Democratic primary revives the narrative of Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy
Many say this primary season is a battle for the soul of the Republican party, but many neglect that it is also a battle for the soul of the Democrats as well. Hillary Clinton, the left-leaning pragmatic, and Bernie Sanders, the classic progressive, are both fighting to interpret a party whose goals have been nearly the same since their most popular name bearer, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was an extraordinary man during an extraordinary time. It should be expected then that the man’s 1944 State of the Union address was unique for its time; Not just because it was the first time since before Woodrow Wilson that the president did not address Congress in person, but the message he had to give was revolutionary for its time then and now.
He proposed a second Bill of Rights guaranteeing economic security for every citizen at home. Our progress today can directly be linked to this speech in 1944, and it should be a constant reference point in modern progressivism.
The rights proposed in his speech would now be considered standard liberal causes: right to work, right to medical care, living wage, fair income for farmers, right to housing, social security, right to education and the freedom for businesses to compete free of monopolies or unfair competition.
While these rights have not been added to the U.S. Constitution, they have been included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nation, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, I should add.
If a president was so popular that he was elected four times, why couldn’t he, or his successor, convince Congress to pass these amendments?
“If you claim a right, you’re not just claiming that you’re being denied something that’s very important. You’re also saying someone else has a correlative duty to do something about this,” said political science professor Naomi Choi. “Once you expand the rights into civil and economic rights, you’re saying someone has a duty to provide in these ways.”
While amendments in the past may have been divisive at the time, these would prove to be especially divisive. Many argue that these amendments would in fact only grant the federal government more power at the expense of certain freedoms for citizens.
So what would the passage of these rights do? Guarantee economic security or restrict freedoms? What would happen to the economy as whole if these were passed?
“The economic security as President Roosevelt described does not require people to sacrifice certain freedoms, however it does require lots of money,” said economics professor Aimee Chin. “Increasing non-wage income reduces labor supply. That is, some people will cut their hours worked, or even drop out of the labor force. This is rational decision-making, but this also means that the U.S. economy will shrink.”
This means there is a possibility that the labor force would shrink because more people could rely on the government for basic needs such as medical care or housing. Due to the vagueness of his proposals, the method to achieving some of the rights Roosevelt proposed may be difficult to interpret.
It’s easy to conclude that FDR’s vision for the country has indeed become part of American society. Even though these rights may not be explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, many factors to his plan for a better country have already been implemented in the United States of America. The battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is not over, yet its goal is still the same as it was in 1944.
Opinion columnist Samuel Pichowsky is a political science sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]