January 26th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: The magic of Middle Earth

Editorial: Argentina - from role model to basket case

Al Qaeda network must be destroyed

Policy not structure the problem for National Party

Industry policy behind Celtic Tiger's success

Straws in the Wind: Great Helmsmen: past and present / A tale of two branches

Anti-war protests leave Melbourne cold

Media: When the Left calls for time-out

Letter: Exports and imports

Letter: Alcohol abuse

Trade: APECÂ’s demise paves the way for ChinaÂ’s free trade pact

United States: Year of the Right?

Japan: a nation in search of a role

History: RooseveltÂ’s timeless wisdom

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History: RooseveltÂ’s timeless wisdom

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, January 26, 2002

Max Teichmann recently reread Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 Inauguration Address and discovered some extraordinary insights. It could have been written for the world of 2002.

A friend has just shown me a copy of Franklin Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1933. It was at the height of the Depression, when, at one stage, one-third of the American labour force was out of work.

The address has a very contemporary ring about it; except that I can’t think of one leading Western politician who would have the guts, or the vision to say what Roosevelt said on that day - let alone stick to it, as he tried. There are contemporary politicians who do advance the kind of values and social critiques that FDR did in that 1933 peroration, but they are customarily marginalised or described as Right Wingers, Populists, Stone Age simplifiers etc. By the hookers.

Roosevelt could only speak his mind, and foreshadow the reforms - political and moral - that he intended, at a time when all other conventional methods and nostrums had failed, and the people running the political and economic system, which they had used as the means to personal and group aggrandisement ... These people had steered the economy onto the rocks. There seemed some chance that the whole polity would follow suit.

So Roosevelt was able to say, "plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes at the very sight of the supply".

"Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed them through their own incompetence, admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men."

This is not Pauline, or a Marxist, or La Rouche talking ... but Franklin Roosevelt.

"Taxes have risen, our ability to pay has fallen ... the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side ... the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

"They have no vision, and where there is no vision the people perish.

"Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position, are to be values only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which has so often given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrong doing."

Is this not a description of our political class, of our establishment values, of our present day corporate and legal impressarios?

Among the many reforms demanded by Roosevelt in his Inauguration Address were "insistence that the Federal, State and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced" (Hear! Hear!) ... "the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical and unequal." (Hear! Hear!)

Of course Roosevelt’s America didn’t yet have a New Class which fed off public spending, using much of its substance to lobby for more public spending, with the daily invention of new social and military needs to justify further leeching. And Roosevelt’s America didn’t possess predatory and adventurist public sector unions.

Roosevelt also said on that day "that in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money".

Well ... America has returned to the Old Order - now given a new name. And so have we. Just ask the shareholders and creditors of HIH, OneTel, Ansett, Centaur, etc. And is there anyone prepared to speak up for the banks, in the present financial and credit systems, who isn’t being paid to do so?

As to the great advances in communications and the new opportunities to disseminate knowledge and enlightenment, since Roosevelt’s first assumption of the Presidency: Television - David Leckie, long-time ruler of the Channel 9 empire but recently removed, said:

"The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench with plastic hallways full of pimps and thieves where weak men die like dogs." (The Age January 10, 2002.

This is the face of Roosevelt’s Old Order - Baal ... To think these creatures instruct us on how to vote and how to live!

I’ll just say that Big Business and the American press hated what they heard; told themselves that Roosevelt was some kind of Communist and Jew-lover and procured in the Senate the blocking of many of his reforms, until 1938, when he at last got the numbers. Even then the Supreme Court did its best to nobble him. Only with the War did Roosevelt obtain real freedom to act.

He remains a touchstone whereby we measure all other US Presidents. And, it is for his values and his desires to humanise American society that we remember him.

But, you say, think of the Democratic Party of Roosevelt and of Bill Clinton! Surely he failed? Well ...

How stands the rest of the world, the other capitalist countries, or the new States? Or, compare the moral values of the ALP of Curtin and Chifley with those of Hawke and Keating. A general process of decadence?

But the matter doesn’t end here. As Roosevelt said, nearly 70 years ago:

"A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the realities of the moment."

Only a fool; or a knave? But they are denying it, here and everywhere.

Arguments put forward by people like Marcus L’Estrange, using estimates by people like Terry McCrann, the late Bill Weekes, Australian journalist, Ian Henderson, David Kemp and Amanda Vanstone (when in Opposition), and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, make it probable that the number of people wanting work, or more - much more work - and failing to get it, may be running at 15 to 20 per cent of the potential work force. Then there are the working poor.

But, the relevant figures like those pertaining to all sensitive social educational and economic data, are massaged out of shape, out of sight, like World War I casualty lists.

But, this is a war-like situation - a covering up of the very state of affairs which Roosevelt pointed out. The failure of the system to provide meaningful or secure employment for all of its people or a plausible future for its youth, with legions of people in debt, without savings, living from week to week. Such a stress on "the mad chase of evanescent profits", that social bonds are dissolved, one by one, until we have a society which, Oscar Wilde described as knowing the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

Roosevelt was able to say, at this moment of truth, in 1933, "Look where these more recent ways of thinking and behaving have landed us", and be listened to. But the business of contemporary government is to see that no such total breakdown, or defining moment of reality occurs.

Rather, death by a thousand diminutions and distractions. Or, like boiling a frog. Put it in a pan of cold water, then raise slowly, ever so slowly, the temperature. It will never realise what is happening.

The Argentinians are trying to get out of that pan at this moment.

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