What will be Obama’s 2012 strategy be?
A debate within the Democratic Party is over Barack Obama’s re-election strategy: Should he run as a problem-solving pragmatist like Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936, a “fire-breathing liberal” to some, or as a centrist, a “Republican Lite,” like Bill Clinton in 1996?
While Roosevelt savored pillorying “economic royalists,” Clinton echoed Ronald Reagan and made nice with the right by announcing the end of big government.
But like the reports of Mark Twain’s death, thankfully Clinton’s pronouncement of government’s demise was greatly exaggerated.
Since then, the right like sharks has smelled blood in the water, becoming so Randian in philosophy, it helps Reagan look moderate.
In their latest incarnation as the Tea Party, Republicans have been trying to take America back to pre-FDR days, to a time even before Silent Calvin Coolidge whose only pronouncement was “the business of America is business,” to the neo-liberal Gilded Age Mark Twain satirized, a brutally desperate period for workers and small business entrepreneurs and their families. Then, like now, only did the financial elite comfortably survive what were called “panics.”
On the eve of the 1936 election, FDR spoke of the right’s spooks and goblins on Halloween night.
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”
Sound familiar? Do the phrase “Wall St. bailout” and the Supreme Court rulings that corporations are humans and money equals free speech come to mind?
Being no shrinking violet and understanding the Republican leadership was not about “country first,” FDR railed:
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
Now that’s serious backbone!
FDR understood that only government—the incorporation of We the People—has the power to withstand the immense and crushing power of monopolies and trusts his second-cousin Teddy Roosevelt had tried to tame. However, like the many-headed hydra, the mythic monster with a body of a snake and multiple heads that immediately grew back after being severed, Big Money proved difficult to tame.
When he stated, “Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that government is best which is most indifferent,” FDR was describing the post-World War I era, spanning the Roaring Twenties and the first three years of the Great Depression.
“Nine mocking years with the golden calf—perfect biblical allusion—and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair!”
2011 marks the diamond jubilee of FDR’s speech, and in that three-quarter of a century we’ve nearly come full circle. Only with extraordinary measures did we avoid Great Depression II; but with the European crisis looming and Big Corporations playing politics by refusing to spend their trillions of stashed dollars and invest in America, this Great Recession is poised for a double-dip.
For us, it has been eight years and three, but the seeds of this economic instability were sown in soil prepped by Reagan by Clinton and the Republican congress in 1999: repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which had prevented banks from speculating in risky ventures with your savings.
In George W. Bush’s presidency that tree began to produce poisonous fruit, exacerbated by his massive tax cuts for the super wealthy and consequential borrowing to fund his unpaid-for Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Since then, FDR’s descriptors—scourge, mirage, and despair—have become most fitting to describe what millions of Americans have endured.
In the end, the demigod Heracles was the only one capable of slaying the hydra, and even he needed a helping hand from his nephew Iolaus who cauterized the each wound to prevent a new head from growing back.
Cousin Teddy handed the baton to FDR, who passed it to Give-‘em-Hell Harry Truman.
The counterattack began with Reagan, and we’re now seeing the consequences of it.
Will Obama in his latest incarnation continue have the moxie to give voice to and to uphold FDR’s legacy? Time, something we’re desperately short of, will tell.
Join me Saturday on KYGT at 3:00 and hear the entirety of FDR’s speech, which I’ll play in conjunction with the nationwide Occupy Wall St. events and Saturday’s jobs’ rally in Washington D.C.