Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Necessitous Men.

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) made white people’s brains liquify into steaming pools of shrieking acid a few months ago by suggesting that America return to a pre-Reagan-presidency tax structure, I have been thinking about my man Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

Since this is the internet, I feel compelled to mention that I think racism is bad and that Japanese internment was unacceptable. As time goes on, I think this will be up there with slavery and the genocide of Native Americans as one of the worst things the United States has ever done on its own soil.

However, that is not why I have been thinking about FDR. I have been thinking about him because of something he didn’t do, or rather, failed to do.

On Tuesday January 11th, 1944, FDR gave his State of the Union Address (but it wasn’t called that then) and he proposed an American Second Bill of Rights. He believed that the original Bill of Rights had in many ways, “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Sometimes this Second Bill of Rights is referred to as an ‘economic bill of rights’.

FDR said, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

BTW, “necessitous” is an adjective meaning “(of a person) lacking the necessities of life; needy.” Even I had to look that one up and I’ve often been accused of a sesquipedalian loquaciousness.

Basically he was saying that you won’t have a free country very long if people can’t afford to live. Here, and in a great deal of his policies, you see notion that politics and economics are inextricably linked in an input/output fashion. If you input massive wealth inequality, you output dictatorship. If you input economic egalitarianism, you output democracy.

I don’t believe this thinking of this sort is common anymore and I think that it would be generous to even refer to it as “rare”. Thinking of this sort is essentially nonexistent.

Now it is lucky for me that no one reads this blog, otherwise a wandering BernieBro would pop up in the comments and wail, “THAT IS WHAT BERNIE HAS BEEN SAYING FOR ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS EVEN THOUGH I JUST LEARNED WHO BERNIE WAS THREE YEARS AGO!”

I like Bernie, I have always liked Bernie, I’ve liked Bernie since I learned who he was in the 1990s when he was working on health insurance reform with … (wait for it!) … Hillary Clinton. However, what I’m saying here is that neither Bernie nor anyone else is making the argument that anti-democratic political movements are a direct result of economic inequality. To make this theory even simpler, we’ll just call it: Garbage-In/Garbage-Out. If our thinking can dispense with notions of dignity and equality (though I value those things and believe they are important) and narrow down to the simple notion that the battle against wealth inequality is a battle that is objectively in everyone’s self interest, I think we would get a whole lot further.  

I recently did a Quija Board call with FDR and he said that I am presenting this information correctly.

Here are some of the things FDR proposed for the Second Bill of Rights:

The RIGHT to a job.
The RIGHT to earn enough money to afford decent food, clothing, shelter, and recreation.
The RIGHT of every farmers to a fair income.
The RIGHT of businesses “large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad”
The RIGHT of every family to a decent home.
The RIGHT to “adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”
The RIGHT to “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment”
The RIGHT to a good education.

For context, this was the American President who was arguably the most popular during his lifetime, in the midsts of the largest and most expensive war that had ever taken place in the history of the world, suggesting not only that we should do these things, but that they are so arguably necessary that they rise above the realm of simple policy and should instead be enshrined as inalienable rights. I can count on one hand the politicos I think even have the mxie to say something like that out loud. And FDR said it a State of the Union address.

The past is a wild place that is almost always unlike how we think of it, because we often only think of it the way we have been taught to by people who were not there.

FDR went on to say, “America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”

Sadly, FDR - who was not a well man - died about 15 months after this speech. The spirit of many of these rights were rolled into various government programs and legislation (like the Employment Act of 1946 or LBJ’s Great Society project), but no one after Roosevelt had the verve and, frankly, the batshit-crazy determination to make the American Second Bill of Rights happen.

It is my personal opinion that the last 40 years of American political thought has been a disastrous failure of imagination. I personally lay blame for this at the feet of Ronald Reagan and his facile and puerile sense of what patriotism means, but other people might have other culprits to blame.

I’ll say this though, I think we need a second American Bill of Rights and I think there is great value and utility in framing that discussion as one that was started 70 years ago by the only President we’ve ever elected four times.


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