Sunday, May 15, 2005

Losing Sight of FDR

Well, that couldn’t happen quickly enough for the neocons, but the fact is, as a society we’ve for the most part lost sight of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt was trying to do . . . and did. 


Roosevelt presided over a country flat on its back.  It wasn’t a matter of two-job families struggling to buy their first home, it was no-job extended families losing everything they ever owned.  My old daddy talked about he and mom walking around downtown Evanston, wanting to stop for a cup of coffee and not having a nickel between them.  Daddy was a landscape contractor and when small jobs came his way, he and his laborers searched their pockets for change to buy gas for the truck.  Daddy was lucky he still had a truck.  Whole segments of society had nothing left and, increasingly, that included hope.


Social Security was enacted in 1935 in the heart of the depression, meant to be a life-line to those who approached old age with their finances wiped out.  It was a transference---no doubt about it---from those with jobs to those without.  I’m not sure anyone alive today remembers except by anecdote what the philosophy of those times was and how and why that much-maligned ‘New Deal’ was so important.  It pretty much saved the arts, both written and graphic; kept an entire generation of young people employed and off the streets, brought electricity to isolated farms and held a disintegrating society together by the vision and power of a single crippled man.


My old daddy hated him for it.  Many did and still do, even though they’re too young to know the smell of fear that permeated those times or remember the tap on a kitchen window that asked a sandwich for whatever small jobs were at hand.  My mother made those sandwiches and cut corners for our dinner.  My old daddy hated FDR but loved whoever came to him for help and gave what he could.  He claimed that the New Deal ended private charity and that we were all the worse for it.


But my point is that these depression-fixes were life-lines thrown to the drowning. They were never meant to be retirements in luxury any more than depression-era maternal and child health care was meant to become Medicare and pay for CAT-scans.  We have somehow re-defined these programs beyond recognition through seventy years of nearly uninterrupted prosperity.  Now the affluent scratch at the neediness of the poor in an untidy show of greed that dishonors Roosevelt’s original intent. 


We are not the nation of poverty we once were, but we have poverty enough.  We are not the desperate nation on our back that we were in those times, but we have fellow citizens who are desperate and on their backs


Those are the people who deserve protection from the neocon plan that would redistribute upwards the ability to feather one’s retirement nest.  Social Security was never meant as a feathered nest.  There’s plenty of future income to protect a decent standard of living for those whose retirement is in jeopardy, if only the greedy and not-needy would get the hell out of the way. 


To assure fairness, it should be a federal law that any person of means should be able, without exception, to change places with any person qualifying for a Social Security payment.  Changing places, of course, means just that . . . the exchange of one complete and entire lifestyle for another.  Seventy years ago the employed were damned grateful to be employed and more than willing to share with those tapping on the kitchen window.  Then we had $5,000 CEO’s and understood the forces that set men adrift.


Now we have $30 million CEO’s and fight over who will serve and who will eat.