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Obama Should Look To Roosevelt In Fight Against Inequality, Right Wing

Memo Pad Politics

Obama Should Look To Roosevelt In Fight Against Inequality, Right Wing


Seventy years ago, on January 11, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his 11th Annual Message on the State of the Union. The United States was at war.  But the president spoke not only of the struggle and of what Americans had to do to hasten victory over the Axis Powers. He also spoke of what Americans needed to do to win the peace to come. Reaffirming his administration’s commitment to the vision he had articulated in his 1941 Annual Message – the vision of the Four Freedoms:  Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear – Roosevelt now called for an Economic Bill of Rights for all Americans.

As President Obama prepares his 2014 State of the Union address for delivery on January 28, with the question of his second-term legacy no doubt in mind and midterm elections on the near horizon, he would do well to attend to FDR’s 1944 Message. Our own challenges are not those of 1944.  But in the wake of the tragedies, crises, painful obstructions, and compromises of the past 15 years, and in the face of continuing right-wing and corporate class war against working people, they are no less daunting – and we are no less eager to start addressing them.

By January 1944, the United States and its allies had turned the tide of war. The Normandy invasion was still months away, but Allied forces were clearly advancing both east and west. And yet Americans were anxious – anxious not only about the lives of their loved ones in uniform and how long it might take to defeat Germany and Japan, but also about what might actually follow the victory. Many worried that the end of the war effort would see the return of severe economic difficulties and high unemployment, if not a new depression.

Roosevelt was well aware of those anxieties. But he knew what Americans could accomplish and he intended to speak to them as he had in 1933 — when he invited them to beat the Great Depression taking up the labors and struggles of recovery, reconstruction, and reform known as the New Deal — and again in 1941, when he mobilized them to go “All Out!” against fascism and imperialism in the name of the Four Freedoms. Now as before he would not ask them to lay aside or suspend their democratic ideals and hard-won achievements for the duration, but urge them to rescue the nation from destruction and tyranny by not only fighting and defeating their enemies, but also making America freer, more equal, and more democratic in the very process of doing so.

Roosevelt also knew full well that Congress would never endorse an economic bill of rights.  Dominated since 1938 by a conservative coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats, Congress had been doing everything it could to terminate the New Deal, limit the rights of workers and minorities, and block new liberal initiatives.  And yet he had good reason to believe that most of his fellow citizens would embrace the idea. Polls showed that the vast majority of Americans saw the war in terms of the Four Freedoms, and understood the battles of not just the past three years, but the past 12 years, in terms of enhancing American democratic life. In fact, 94 percent of them endorsed old-age pensions; 84 percent, job insurance; 83 percent, national health insurance; 79 percent, aid for students; and 73 percent, work relief. Pollster Jerome Bruner would observe: “If a ‘plebiscite’ on Social Security were to be conducted tomorrow, America would make the plans of our Social Security prophets look niggardly. We want the whole works.”

After outlining a set of policies to speed up the war effort, the president looked ahead: “It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known.” And in favor of that he proposed the adoption of a Second Bill of Rights.

“This Republic,” he said, “had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights… They were our rights to life and liberty. As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” But, he continued: “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.’” And evoking Jefferson, the Founders, and Lincoln, he contended that “In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident,” and “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.” This Second Bill of Rights included:

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.

In sum, he stated: “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.”



  1. Johnny Z January 11, 2014

    Rush Limbaugh: “Roosevelt is dead, his policies live on, but we’re in the process of doing something about that as well.”

    Me: “Reagan is dead, his policies live on, but we’re in the process of doing something about that as well.”

    After thirty three years of watching the Neo-con part of the Republican party destroy everything that Roosevelt and the citizens of this country worked for, I’m fed up to the gills, just as is every other red blooded American. It’s far past time to do something about the right wing corporate fascists. We must ban together and finally put an end to it all.

  2. Dan Bostdorf January 11, 2014

    Great article….don’t forget Trumans’s FAIR DEAL either.

  3. Vince Zettler January 11, 2014

    I think we need to tax the rich at least back to pre-Bush levels to pay for job training, research, education, and the space program. We need vision again and vision cost money, that’s OK with me. Many of us saw Pres. Obama as a person with vision. He should strive to change the debate to Roosevelt’s principles stated in your article. Use his oratory skills to “change” the future. Lyndon Johnson did many good and bad things, but the War on Poverty was important for the future of the poor in this country. It wasn’t perfect and needed change, but that’s how the Affordable Care Act should be also, changing over time to a single payer program. It works in England and Canada at a much cheaper price. We need to be spiraling to a better life for everyone not falling to old ways that benefit the few and hurt the environment. The rich have tripled their profits in the last 30 years, the middle class stagnant and the poor, a little better off.

