the homeless known as Hoovervilles could be found in almost every major city. There was legitimate fear that fascism or communism would take over the country. People were hungry and desperate and looking for a leader.

When Roosevelt accepted his party's nomination for president at Chicago Stadium that year, he pledged a "new deal" for the nation.

"There are two ways of viewing the government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life," he said in his acceptance speech. "The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small businessman. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776.

"But it is not and never will be the theory of the Democratic Party. Ours must be a Party of Liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens."

Those are the principles this nation should stand for. Government is not "them." Government is "us." It's all of us, working together for the common good. We cannot abandon that philosophy. If we do, our nation is certain to fall apart.

American Reporter News Service

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Albion Monitor May 22, 1997 (

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