Friday 17 October 2014

What A Genuinely Progressive Leader Sounds Like

I FOUND THIS extraordinary recording while searching for something quite unrelated on Google. It contains excerpts from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech to Democratic Party supporters gathered in their thousands at New York's Madison Square Garden during the presidential election campaign of 1936.

Under the rubric of Roosevelt's "New Deal", the United States was passing through what was undoubtedly the most radical period of economic and social reform in its history. After four years in the White House, Roosevelt, as is plain from this recording, was at the peak of his powers as a reforming (as opposed to his later role as America's wartime) president.

Of most interest - at least to me - is the way Roosevelt confronts head-on his enemies in the ruling-class. "They are unanimous in their hatred for me," he bellows defiantly, "and I welcome their hatred!" It is difficult to imagine any American (or New Zealand!) politician uttering such a statement in the Twenty-First Century. Nor was Roosevelt willing to step back one inch from his programme of reform: "Of course we will continue ...", he repeatedly assures his followers ("Yes we can!"?) and then proceeds to reiterate every radical plank in the Democratic Party's platform.

Yes, times have changed. And, yes, we might approach social and economic crises on the scale of those of the early 1930s differently in 2014. But the need for, and the inspirational effect of raw political courage and an unswerving commitment to the needs of ordinary people: that does not change.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Bernard said...

I've just finished watching Ken Burns' documentary series "The Roosevelts". A brilliant story about an exceptional family - Teddy, FDR and Eleanor. The 3 of them ushered in new epochs of public service. Each epoch more progressive than the previous. Sure, they had their human flaws and tribulations, but they endeavoured to transform these into strengths. Service, empathy, vision, social conscience and perseverance. Remarkable people.
As you say Chris, qualities sorely lacking in today's mix of world leaders.

Alan said...

Absolutely, and full of message for those who think that the pathway for 'Left' success is to somehow get closer to the new capitalism of unbridled greed that Milton Friedman,Thatcher, Reagan, and our very own Rogergnomes have laid waste to more inclusive societies with.

There indeed are alternatives well to the Left of the snivelling apology of a once great Labour Party that could deliver some vision of an alternative with conviction and passion; an alternative that saw a great social good for most in publicly funded health and education; an alternative that put the employment interests of working families ahead of the craven corporates; an alternative that allowed New Zealanders to enjoy not only full employment but one of the highest living standards in the world 40 years ago.

And it is all there to be found in the inclusive socialist vision of the Labour Constitution, no doubt to the discomfort of the parliamentary careerists, apologists, and closet neo-liberals who lack the conviction, courage, and foresight to articulate real alternatives with the passion a lost people could understand and commit to.


Alan Rhodes

markus said...

I'd be a little cautious, Bernard, about extolling the progressive virtues and "social conscience" of Teddy Roosevelt.

Consider, for instance, his not entirely "progressive" (to modern eyes) Social Darwinism.

In his multivolume paean to the American settlers' violent (borderline Genocidal) dispossession of the native population, 'The Winning of the West', for instance, dear old Teddy argued that: "All men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with impatient contempt the plea that the continents should be reserved for the use of scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid and ferocious than that of the wild beast with whom they hold joint ownership.......the truth is the Indians never had any real title to the soil.......Peace cannot be had until the civilized nations have expanded in some shape over the barbarous nations."

For Teddy, North America was The Promised Land and European settlers the Chosen People. "In the interests of mankind" and "civilization", it was "all-important" that the continent be won by such a "masterful people": "The world would probably not have gone forward at all, had it not been for the displacement or submersion of savage and barbaric peoples as a consequence of the armed settlement in strange lands of (the English race)." And again, "The settler and pioneer have at bottom justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages."

And, by no means shying away from the genocidal implications of this concept of progress, Roosevelt argued that "the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman. The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilzed man under a debt to him."

In a more succinct formulation, Roosevelt warned that "if we fail to act on the 'superior people' theory......barbarism and savagery and squalid obstruction will prevail over most of the globe."

An espousal of Social Darwinism, of course, was by no means unusual at the time. But let's be just a little cautious about seeing him as some great, enlightened humanitarian.

Incidently, you'll search in vain for any mention in recent Roosevelt biographies of these sorts of pronouncements - and there were many of them. Teddy's been sanitised by his apologists.

Loz said...

He is as inspiring now as he was then. Also strongly related to your last post (excellent by the way) is FDR's "Four Freedoms" address of 1941...

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The world of neo-liberal economics demolished, in one easy lesson.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Social Darwinism and eugenics were not only popular at the time, they were in fact considered progressive, at least by their adherents. :-). Obviously one's appreciation of what is 'progressive' changes over time.

Jigsaw said...

Progressive in this forum can even mean going backwards into a time that no longer exists - now there is a truly an amazing piece of mental gymnastics!

Victor said...


I don't claim to be "progressive".

Never have done and never will do, as I have no reason to believe that the future will automatically be better than the past.

But good things do happen sometimes and it's important to recall our capacity to make them happen.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As opposed to going back to the time of unregulated capitalism and Charles Dickens? Two can play at that game jigsaw :-).

Michael Wynd said...

Only problem Chris was that in 1936 after his first term the US economy had still not recovered and unemployment was higher than when he entered office. Exports and GDP were still down significantly. His much vaunted programmes had not achieved anything positive. It would take another 10 years for the economy to recover from the depression of 1920-1941

guerilla surgeon said...

That's funny Michael, because according to what I have read, by the beginning of 1937 unemployment was lower than it had been in 1933. There was then a recession the causes of which are the subject of some debate, but which could easily be the result of a cutting government spending. And interestingly enough, some of results innovations are still with us today. Just shows how bad they are that Reagan couldn't gut them. :-)

Loz said...

Franklin Roosevelt' first term of "experimentalism" included the first new deal (1933-1934) and the second new deal (1935-1936). Both policy initiatives resulted with sustained growth and steadily declining unemployment.

In 1937 Roosevelt's administration changed path and adopted a traditional, economic prescription of of slashing Federal expenditure which had catastrophic consequences. From 1937 to 1938 production fell 33 percent, unemployment rose 5% and average wages fell drastically as well. The administration was forced to recognise the damage caused by regressive approaches to recession.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932. The United States had an official unemployment rate of 23.6% that year. At no time since has the unemployment rate ever been that high. After the second New Deal the rate of unemployment rate had fallen to 16.9% in 1936 (which was completion of his first term). Roosevelt's policies were received so well that he won all but two states in the election.