Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945)
A Message for Bob Herbert from James Cumes
Roosevelt‘s Vision: How we got from there to here
It was refreshing to read your article of 18 April 2005 about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was one of the truly great men of the twentieth century. He was a great wartime leader but,
unlike others - including Churchill - who could make similar claims, he was a great peacetime leader too.
It‘s not going too far to say that he may have saved
„capitalism“ and „democracy“ from destruction - in the United States as well as elsewhere. His successors in the White House, including the Republican Eisenhower, pursued much the same
creative economic and social ideals as those you have quoted.
He was an internationalist. After serving in the Australian
army in the Second World War, I was a young diplomat when it came to an end. Those were exciting days. The United States wasn‘t just a powerful and victorious country but a genuine and
realistic leader in a whole array of moral and practical values. So it was until the late 1960s when Nixon took office.
You ask, „How in the world did we allow ourselves to get
from there [Roosevelt‘s world] to here [the world of Bush the Younger]?“
We need to think not only in terms of what the fundamental
changes in direction of American policy have done to economic and social decencies at home and around the world. We must also consider what those changes in direction have done to the
image of the United States - its image of itself and the image that others have of it. However, it goes far beyond that. In terms of sheer power - meaningful power - the United States has been
engaged in self-destruction now for more than thirty years. The pace of decline has become quicker in the new millenium; but if we look back, we can see confirmation that, if only in the
maintenance of America‘s status as a superpower, Roosevelt was right in his policies and Nixon and his successors, right up to George W Bush, have been monumentally wrong.
Remember that thirty-six years ago, the United States put a man on the moon. At that moment, there seemed no limit to what America could do - and what Americans made us feel all
mankind could do.
And then it all fell apart.
It fell apart in ways that many Americans still do not
recognise. I attended the 1971 Session of the United Nations General Assembly at which Beijing took over China‘s Security Council seat. A great leap forward for China - diplomatically. But
a much more significant leap forward was already under way in the economic policies that the Nixon Administration and its successors adopted. Thirty years later those dysfunctional
policies have brought China to world power with a momentum and speed that assuredly will mean that China will replace the United States as the number one - or single - superpower in a relatively short time.
That WILL happen unless the United States returns to the sort of policies that FDR embraced - policies that gave full
acknowledgement to the huge productive and creative potential of the United States and to the unique quality of the American people.
During the interstice between the decline in United States power and the accession of China, the prospects are increasingly
that the United States and the world economy will collapse into a degree of turmoil that we have not known since the 1930s. That turmoil is not likely to confine itself to economic conditions but to
boil over into political and strategic crises. In a world that is armed to the teeth with the most terrifying weapons, that is a nightmarish prospect.
Except under the misleading title of „terrorism“, it is a nightmarish prospect to which most Americans - and others - seem blind.
Is there any way out of such a crisis?
If there is, then I believe it to be possible only by returning
to the ideals and the pragmatic economic and social policies that FDR embraced. In particular, we should remember the Four Freedoms that FDR enunciated, even before Pearl Harbour. They
were Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech and Expression and Freedom of Religion.
I do not advocate that we return to these objectives for
„weeping heart“ reasons but for reasons of practicality: to save the United States from itself; to turn back the tsunami of self-destruction that now seems about to overwhelm the United
States; to meet specifically the formidable economic crisis that confronts the United States; to deal with the crisis of poverty in the developing world, at the same time as we deal with the crisis
of economic collapse and poverty in the United States and other countries in the developed world; and, generally, to move away from the economic, social, political and strategic abyss that now confronts us.
You have said that „Roosevelt was far from a perfect president, but he gave hope and a sense of the possible to a nation in dire need. And he famously warned against giving in to
fear.“ I agree with that: however enormous the task in front of us, we must take it up. Anything less is likely to deliver us to a destiny that is too terrible to contemplate.
May I just add that the prospect that confronts us is too forbidding to justify us in advocating any pet or selfish theories. What we need most of all is simply to come together to work
with all the creativity of all of us to find a way out of our present situation. It is in this context that you might like to look at the site of Victory Over Want (VOW).