How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Thoughts on FDR & Sanders

I was prompted to re-read Franklin D. Roosevelt's historic "Rendezvous with Destiny" acceptance speech before the 1936 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, after reading this month's covers story in The Political Bandwagon, a monthly newspaper for political memorabilia collectors.

In an article entitled "The Dems in Philly – 80 Years Ago" the author, John Varga, wrote "that in that speech FDR set out a full response to Republican  claims that the New Deal was a horrible mistaken deviation from American principles, and that it had to be repealed in its entirety.  Probably the speech is best known for FDR's prescient claim that Americans of that time had a "rendezvous with destiny."  In a world that was increasingly turning to totalitarianism as a remedy for economic stagnation and disorder, that destiny was to serve as advocates for and vindicators of democracy, both at home and, by force of example, around the world." 

FDR spoke eloquently of the need for freedom from both political and economic tyranny and of making our government the "embodiment of human charity."  The speech was a direct response to Republican's claims that the "New Deal" with its broad array of new programs and regulations was an enormous economic and social overreach and a departure from America's free enterprise and rugged individualism tradition. 

An excellent example of the kind of entity that was viewed as regulatory over reach was the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  The SEC was created to protect investors, maintaining fair and orderly functioning of securities markets and facilitating capital formation. It sought to promote full public disclosures, protects investors against fraudulent and manipulative practices in the market.

There were striking similarities between the content of FDR's speech and the income inequality themes of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the current Democratic Party platform.  In FDR's defense of the New Deal, he cast aspersions on the '"economic royalists" (the 1%) who "carved new dynasties.  New kingdoms were built upon concentrations over material things.  Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital – all undreamed of by the Fathers - the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service."

FDR attacked the "economic royalist" who exploited working people and farmers and defended the New Deals efforts to use government to improve the lives of its people.  "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.  Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.  In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution.  In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.  Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike."

FDR, a privileged member of the 1%, who attended Groton and Harvard, would have well-understood and foreseen the unrelenting opposition of today's royalists (Republican refer to them as "job creators") to the creation of Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).   Republicans in Congress at the behest of the big banks, mortgage lenders, student loan services and credit card companies did everything they could to  thwart the establishment of the CFPB. 

FDR sounded very much like Bernie when he attacked the greed of the royalists, "Liberty requires opportunity to make a living – a living decent according to the standard of the time, 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."  As I read these lines, I can't help but hear Bernie Sanders ubiquitous call for a $15 minimum wage and his bemoaning the fact that millions of Americans are working full-time and live in poverty.

Once again in this election, our generation has a rendezvous with destiny.  We can elect a narrow-minded authoritarian billionaire, who has not shown any interest in those who are hurting in our nation throughout his life or during his presidential campaign; or we can elect a candidate who has demonstrated a willingness to use government, when appropriate, to help to address human suffering, ameliorate income inequality and promoting equal opportunity.

FDR concludes his speech by saying we are waging "a war for the survival of democracy.  We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world." 

This November, Americans will all have an opportunity to indicate where we stand on the fundamental values of our democracy – equally, tolerance, and civility.  Never in my life time, have I been more fearful of the outcome.  There are millions of hard-working Americans who are feed-up with politicians, who they perceived as telling them what they want to hear.  I hope and pray that they will temper their impulse to simply shake things up and not vote for a dangerous divisive candidate who lacks the temperament to lead our nation.