This is the year of decision. The November election will determine the direction of this country for the next generation. The choice is stark, symbolized by an effort of more than 80 congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana, to remove the likeness of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the dime and replace him with that of Ronald Reagan. Nancy Reagan has denounced the effort, but members of the Bush brain trust, most notably the administration’s tax-cutting guru Grover Norquist, are prominent in support. What’s next? Strom Thurmond replacing Abe Lincoln on the five dollar bill?
I am waiting for the media to ask Mr. Bush if he supports this revisionism.
The attempt to remove Roosevelt from the dime cuts deeper than symbolism. George W. Bush is the anti-Roosevelt. His administration is against just about everything that Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood for. Not all of Roosevelt’s programs and initiatives worked as intended. A few -- most notably, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II -- were indefensible. But the philosophical direction of the Roosevelt administration was a positive guide for American governance that remained in tact more than fifty years. The Bush administration seeks to make a decisive break with the Roosevelt model.
A multilateral foreign policy -- a global alliance against fascist dictatorships and the creation of the United Nations to prevent future global conflict -- are among Roosevelt’s legacies. Every subsequent President accepted, at least in principle, FDR’s premise of international cooperation. For all its failures, the UN provided a forum for diplomacy that possibly prevented the United States and the Soviet Union from waging nuclear war. George W. Bush’s foreign policy breaks with our historic commitment to multilateralism, internationalism and support for the United Nations.
Domestically, FDR saved capitalism from its most destructive (and self-destructive) tendencies. He created a monetary framework that tempered the excesses of its inherent boom and bust cycle. He promoted a public sector to invest in projects -- housing, health care, conservation, agriculture, power plants, cultural and educational endeavors and the like -- that the private sector would not, or could not, take on. A jobs program put people to work building infrastructure, an industrial policy promoted technological progress. These initiatives are the kind that the Bush administration seeks to destroy.
FDR also created regulatory agencies to protect the public interest. This included workers, consumers, and honest entrepreneurs trying to compete with con artists, monopolists, and crooks. The regulatory agencies perhaps need to be streamlined and strengthened, but the Bush administration, if not able to destroy them, would undermine their effectiveness, by putting corporate interests in control.
Roosevelt believed in economic opportunity and justice. Social security and unemployment insurance are New Deal programs. FDR supported progressive taxation against tax cuts for the rich -- which is why wealthy Republicans so passionately hated him. The New Deal gave legal protection for union organizing and tried to assure that no American would be homeless and hungry. In the Bush economy, the number of poor people is rising. The Bush administration has reversed all of FDR’s priorities. It talks of privatizing social security and has already taken steps to privatize Medicare to benefit HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry.
Roosevelt practiced a government of inclusion. He was the first president after Ulysses S. Grant (that is, after more than fifty years of officially-sanctioned racism) to openly reject white supremacy and attempt to fulfill the promise of Lincoln’s emancipation. He opened government to African-Americans, women and Jews -- for which he was hated. Bush, by contrast, continues to pander to his right-wing base for whom hatred of “the other” remains a political motivation.
The Bush administration attacks the New Deal as representing big, heartless government. But on gender, social, and medical issues, the Bush administration would regulate and police the most personal and private aspects of individual and family life. Bush’s re-election will provide him the opportunity to stack the federal courts, as he’s trying to do now, with judges who do not believe in civil rights and civil liberties.
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about a personal issue that had no impact on public policy. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush gave a number of speeches aimed at frightening Americans into supporting his policy. In Cincinnati, just before Congress voted to authorize the war, Bush said of Saddam’s regime, that it “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism…. The danger is already significant, and it grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait…for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud?”
FDR famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Under George W. Bush, fear, and the manipulation of the public’s fear of another September 11th, was the administration’s primary weapon for gaining support for the war. Read Bush’s words a second time. He didn’t speak of possible weapons or potential destruction. He said that Saddam had weapons, had terrorist ties, and had the capability of dropping nuclear weapons on our country. Every assertion, every one of those fear-inducing sentences was a lie.
Deliberately lying to the American public, not to mention the world, in ways that have caused the death of thousands of people, including hundreds of our own, ought to be an impeachable crime. The next Election Day is, in a sense, Bush’s impeachment trial. It can’t come to soon. Will we choose FDR’s vision of a generous nation built on community or will we choose to institutionalize and make irreversible the politics of privilege, selfishness, greed, and dishonesty.
Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.