The Pencil Warrior
By Dave Wheelock
On October 30, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt, nearing the end of his second campaign for president, addressed an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York. In a voice that betrayed his patrician northeastern seaboard upbringing, Roosevelt recalled the situation his first administration had encountered in 1932: “For 12 years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government.” The audience of 20,000 cheered its approval. “The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away.” More cheering. “Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines.”
Roosevelt turned his audience’s attention to those who still opposed government that served the middle and lower classes. “Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent to mankind.” He went on to name those powerful influences: “the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs.”
FDR didn’t need to remind the crowd of the savagery of the Depression, but he did anyway: “And we know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.”
As one listens to the speech today, Roosevelt’s defiant pride comes through the scratchy recording. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.” And then, in an exultation of defiance comes Roosevelt’s call to electoral battle, and the crowd explodes: “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred!”
(An Internet search for “FDR I welcome their hatred” will quickly return an audio recording of this speech.)
The rest is history, of course. Although the U.S. economy dipped into recession again in 1937, there is no doubt the government’s involvement in addressing people’s needs and attempting to control runaway financial speculation got the nation’s economy headed in the right direction again.
I believe a solid majority of my fellow citizens are convinced we need more men and women with that spirit in government today. As the arguably false hopes many of us held for Barack Obama to lead that charge fade, there is a tendency to believe Roosevelt’s type died with his times.
Enter Bernie Sanders, an Independent Senator from Vermont, with some very “uncustomary” words on the floor of the Senate on November 30, 2010. In a 13-minute speech that’s still stirring rave reviews around the blogosphere, the white-haired senator with the thick Vermont accent delivered a frank assessment of the state of things in Washington and beyond:
“There is a war going on in this country, and I’m not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I’m talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country, against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing middle class of our country.”
With diction that probably wouldn’t threaten FDR, Sen. Sanders lay bare our mounting income and wealth inequality. “When we were in school we used to read the text books that talked about the banana republics in Latin America . . . in which a handful of people owned and controlled most of the wealth of those countries. Well, guess what? That’s exactly what is happening in the United States today. . . . We talk about a lot of things on the floor of the senate, but somehow we forget to talk about who is winning in this economy and who is losing.
Bernie called out Congressional Republicans, their allies and their lobbyists on their demands to keep tax rates for the wealthiest Americans at historic lows, eliminate the estate tax, send more jobs overseas, lower corporate tax rates, stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan – and balance the budget.
“Gee, how we gonna do that? We’re gonna cut back on health care, we’re gonna cut back on education, we’re gonna cut back on child care, we’re gonna cut back on PELL programs. We just don’t have enough money for working families and their needs – we’re gonna cut back on food stamps. We’re surely not gonna expand unemployment compensation. We’ve got a higher priority . . . we’ve got to – got to – got to – give tax breaks to billionaires. I mean, that’s what this whole place is about, isn’t it? They fund the campaign; they get what’s due them.”
Unlike FDR’s Bring It On speech, you can see and hear Sen. Sanders’s speech at his website, www.sanders.senate.gov. See if it isn’t like therapy to watch Bernie in action.
Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and coach living in Socorro. Reach him at email@example.com. Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail.