the test of our progress

In today's New York Times, Bob Herbert remembers my favorite US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I know about his flaws and his missteps, though I point to different issues than some. I don't think having relationships outside of one's marriage is a problem for a presidency, especially if it's not even a problem within the marriage!

Amazingly for an American president, FDR was married - happily - to a feminist, a bisexual, a radical thinker. I see this as a measure of a man well ahead of his time. Eleanor was Franklin's intellectual partner, and an enormous influence on his thinking. (A case can be made for Eleanor being nearly solely responsible for FDR's progressive ideas.)

In those days a president's personal life was out-of-bounds for the press. The White House press corps knew about Lucy Mercer, FDR's girlfriend, and many may have known about Eleanor's relationship with Malvina ("Tommy") Thompson. But those were considered things the public didn't need to know. Imagine that.

Anyway, back to the important stuff. Of Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert reminds us:
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 . . . 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. . . .

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 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."
Herbert says, "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.""

"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."

Over the next thirty years, the country would make substantial progress towards many of these goals, though others (like the right to health care) remained elusive. Now, sixty years after FDR's death, we've come a long way. Backwards.


B. W. Ventril said...

"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."

Um... except Japanese-Americans of course. I'm just saying, tis all...

laura k said...

I know. And of course I absolutely agree. It was the most egregious mistake of his presidency, and I do hold him accountable for it. I admire him, but I don't idolize him.

It's a good episode to point out to the "it can't happen here" crowd.

B. W. Ventril said...

And it was much worse for Japanese-Canadians who had their property confiscated *after* the war and were permanently relocated to Canada's interior. I think that Japanese-Americans were allowed to return to their homes. Japanese-Canadians suffered full-blown 'ethnic cleansing', not just internment during the war.

laura k said...

No, sadly, horribly, Japanese-Americans lost their homes, businesses and often all their savings, too. It was all supposed to be just returned to them after the war, but the government kept everything, or gave it away to other - white - Americans. Generally they had no homes to return to and had to start over from scratch.

The most heartbreaking part of that story, to me, is the Japanese-Americans who served in the war while their families were in the camps.

B. W. Ventril said...

Well, at least now I feel equally bad about both countries...

If you want to read a great book about the Japanese-Canadian experience, 'Obasan' by Joy Kogawa is excellent.

laura k said...

Hey, thanks. Now you've given me two titles to read about the Canadian experience. I'll definitely check them both out (eventually).

TJ said...

Excellent post--I missed herbert today, thanks for pointing it out. In fact, I liked it so much I linked to it. :)