4. FDR did know one thing well: he knew that nobody knew the answers to our nation’s problems, but the answers would be found. As a presidential candidate, here is what he said:
“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”
Once in office, he truly walked the talk. The first 100 days of his administration saw more than a dozen major legislative initiatives, ranging from the right (cutting government salaries and veteran’s benefits) to the left (paying farmers to not grow crops). Over time, he watched as the Liberal policies worked best; he became a Liberal.
5. It is often said today that the press was not allowed to discuss FDR’s polio and paralysis while he was alive. While it’s true that FDR made efforts to show that his legs were functional, and did not publicly admit to a continuing paralysis, this subject was not off-topic for the press. For example, some excerpts from the December 17, 1934 issue of Time Magazine:
“Bodyguard Gus Gennerich helped the President into his wheel chair, rolled him the length of the West colonnade to the new White House offices”
“(Secretary to the President Louis McHenry Howe) went on the 1920 campaign tour with Vice-Presidential Nominee Roosevelt, and, the year after, sat at the bedside and read to poliomyelitis-victim Roosevelt.”
6. FDR held two press conferences each week during his entire presidency. 988 in all. Unscripted, no topic off limits. He spoke plainly and truthfully, and became a friend of the press and a friend of the people.
7. It is often said these days that FDR’s measures did not lift the US from depression; rather, things remained bad until the war. The facts are different: GDP growth averaged a staggering 9% per year during FDR’s first term. We had fallen far under Hoover’s corporatist regime, but under FDR’s unflappable pragmatism things started to roar back right away.
8. FDR founded the March of Dimes, in 1938. Originally named the “National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis”, its original mission was to defeat polio. The March of Dimes appointed Dr. Jonas Salk to lead the effort to defeat polio, and indeed Dr. Salk developed the vaccine that removed a heavy burden from our backs. Polio vanquished, the charity broadened its mission to all diseases that affect the health of babies.
9. Before his death, FDR proposed a second Bill of Rights. The first Bill had secured the political rights of all Americans. This second one was to secure our economic rights. He said “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
Among the rights he proposed for all Americans:
— Employment, with a living wage,
— Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
— Medical care
— Social security
You may want to take a minute to read FDR’s proposal, and think about what might have been.
Most of us know most of the rest of FDR’s story; some good, some bad. But on this day, let us think briefly of this giant of humankind who led our country from despair, then led the world from the abyss.