Monday, June 16, 2008
”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 little. “
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
When I last left the subject, I was halfway through Jean Edward Smith’s biography of FDR. Roosevelt was basking in the glory of the “One Hundred Days”, which is still taught in the history books as one of the greatest legislative accomplishments of all time. From that height, Mr. Smith plunges us into the depths with a chapter entitled Hubris. It highlights a theme that fascinates me. It has been my observation that great men have great faults. Franklin Roosevelt proved himself no different -- on more than one occasion. His attempted “packing” of the Supreme Court, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two and his attempt to purge dissident Democrats from Congress in 1938 were but a few. The latter is only significant in a political context. It’s hard to fathom how a man with such extraordinary political skills could rationalize such a (politically) stupid move. Yet, he did.
I mention this subject only to point to it’s relevance to today. Franklin D. Roosevelt is consistently ranked one of the greatest Presidents of all time -- usually third, behind George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He was a Great Man. He was not -- and never was -- a Saint. I believe we spend far too much time looking for a saint instead of a president.
Mr. Smith’s book will allow you to look at the big picture items like that, if you so choose, but I have to admit I love the delicious details he provides. I did not know of the assassination attempt made in Miami in 1933 -- in the month before Roosevelt assumed office. A woman in the crowd spoiled the assassin's aim when she hit the shooter with her handbag. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak (who was visiting with Roosevelt) was wounded. Roosevelt made the Secret Service stop the car and load Mayor Cermak into the back seat, where Roosevelt held him all the way to the hospital. Roosevelt knew that his car would be the first out of the crowd and he overruled the Secret Service orders to move out -- not once but twice -- until Mayor Cermak was loaded into the car. Mayor Cermak died from his wounds over two weeks later. The assassin, Giuseppe Zangara, was executed.
Whether you’re looking for the big picture or the little details, ”FDR” is a great book. As to its relevance for today, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
”But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.“
”Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.“
”It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.“
”True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.“
”Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.“
June 16, 2008