NY Daily News Claims FDR Unfit to Be President: "No Concrete Plans, Only Platitudes"

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NY Daily News Claims FDR Unfit to Be President: "No Concrete Plans, Only Platitudes"

Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House in 1934 as he delivered a national radio address. (Photo: National Archives)

[The following is an imagined 1932 New York Daily News editorial board interview with Franklin Roosevelt during his presidential campaign. The Daily News comments below derive from the editorial board’s interview with Bernie Sanders on April 1, 2016. The Roosevelt statements are taken primarily from his 1933 inaugural address and his 1936 campaign speech at Madison Square Garden.]

Daily News: Speaking broadly, you said that you expect to break up the big banks within the first year of your administration. What authority do you have to do that? And how would that work? How would you break up JPMorgan Chase?

FDR: We must get the money changers to flee from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We must 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.

Daily News: I get that point. I’m just looking at the method because, actions have reactions, right? There are pluses and minuses. So, if you push here, you may get an unintended consequence that you don’t understand. So, what I’m asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?

FDR: I’m not running those banks.

Daily News: No. But you’d be breaking them up.

FDR: Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods [the biggest banks] have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence. They should admit their failure, and abdicate. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

Daily News: Yes, we’ve heard all your campaign generalizations. I’m only pressing because you’ve made it such a central part of your campaign. And I wanted to know what the mechanism would be to accomplish it.

FDR: There must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money;

Daily News: But how? What are your concrete policies? How do you get it done? What authority do you have? Can you break them up? Can the Federal Reserve do it? How is it going to happen?

FDR: Senator Glass and Congressman Steagall are formulating legislation. They’ll provide all the details. That’s their function in our democracy.

My task is very different. I have to set the broad vision for our nation — to help us understand that happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits.

Daily News: So if you look forward, a year, maybe two years, right now you have...JPMorgan has 241,000 employees. About 20,000 of them in New York. $192 billion in net assets. What happens? What do you foresee? What is JPMorgan in year two?

Aren’t you stirring up hatred of one group of Americans against the other with all your campaign rhetoric? Wouldn’t it be much better to share with the public concrete plans instead of pie-in-the-sky platitudes?

FDR: Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.

Daily News: But all you provide are generalities, no specifics. You have no plans, only vague promises. And what you do say sounds much more like dictatorial socialism than democratic capitalism. With all due respect, unless you can answer specific questions with something other that generalities and platitudes, you are unfit to be the President of the United States.

FDR: The disagreements with you are not about policy specifics or legislative details. We disagree about the fundamental direction of our great nation should take, and my vision for getting there.

You have not committed yourselves to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

The billionaire class considers the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

Author’s Editorial:
The Daily News/Team Hillary attacks on Bernie Sanders purposely confuse bold vision with policy minutia. Rather than discuss and debate the fundamental premises of the Sanders assault on the billionaire class, Wall Street, runaway inequality and our corrupt campaign finance system, they want to switch the conversation to the details of implementation. It’s as if to say, well, we might agree with your visionary proposals if only you could show us the fine print.

This tactical maneuver has one and only one aim — to undermine the Sanders campaign regardless of how he responds to their demands for more detail.

Why the subterfuge?

The Daily News and Team Hillary have no interest in taking on the established order, because they are part and parcel of it. However, they also are fearful that the American people are rejecting the Team Hillary vision (or lack thereof), and are flocking to Bernie’s. So they pick at details they care nothing about.

That’s the old establishment politics, the cynical politics, the kind of politics that tries to undermine the deep felt hopes and dreams of the American people. Bernie, like FDR, expands our sense of the possible. He asks us to join together to recapture our country from the billionaire class and build a better life for our families and communities.

That idealistic message is why 80% of all young people are voting for him. You don’t get 80% of the vote because of your detailed legislative proposals. Instead, enthusiasm springs from the basic human need for vision and hope.

Young people are shouting out to us the most critical fact of this election: Bernie has a vision worth fighting for. No one else does — including Hillary.

Les Leopold

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign. (Please like the Runaway Inequality page on Facebook.) His previous book is The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green/2009).

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