Monday, April 18, 2005

Roosevelt's 2nd Bill of Rights

Bob Herbert's commentary in the New York Times today draws some nice contrasts between today's politics and those of the FDR's time. In particular, Herbert quotes extensively from FDR's Second Bill of Rights, which he outlined in his State of the Union address in 1944. Even if you don't read Herbert's article, do go and read FDR's text.

Given how politics has progressed in this country over the last thirty years, it's stunning to think that a sitting President actually elucidated such a set of ideas to Congress and the public. However, in my opinion, what's even more stunning, is the fact that the public has never acted on those ideals. By this I mean, since the end of World War II, our nation and our political leaders have made only the most tentative steps towards creating policies that might achieve Roosevelt's goals. Sure, we have some programs that address some of the rights Roosevelt outlined, but we have never attempted anything like a concerted effort to provide universal health care, full employment and affordable housing for all. The question is, why?

No doubt, in the 50s, the spectre of communism frightened many away from "socialist" type programs. But in the 1980s, the 1990s, today? What stops us now? I don't know. Certainly there's plenty of poor, working class and even middle class folks struggling to make a decent living in this country. There's millions of folks without healthcare, and millions more spending 50% or more on housing. Why is there no popular movement to address these needs? I'm not saying that government needs to provide them, but in many instances we won't (or can't) even have a reasoned discussion about policies that might address these social needs.

Are the American people that devoted to the idea of bootstrapping, has our civil discourse become entirely dominated and manipulated by interests opposed to programs to help the middle and lower classes, or is there some other reason?