The criticism I like most about Franklin Delano Roosevelt came from the premier political pundit of the time, the ever courtly Walter Lippmann, during the campaign of 1932.
He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.
Roosevelt certainly seemed to fit the image Lippmann cast for him. His campaign was against the Hooverville economic collapse, but he also attacked the Herbert Hoover administration for not balancing the budget.
"I regard reduction in Federal spending as one of the most important issues in this campaign," he said to an economic council in Pennsylvania. "In my opinion it is the most direct and effective contribution that Government can make to business." So much for John Maynard Keynes.
His empathy for the poor and dispossessed was seen by members of the elite as the price to be paid for election. Kind of like the more modern presentation of compassionate conservatism. The wealthiest members of society liked Hoover. Still, there was little about Roosevelt that could make them uncomfortable. He was, after all, one of them.
But FDR used his demonstrated talent with words to do more than mollify the masses. Two months after his election, he presented to the nation new legislation, the National Recovery Act. He pledged to revive infrastructure, repair roads and bridges, and build more, taking much of cheap labor out of the market place. Worse, as some industrialists saw it, he spoke to them and about them with unexpectedly blunt language.
In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By "business" I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
By the time he ran for re-election, he was not only talking the language of sympathy for those suffering through hard times, he was pushing government as an active agent of compassion.
The test of our progress 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.
The wealthy were perpetually angry at Roosevelt. By 1936 he not only acknowledged that anger, he seemed to revel in it.
We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. They are unanimous in their hatred for me and I welcome their hatred.
Some of the milder invective from the wealthy at the time still seems a bit harsh. A Supreme Court Justice, in a show of rare judicial temperament, called him a "crippled son-of-a-bitch." One recurring attack named him a "traitor to his class." Nobody knows where that phrase originated, but it caught on. In fact, it went well beyond the level of attack and became one lasting reason for the lasting popularity of FDR, a popularity that went generations beyond his death.
I was thinking about the "traitor to his class" charge when I heard about the latest attacks on Democratic Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, who is running in Massachusetts to unseat Republican Scott Brown.
Warren has become one of the most effective spokespeople for everything Republicans fear and hate. A heckler recently disrupted a large meeting, screaming that she is a "socialist whore." She responded with empathy for the fellow, pointing out in a later interview that he had prefaced his tirade with a simple statement that he was hurting because of prolonged unemployment.
It is her articulate defense of all aspects of the social contract that adds to her popular appeal - and irritates Republicans into a frenzy.
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
. . .
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
The latest attack against her reminds me a lot of FDR. Republicans have discovered that, although starting from a modest background, she pretty much pulled herself up by her bootstraps, Horatio Alger style. She is now wealthy. Politico narrates the assault on her for that.
I don’t begrudge her own personal wealth. I begrudge her hypocrisy of trying to play the demagogue against those who have achieved and who have created wealth.
- Rick Manning, Americans for Limited Government
Her poll-tested campaign rhetoric simply doesn’t match reality as voters learn more about who Elizabeth Warren really is.
- Brian Walsh, National Republican Senatorial Committee
Oh yeah. That'll work.
Traitor to her class.
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