    Thank you for your great article. My father, now gone, would be with me in endorsing your truths as stated.

  4. agitcam January 11, 2014

    Once again Prof. Kaye has given us a link to the past with a clear message about how we can approach today’s problems. It appears that Republicans and “corporate” Democrats have been sabbatoging our democracy for quite some time now. Maybe it’s time to put America back on the track that Thomas Paine inspired a young America to reach for, the America Franklin Roosevelt new to be best for everyone? Do American’s yearn less for democracy today? American’s fought hard and sacrificed much to defeat the corporate cabal of tyranny which led Germany in WWII and today we face the same enemy. An enemy who infiltrates the consciousness of each American daily with a fulsilade of myths and false ideas to help them maintain their tyranny. Ideas which too many accept without question. Are we American’s today the measure of those who gave us this nation or will democracy fail on our watch?

  5. paulyz January 11, 2014

    America has always been the land of opportunity NOT “income equality”. The choices of opportunity to advance has been drastically lessened because of the terrible economy the last 6 years. Obama has done nothing to improve the economy to help Americans, it has been bad the entire time of his Presidency. Meanwhile, he wants to make it even worse by giving “another” Amnesty to Millions of Illegals while 25 Million, (at least) are unemployed. Obama has pushed the Affordable Care Act above all else, & that isn’t helping people either, actually causing them even more costs & hardships.

    Americans need a health economy, thus jobs, NOT more dependency like we have seen for 6 years.

  6. JD Mulvey January 11, 2014

    When FDR and his team were struggling to bring the county out of the depression, they were fearful of large scale labor strikes.

    But they also feared what Roosevelt called a “capital strike,” by which he meant that when the economy should have been recovering, the corporations would sit on large cash reserves instead of hiring, and banks would limit lending.

    “Roosevelt went on in later weeks to speculate that the slowdown in investment was not economically explicable but was, rather, part of a political
    conspiracy against him, a “capital strike” designed to dislodge him from
    office and destroy the New Deal…In a reprise of his tactics in the
    “wealth tax” battle of 1935 and the electoral campaign of 1936,
    Roosevelt loosed Assistant Attorney General Robert Jackson, along with
    Ickes, to give a series of blistering speeches in December 1937. Ickes
    inveighed against Henry Ford, Tom Girdler and the “Sixty Families,”…Left
    unchecked, Ickes thundered, they would create “big-business Fascist
    America – an enslaved America.” For his part, Jackson decried the slump
    in private investment as “a general strike – the first general strike
    in America – a strike against the government – a strike to coerce
    political action.” Roosevelt even ordered an FBI investigation of
    possible criminal conspiracy in the alleged capitalist strike, but it
    revealed nothing of substance.”
    (From David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear (p. 352) in The Oxford History of the United States.)

    The 60 families = the 1%.

    1. mandinka January 11, 2014

      True but FDR was another politician who never earned a living lived off the taxpayers tits and his action insured that the US was the LAST to recover from the Depression. England was out in 1938 the US 1947

      1. daniel bostdorf January 11, 2014

        Factually incorrect as usual and off topic.

      2. charleo1 January 11, 2014

        If you knew anything about Roosevelt, you’d know his family
        on both his Mother, and Father’s, side were part of the old money NY high society. Business people. That irrespective
        of what you may have read, the public works projects put
        money in millions of theretofore empty pockets. And many
        cities, like Miami where I happen to live, are still using many
        of those infrastructure projects, build by Roosevelt’s WPA.
        The last time the Country made significant investments on
        that scale, was the Interstate Highway System, back in the
        Eisenhower period. Both programs continue to be of tremendous benefit to both public, and private enterprises
        alike. When especially in Roosevelt’s day, served to bring
        down the staggering unemployment, which at the time was
        around 25%. Of course the War served as a giant stimulative
        economic program, ending the employment crisis, and infusing enormous amounts of capital into an economy that very much resembled the one we have today. Minus a lot of the misery, due to the various backstops, and financial floors for markets, incorporated into the system under FDR. One of the most destructive notions, that has slowed our present recovery,
        is the notion that we can somehow cut our way to balance. That we can in effect, save our way to prosperity. That the premise put forth by some as yet unexplained law of economics, that a regimen that both sharply reduces taxation at the top, but represses the overall demand, and growth of the vastly larger economy by cutting government spending, and support of a sagging economy. Will produce an atmosphere favorable to private investment, is hogwash. As the current lackluster state of our economy demonstrates.

  7. mandinka January 11, 2014

    No mention that his efforts to end the Depression caused it to last 8 years LONGER comparer to every other nation.

    1. daniel bostdorf January 11, 2014

      No it didnt. Absolutely no facts to back this right wing libertarian comment.

