On Sunday, June 16th, an opinion column written by Peter Funt appeared in certain papers across the country. In this column he extolled the virtues of a liberal/progressive approach to American government.
In Funt’s own words:
“Modern politics can be summed up this way: Republicans frequently refer to Ronald Reagan, while Democrats prefer to conjure memories of Franklin Roosevelt.
“Roosevelt’s New Deal rescued the nation from the Great Depression with economic reforms and bold individual measures including Social Security. But it was FDR’s unfinished business 75 years ago that profoundly inspires Democrats now seeking the presidency.
“In his State of the Union message on Jan. 11, 1944, Roosevelt outlined what he called a Second Bill of Rights, ‘under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed.” Among the provisions: ‘the right to adequate medical care,’ ‘the right to a good education,’ ‘the right to a useful and remunerative job’ and ‘the right of every family to a decent home.’
“For Democrats in the current campaign these are bedrock themes. Sen. Bernie Sanders has reissued his Medicare for All plan, with the support of Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. ‘Health care is a human right,’ Warren and Sanders declare in their standard stump speeches, echoing the sentiments of FDR.
“ ‘I am running to declare education is a fundamental right,’” said Harris, joining a field that widely supports one form or another of free or low-cost college, universal pre-K, and better pay for teachers.
Booker has introduced legislation to establish a federal jobs guarantee program. He believes every American has the right to a job ‘and that right has only become more important’ in today’s marketplace, he maintains, where unemployment is low but many Americans still struggle to make ends meet.
“The other day Bernie Sanders gave a speech in Washington in which he called for a ‘21st century economic Bill of Rights’ that would ensure the right to health care, higher education, a decent job and affordable housing.
“It was pure FDR. ‘Together with organized labor, leaders in the African-American community, and progressives inside and outside the party,’ Sanders recalled, ‘Roosevelt led a transformation of the American government and the American economy.’
“Sanders was three years old when Roosevelt outlined his Second Bill of Rights. He’s been championing such programs since entering public office in 1981 as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. The only thing separating Sanders from FDR – and the 22 other Democrats running for president – is the single word ‘socialism.’ Sanders calls it‘democratic socialism’ and says it is ‘the unfinished business of the Democratic Party.’ He’s right. Yet, it is also the crux of how conservatives seek to stir fear and confusion about progressive policies.
Sanders reminds us of words President Harry Truman once spoke: ‘Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the American people have made in the last 20 years.’
“Hours after Sander’s speech Republican Sen. Marco Rubio released a video saying democratic socialism ‘is incompatible with our American values.’ The GOP National Committee fired off emails titled ‘Bernie loves socialism,’ ending with the line ‘so do his 2020 comrades.’
“The eventual Democratic nominee would probably be wise to avoid the term socialism, made toxic by Donald Trump and his enablers – not because it’s wrong, but because it’s a distraction.
“Roosevelt, who was elected president four times, noted in 1944 that liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights ‘proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.’ The nation will be best served if FDR’s vision for expanded economic rights is finally approved by voters in 2020.”
My response to Funt’s opinion piece follows:
If one separates the word “goal” for the term “right” I’m certain that most Republicans as well as Democrats would embrace FDR’s 1944 statement.
A “right” implies that one gets it whether or not he deserves it, works for it or even desires it. I remember the case of a poor woman who lived on a NY subway train. The city made a big hoopla about placing her in a nice apartment. Three months later she was back on the subway. That was her preferred domicile. I also think of the Federal worker who was highly commended and then promoted for increasing the distribution of food stamps within her Appalachian district. By waging an aggressive campaign, she managed to convince proud mountain people that it was acceptable to take government handouts. Lastly, I remember the California surfer, young, healthy and unemployed, who rode the waves all day and managed to live very well, frequently on gourmet food, thanks to Federal and state largess.
Such are the effects of an unregulated dole. It promotes sloth, inefficiency and waste on an almost unimaginable scale. Furthermore, to accomplish the massive reorganization of our economy that Saunders, Warren and the other Democratic Presidential contenders espouse would require stringent government oversight and control – in other words, a giant bureaucracy.
Those who favor capitalism continue to insist that people work best and achieve much more when they are free to work for themselves. History proves that this is certainly true. A nation built on a capitalistic enterprise economy is far more productive than a nation that follows a socialistic or state-controlled model. Consider the explosion of creative enterprise in the United States as people escaped the rigid constraints of their countries of origin. Irving Berlin, America’s most prolific songwriter, probably would have remained mute in his native Russia; and there are countless other illustrative examples from the fields of arts, commerce, and industry of those who were able to spread their wings under freedom’s banner.
Winston Churchill once observed, ‘The main vice of capitalism is the uneven distribution pf prosperity. The main vice of socialism is the even distribution of misery.’ Over time the distribution of wealth in the United States has become increasingly imbalanced, resulting in rising social tensions. To counter this, the effects of capitalism must be moderated and softened by various means – anti-trust laws, progressive taxation, welfare programs, etc.; in other words, a Theodore Roosevelt like approach. There are areas in which we can certainly make improvements. The aim should be to promote equal opportunities for all rather than guarantee equal outcomes.
I believe that the implementation of a liberal/progressive agenda as envisioned by the Democratic candidates would be disastrous for our nation. Contrary to Funt’s assertion, the New Deal did not end the Great Depression. FDR’s actions were certainly palliative, but it took World War II to bring us out of our economic morass.
Instead of Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps we should look to his cousin Theodore for practical solutions to the problem of vigorously promoting continued economic prosperity while ensuring a more equitable distribution of its benefits.