“Try Something:” That dogged 1932 meme

In the debate tonight, Joe Biden called this the “most important” election since 1932. FDR’s first inaugural address has been on my mind since  WBEZ president Torey Malatia cited  it earlier this year in accepting an award from the Niagara Foundation. I’d never read it before, and its relevance to today was jarring.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Earlier today I picked up Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. I don’t think Obama is FDR, a depression is imminent, and certainly the next U.S. president has not cause to joke about possibly being the last, as FDR reputedly said. We’re unlikely to see 15 major bills passed in the first 100 days in 2009 as occurred in 1933.  I am curious, though, as Biden seems to be, about the parallels between the mess Roosevelt inherited and that which Obama might takeover in three months. (FDR seemed to have introduced “my friends” into the modern political vernacular. Yes, McCain is old enough to have picked that up from the fireside chats– though Roberta does not strike me as a Roosevelt supporter.)

Among the clear differences: FDR was no newcomer to the national political scene, having served eight years in Wilson’s administration, been the VP candidate in 1920, and been a major figure at the 1924 and 28 Democratic conventions. Second, his first banking reforms were supported by, and perhaps written by, outgoing Hoover administration officials, particularly Treasury Secretary Ogden Mills. FDR flirted with dictatorial powers (“I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”) in ways that not even Dick Cheney would dream of–though Sarah Palin might. In  his first 100 days Roosevelt, like U.S. Grant during another time of crisis, had the pleasure of a pliant Congress. The 1933 Emergency Banking Act was 73-7 and 302-110 in FDR’s first week without even being printed, let along read. (“Here’s the bill, let’s pass it,” said House Banking Committee Chair Henry Steagall.)

Several bloggers are also thinking about the speech this week– I count 11 references to “Roosevelt ‘first inaugural'” in the last day.

Rebecca Zietlow:

FDR’s “chicken in every pot” philosophy has been replaced by an ethic of selfishness couched in a false libertarianism….As this reckoning inexorably unfolds, this should not be merely a time for fear and anger – we should recognize it as a time of opportunity, and a time to re-think the economic policies of the last 25 years….For too long, we have measured the success of our economy by the stock market and the income of the very rich when what really matters is whether ordinary people can find jobs that earn a living wage, whether people can afford to buy a home and save for their future and the future of our children.

Hillary fan Heidi:

the current leadership of The Democratic Party has denied the country the opportunity to elect this year a President who could have delivered a ReNewed Deal….Hillary Rodham Clinton would have started on day one to help the American people regain faith in themselves and in one another, not in an ethereal vague way but by pursuing practical policies and policies honed over many years of public and political service.


We find ourselves perched on the last domino of a long line of fallen schemes.  There must be an honest effort to expose the truth and offer apologies to the American Taxpayer.  Then, there must be a concerted effort to educate the public, re-educate the policy makers and hold the wheeler dealers accountable.  Trust will be the hardest commodity to restore.  The house of cards and backroom lies has fallen, the clean up must be complete,  the unsanitary money machine has to be rebuilt.


Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, also known as FUD, are the driving forces in American politics today. They are pervasive in the advertising-revenue driven “news.” They can be found in the recent panic to “do something” about the current economic chaos. They can be heard in the last several years’ constant drone about “terrorism” and the need to quell civil liberties in the pursuit of a mystical idea of security through control. FUD are a horrible basis for doing anything. Don’t let fear run your life. Seek out truth. Use logic. Find the facts, and don’t listen to the Chicken Littles of today who are running around shouting, “The sky is falling!”

American Experience’s piece on FDR is here (thanks, Maria, for the tip!). The first inaugural, subtitled in German, follows.


One thought on ““Try Something:” That dogged 1932 meme

  1. I was born in 1932 in Southern California, and find that the current times are similar to what my parents experienced. However, they were in an area that was not affected too much by the depression. I can clearly remember President Roosevelt, since he was president for many years of my life.

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