The tears of millions of Americans stripped of livelihoods and healthcare remain hidden from view, unlike the tearful special pleading of the unscrupulous leaders of the finance sector, and this week, of the auto industry CEO’s. The latest unemployment numbers to emerge from the Dept. of Labor imply immense pain and anguish; and emotional, mental, familial and even social breakdown. For those of us in other G8 countries cushioned by a public health service that is still, mercifully, largely free, it is hard to imagine how Americans cope with the shock of losing a job, and also their health care. As we await Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 speech becomes more and more striking for its relevance. I have used it often, but do so again, unashamedly.
But first, a brief whinge: on successive visits to the US, I have struggled to get biographies and speeches by FDR. I hope that is changing. US citizens should be proud of the fact that a time of grave global financial crisis, when Europe moved to the right, towards fascism, the United States, under Roosevelt’s leadership, moved in a progressive direction.
This is the section of his speech that I prize highly, but that is not often enough quoted:
“A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts….Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rules of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
….Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”