FDR is popular these days and he should be, but there is one thing about FDR that I think is too often overlooked and that is his directness. He didn't speak in bland, circular rhetoric; he spoke with a straight line directness that today Fox News and the media would call partisan nastiness.
"Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
"More important, 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 dark realities of the moment."
This from his first inaugural address, officially in office only ten minutes.
"Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have 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.
"True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish."
This speech made my grandfather cry and he was not a man to cry easily. He had been arrested for punching a Ku Klux Klansman; he had been arrested twice in one day on a picket line for fighting with bullyboys, and he'd had his head split open by a policeman's Billy club. His tears were of a man that saw his rescue at hand. For three years all he'd heard from Washington was about how much better the economy was doing. Sure, prosperity was just around the corner and there would be a chicken in every pot and a new car in every garage.
Mr. Hoover had a plan to make two billion dollars available to industry to restart the economy. The rhetoric coming out of Washington didn't match the old man's life experience. One of my father's earliest memories was being in a food riot. Mr. Hoover had made sacks of cracked wheat available to the poor. In the melee my grandfather ran with the wheat under one arm and my father under the other.
So when he heard, "Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now," he was moved to tears because there was somebody up there in Washington who got it! Roosevelt made good on his promise by accomplishing more in 100 days than most administrations achieve in 1,000 days.
Day one, Roosevelt issues a proclamation declaring a four-day bank holiday. FDR had just grabbed up the banking community up by the scrotum and asked, "How do you like me so far?" It prevented further bank runs but it also sent a shot across the bow that there was a new sheriff in town and the banks and Wall Street would play by the new rules or they wouldn't be allowed to play at all.
"It is the habit of the unthinking to turn in times like this to the illusions of economic magic. People suggest that a huge expenditure of public funds by the Federal Government and by State and local governments will completely solve the unemployment problem. But it is clear that even if we could raise many billions of dollars and find definitely useful public works to spend these billions on, even all that money would not give employment to the 7,000,000 or 10,000,000 people who are out of work.
"Let us admit frankly that it would be only a stopgap. A real economic cure must go to the killing of bacteria in the system rather than to the treatment of external symptoms."
I wrote in another post that the bacteria has become a cancer today in our economy which makes what FDR did even more amazing. He didn't invite the bankers up to the White House for a summit or a beer after dinner; he went straight after them.
"I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.
"But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. 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."
FDR is saying to the House and Senate, "Gee, fellas, I hope we can all get along and do what is necessary because if you don't I'm coming back with legislation to take you out of the loop entirely and I'll do this myself." This on day one. Triangulation my ass.