Friday, May 06, 2005

In Defense of FDR and the Liberal Mind Set

Thanks as always to my friend A Red Mind In A Blue State

When I can't think of something to write, he always provides me fodder.

Today Red Mind tees off on FDR .

So I will now take the opportunity to respond.

FDR is the "liberal's darling" because he was the first President to think that Federal power could be used to do -- something, anything -- on behalf of everyday people. To do things that the individual states thought they had the sole right to do (in that way, George W--, despite some of my bile later in this piece, is very much his heir). Because the system was broken. And no one knew how to fix it.

The Republicans did not want to fix it. Some felt -- some Republicans like the Bush/ Walker clan felt -- the system was going fine. The system perpetuated their divine right to allow the few people to pick clean the carcasses of those millions who were not working. The millions were failing, in part, in a system where there was no way for most people to work or to plan their futures. FDR stopped the Bush/ Walkers from foreclosing on everyone. They're getting their revenge now.

FDR's idea was to do something, anything. And a lot of what he did failed. But the notion of doing something, anything, was and remains, the germ of modern liberalism.

The deeper argument that makes FDR a liberal is that he thought it was moral for the government to try to help people in this way. And that deeper argument has a very-strong, very-compelling counter-argument. And I will leave it to those who can articulate it better than I to describe it.

Sufficient to say that the idea that government is there to protect people against larger forces is a tremendously liberal notion.

All the things Red Mind accuses FDR of failing to do in terms of human rights are liberal things. If so called "Red Minds" are in favor of doing those things, then they are not conservative. They are liberals trying to run away from a word they hate. Because the conservative notion, as most liberals understand it, as it manifests itself through time, as it manifests itself today in the Tom Delays, and the Bill Frists, and the Pat Robertsons, and the Jerry Falwells, has always been that this country was formed for the benefit of a certain type of person, and that there are plenty of other countries for other people to do other things.

I agree with Red Mind, by the way, that FDR did not fix the economy. Hitler and Tojo did that. They are the ones who made the modern United States military/ industrial state and its long tail big welfare state possible and necessary. They were the ones who left the world in ruins with only one remaining super-power.

And I agree that FDR's record on minority rights does not stand to modern scrutiny. But that's all changing, so don't worry.

United States progress on minority rights is primarily a function of wanting to put the thumb in the Communist eye. There would be no African-American rights, no woman's rights, no union worker's rights, no Asian-American rights, no handicapped-American rights, no Jewish-American rights, no nothing, at least as we understand those things today, without the Cold War.

Well World War II is over, and the Cold War is over. And what do we have?

PATRIOT Act provisions which will make the next mass-interrment completely legal. Will make it seem like a civic duty.

Republicans push to turn the clock back to 1937. In 1937, admittedly-liberal Supreme Court decisions made by scared Republican justices helped jump-start the economy after the Republicans could not even win an election in the aftermath of the Depression of 1936. More importantly, the commercial decisions of 1937, and the establishment of the governments right to make those decisions, laid the expansion of the interstate commerce down. And it was the expansion of the interstate commerce clause which lead to a lot of the equal rights decisions. So maybe FDR did have something to do with modern rights of minorities, after all. Happily, when the Bush judiciary is done, we will, again, not expect the government to be able to do the very things you are so angry at FDR for not doing.

United States Service Academies with de-facto policies of institutional anti-Semitism.

Republican commentators bashing Laura Bush for having the gall to say something funny about her Lord and Master husband in public (even though George told her to say it).

The right of a handicapped person to live like a brain-dead vegetable for decades on end, no matter what your living will might say, no matter what your husband, or mother, or father or religion might say. Those rights are getting stronger every year.

In that context, not so far from now, FDR will look very much like a liberal darling again.