    2. Jambi January 11, 2014

      Unemployement went from 25% to 14.9 % in 4 years – Roosevelt backed off after the Supreme Court deemed the AAA and NRA unconstitutional – Recession of 1937 began – If FDR would have continued his Keynesianistic Programs, he would have had even more success – for “peanuts” ($) compared to what WW II will cost – The New Deal costs were nothing compared to Debt we faced beginning with WW II and continuing with the Cold War -“Fight those commies” costs 10X as much as creating jobs for the 25 % eating out of garbage cans!

  8. daniel bostdorf January 11, 2014

    Obama should also not forget Truman’s’ “Fair Deal” concepts.

    The 21 points:

    In September 1945, Truman addressed Congress and presented a 21 point
    program of domestic legislation outlining a series of proposed actions
    in the fields of economic development and social welfare.

    The 21 points:

    Major improvements in the coverage and adequacy of the unemployment compensation system.

    Substantial increases in the minimum wage, together with broader coverage.

    The maintenance and extension of price controls to keep down the cost of living in the transition to a peacetime economy.

    A pragmatic approach towards drafting legislation eliminating
    wartime agencies and wartime controls, taking legal difficulties into

    Legislation to ensure full employment.

    Legislation to make the Fair Employment Practice Committee permanent.

    The maintenance of sound industrial relations.

    The extension of the United States Employment Service to provide jobs for demobilized military personnel.

    Increased aid to farmers.

    The removal of the restrictions on eligibility for voluntary
    enlistment and allowing the armed forces to enlist a greater number of

    The enactment of broad and comprehensive housing legislation.

    The establishment of a single Federal research agency.

    A major revision of the taxation system.

    The encouragement of surplus-property disposal.

    Greater levels of assistance to small businesses.

    Improvements in federal aid to war veterans.

    A major expansion of public works, conserving and building up natural resources.

    The encouragement of post-war reconstruction and settling the obligations of the Lend-Lease Act.

    The introduction of a decent pay scale for all Federal Government employees—executive, legislative, and judicial.

    The promotion of the sale of ships to remove the uncertainty
    regarding the disposal of America’s large surplus tonnage following the
    end of hostilities.

    Legislation to bring about the acquisition and retention of stock
    piles of materials necessary for meeting the defense needs of the

    This certainly has feel of post New Deal, and there are some outdated phrasings, but the ‘Fair Deal” has applications post 2 GOP/Bush Wars and our current discussion about a “liveable wage” or guranteed income as Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned.

  9. Benjamin Dover January 13, 2014

    If this video is any indication, Obamacare isn’t anything more than an ever-shifting mirage of deceit and delusions: http://youtu.be/DXqKp5B0ZLE?t=1s

  10. charles king January 13, 2014

    I think we all agree that something has to be done about the Congress and the Senate sitting on their asses and doing nothing, My Motto Is (You Do Not Do Nothing) but What?, and How? do we the People turn this Country around because We are at a stand still. Here we are doing alot of talking but Nothing is getting done What? the hell do the common person do to get this country because doing nothing is NOT an option. People the country needs Help and we Who ? cares better get these politicians to get something Done or We are going to have another Civil War. What? are we the People going to do this is a serious problem. The Republicans are running a dangerous course of action in a lot of small towns in America, and the Republicans are using small minded People to operate the People’s assets and maintain a orderly state of things. Plutocracy is showing its ugly face, What? are we going to do. Who? do we turn to, The leaders better come up with some answers soon because time is running out. Thank You are the magic words with me. I Love Ya All, I am going to write another book because something is wrong with our Democracy, and ITS the only thing we have to fight MONIES, so start VOTING those pieces of S**** out of OFFICE. check out Webster’s Dict. Plutocracy is a BIG RISK to your Democracy. Mr. C. E. KING

  11. Elliot J. Stamler May 10, 2014

    If Pres. Obama had even half of the political wisdom and courage of Pres. Roosevelt he would be widely popular today–as in fact he deserves to be based on his domestic record. If Pres. Obama had half the guts and feistiness of Pres. Truman he and our Democratic Party would not be in the gloomy place we are. I greatly like and twice voted for Pres. Obama–when he can with enormous difficulty rouse himself from his normal personality and user his enormous rhetorical gifts there’s nobody better. But the aroused Obama is someone profoundly different than the normal Obama in temperament, psychology and inclination. Read DOUBLE DOWN by Halperin and Heilemann and it is all laid out. Pres. Obama is ultimately the professor of constitutional law at the Univ. of Chicago that once he was and that is not the kind of personality we need as president–not for the country-not for our Democratic Party. Frankly we wouldn’t have this problem if in 2008 we Democrats had nominated Sen. Hillary Clinton. And we won’t if we nominate her in 2016.


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