Friday, September 24, 2010

Democrats: 1832 & 1932

The following article consists of excerpts from a Facebook debate in which I participated almost a year ago. In order to make it more readable, I have excised specific passages from that discussion and cobbled them together to create this essay. That said, as you will see, none of the text itself has been altered; sections have been omitted, but that which was included has not been changed in any way.

A key difference between liberals and conservatives is how they feel about this quote:

"The task of government in its relation to business is to assist the development of an economic declaration of rights... Every man has a right to life; and this means that he has also a right to make a comfortable living. He may by sloth or crime decline to exercise that right; but it may not be denied him."
- Franklin Roosevelt (1932)

The problem with conservatives who claim that they agree with that quote's message is that their policies blatantly contradict its objectives. How can you say that every man has a right to make a comfortable living and then oppose economic stimulus measures that create jobs? How can you recognize a right to survive through one's work and then oppose providing universal health care to those who put in a full day's labor and still cannot afford decent insurance? In short, what use is any economic declaration of rights if it does not entail the right to labor empowerment (by cultivating the growth of unions through the EFCA), the right to earn enough through forty hours of work to support both yourself and your family (by raising the minimum wage), and the right to not have one's very security undermined through the reckless cupidity of big business and Wall Street firms (such as would be prevented by the financial regulations that most Republicans oppose)?

Because America is a populist democracy, it is politically unproductive for any mainstream politician to openly denounce the principles articulated by Franklin Roosevelt in that 1932 campaign speech. That said, because the modern Republican Party thrives on the contributions of America's financial upper class - and because that upper class wishes to preserve its own disproportionate social and political power, as well as all maximize its wealth even at the expense of other people's fundamental economic rights - it consistently supports policies, pushed forth by the Republican Party it subsidizes, that go against our nation's most basic democratic ideals. Indeed, when the antecedents of the contemporary Republican Party advocated similar policies (in those days made manifest by its support of the Second National Bank), the founder of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, responded with this immortal observation:

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes... There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing."*

To me, this battle for America's economic soul is fundamentally the same now as it was when Andrew Jackson and the liberals opposed Henry Clay and the conservatives in 1832, and as it was when Franklin Roosevelt and the liberals opposed Herbert Hoover and the conservatives in 1932. It's a struggle between the ideals of the Democrats of '32 and the conservatives who, though professing the same basic values, actively work against them.

For the original debate from which this was culled, see:

* - Though I neglected to include this in my original post, it should be noted that the Jackson quote came from his Veto Message on the Second National Bank (July 10, 1832). For more on Jackson and his movement's contribution to the formation of economic liberalism, I highly recommend "The Age of Jackson" by Arthur Schlesinger.

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