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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

I finished this wonderful biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt last week. I wept piteously, multiple times throughout. FDR's policy choices not withstanding, the courage of a man who contracted such an awful disease and still managed to make himself the greatest American in history is nothing less than breathtaking. One of my favorite scenes comes when FDR wins his first primary, just after he had made known that he was getting over his sickness, and made his slow, tortured way to the podium. As he gets up the stairs, by himself on a crutch and with the help of his son, the crowd begins to go absolutely wild. And these were party members in the audience--men who had voted for other men in the primary no less! A cynic might say that the moment was staged, and there is no doubt that FDR had a talent for high-drama--but so what? A politician is more than just a public servant, he is the imbodiment of hope in troubled times--as I've recently learned this past November. Polio was incredibly hard, very little was known about it, and FDR's efforts themselves helped bring the study of polio into the modern era. And of course, his last final moments. The man literally worked himself to death. The man made even Stalin pause. Churchill worshipped him. Funny that no movie has ever been made of his life--not the war, though it is certainly a part of it. I wonder if his estate has some strict rules on what sort of representations are allowed of him--or maybe it's mutual respect for the man's life and privacy. Anyway, what follows is some quotations from speeches:

June 27th, 1936, Philadelphia

Liberty requires opportunity to make a living--a living which gives man not only
enough to live by, but something to live for. For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor--other people's lives. These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constituition. ... There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is asked. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.

October 31, 1936, New York

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing,
do-nothing Government. The nation looked to Government but Government
looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years
with the scourge! Nine mocking years at the ticker and three long years in
the bread-lines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair!

November 1935, Warm Springs

You cannot borrow your way out of debt, but you can invest your way into a
sounder future... Over three years ago, realizing that we were not doing a
perfect thing but that we were doing a necessary thing, we appropriated
money for direct relief. But just as quickly as possible we turned to the job of
providing actual work for those in need. I realize that gentlemen in well-warmed and well-stocked clubs will discourse on the expenses of Government and the suffering that they are going through because their Government is spending money on work relief. Some of these same gentlemen tell me that a dole would be more economical than work relief. That is true. but the men who tell me that have, unfortunately, too little contact with the true America to realise that...most Americans want to give something for what they get. That something, which in this case is honest work, is the saving barrier between them and moral degradation. I propose to build that barrier high and keep it high.

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