Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: FDR’s ‘we’ shrugs off Rand’s ‘me’
May 21, 2011
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the start of his legislative career in Albany, N.Y., believed that caring for the community enhanced the common good.
As keynote speaker in 1912 for a progressive People’s Forum in Troy, N.Y., FDR warned against unregulated Wall Street investors who wheeled and dealed, as do some hedge fund gamblers today.
One accurate way of reading history, declared FDR, is viewing it as a struggle for individual freedom.
“Today, in Europe and America,” Roosevelt concluded, “the liberty of the individual has been accomplished.”
Now it’s time to adopt a higher ethic Christianity espouses. Some Yankee capitalists’ reckless power to dominate needs to be harnessed so a wider community prospers.
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further,” Roosevelt continued. “Cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
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He refrained from using “community interest,” lest his enemies brand him a socialist. Nor did FDR favor “brotherhood of man” to describe his intention of using government regulation to curb excessive greed. This phrase sounded sentimental and idealistic.
Roosevelt believed in the positive effects of government regulation on the acquisitive spirit.
Don’t call it regulation, he warned, because then “people will hold up their hands in horror and say ‘un-American’ or ‘dangerous.’ But if we call the same process cooperation, these same old fogeys will cry out, ‘Well done!'”
When Roosevelt served as New York state’s governor during the Great Depression, he was the only state chief executive to organize relief efforts for the poor.
“Modern society, acting through its government,” he believed, “owes the definite obligation to prevent the starvation or the dire want of any of its fellow men and women who try to maintain themselves but cannot.”
Such extensive cooperation to confront poverty rankled free marketers who wanted to keep their tax breaks and weren’t concerned about the poor losing social aid. FDR took seriously what the Bible instructs: “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy” (Proverbs
Atheist Ayn Rand detested Roosevelt’s New Deal. She peddled a gospel of greed based on an ethic of self-interest. Rand pressed for unregulated financial markets. Her enemies were government agents who regulated capitalism. Rand wanted the wealthy to profit and the poor to succeed through individual initiative.
She strutted in public, wearing a dollar-sign brooch, as she flailed against “flattening the wage scale” by raising taxes and distributing wealth.
Rand voiced hostility against Christianity, with its ethic of building community good for rich and poor. She chastised following Jesus as the product of “stupid altruistic urges.”
A movie based on Rand’s epic 1957 novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” the first in a cinematic trilogy, debuted in theaters on Tax Day, April 15. It’s been a box office flop.
The late William F. Buckley, conservative architect of the modern tea party movement, spurned Rand. He found her toxic individualism, raging narcissism and testy atheism too extravagant.
When Rand introduced herself to Buckley, she exclaimed, “You are too intelligent to believe in God!” Buckley, to his credit, had the smarts to have Whittaker Chambers write a scathing review of “Atlas Shrugged” in the National Review.
Unlike these conservative predecessors, Rep. Paul Ryan, R., Wis., idolizes Rand’s book. He instructs staffers to master “Atlas Shrugged.” As the prime spokesman for a budget plan that lowers national debt by reducing taxes on the rich and ending social welfare programs, Ryan cites Rand as his role model for entering politics.
What does this Rand-inspired Ryan plan propose to relieve our nation’s staggering debt? It removes the weight of sacrificing much of anything from the rich. They get wealthier. The debt load shifts to the already bent-over backs of the poor and elderly. Future Medicare benefits disappear.
Our children are promised a government subsidy and then survive on their own as they invest in personal medical plans.
That makes sense for congressional leaders who hire smart tax attorneys, employ investment counselors to pander to their needs, and receive Cadillac medical coverage from the government.
How does this plan assist an indigent mother in the Bronx who has three kids less than 5 years old, lives in a tenement, and never has taken an introductory financial planning course?
Rand doesn’t care. Ryan doesn’t tell us.
Roosevelt is the only one who rejects a gospel of greed for biblical compassion as he worked for community good, helping the poor, the widow and the orphan. Rand stuffed her own pockets with cash. Ryan has a plan that takes care of the well-heeled.
In contrast, FDR urged the nation to adopt shared sacrifice. That’s a New Deal worth more than any dollar-sign brooch.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.