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Tea-GOPers 70 Years Ago: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

In case you were wondering whether the current Tea-GOPer Congress’ nuttiness and rabid partisanship are an aberration, Brad DeLong reaches back 70 years to show that anti-liberal/democratic sentiment from the right is just par for the course.

DeLong has been featuring daily “live blogs” from World War II, in which he quotes from diaries, memos, speeches given by the political leaders each day, exactly 70 years ago. So he’s now citing from stuff written/said in early January 1941. The US had been struggling to emerge from the Great Depression, but Hitler had invaded much of Europe and had been terror bombing England every night. FDR had been providing a lifeline to the Brits and trying to get the US military and citizenry ready for the inevitable global war.

So first, a piece from Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary of January 7, 1941, in which she comments on Congressional reaction to FDR’s speech the day before:

It did not seem to me anything in this message was of more interest to the Democrats than to the Republicans. On the whole, while there might later be some difference of opinion as to the methods of carrying out the objectives, there seemed to be nothing that members of Congress of all parties could not accept as representing their stand in relation to the interests of their country.

Therefore, I was not only astonished but saddened, to notice that the applause came almost entirely from the Democrats and only a few noticeable exceptions on the Republican side raised a hand in approval at any point. It looked to me as though these members of Congress were saying to the country as a whole:

We are Republicans first. We represent you here in Congress, not as citizens of the United States in a period of great crisis, but as members of a political party which seeks primarily to promote its own partisan interests.

This is to me shocking and terrifying. There was running through my mind as I watched them, in what would have been an act of childish spite if it had not been such a serious moment in history, the lines of a song which was popular when I was young: “I don’t want to play in your yard. I don’t love you any more.” Sometimes I wonder if it will take the suffering of the peoples in conquered countries and those who are still fighting for their freedom today, to make us realize that there are times when it matters little whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. . . .

So what was the speech President Roosevelt gave to Congress on January 6? Well, it’s known as the “Four Freedom’s Speech” –you might read is as an interpretation of the Constitution’s Preamble and Bill of Rights all rolled into one — in which he discussed the need for America to prepare for what was to come and to explain what we would be sending young men to die for:

Franklin D. Roosevelt, The “Four Freedoms” Address to Congress: In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

And today? Our states and cities are in financial crisis, but Congress is refusing to help them. We have 15 million unemployed but no national plan to improve that substantially in the near future. We have record poverty and 50 million people without health insurance, but Congress is preoccupied with repealing the already insufficient bandaids we have and replacing them with . . . what? There’s a global climate change threat, a collapse in the rule of law, a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, starving educational institutions, a financial industry run amok, a thoroughly corrupt Congress, partisan courts, and captured Executive. And no FDR.

Yet most of the Washington establishment is telling us that Presidential appointees who are largely indifferent to these problems and hostile to their solutions are just whom we need advising the President of the United States.


John Chandley
and kudos to DeLong for reciting our history

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley