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
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).