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The Faith of Roosevelt | The Nation

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The Faith of Roosevelt

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The author believes the makeup of FDR's cabinet bodes well. He also adds a few thoughts about the outgoing Hoover administration--none of them complimentary

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More than a wish list, he offers a framework for 2015 legislative fights and the 2016 campaign.

March 15, 1933 The Faith of Roosevelt

On the very day which marked the ending of an epoch President Roosevelt delivered his inaugural. Never in our national history has there been so dramatic a coincidence as this simultaneous transfer of power and the complete collapse of a system and of a philosophy. At that zero hour Mr. Roosevelt's words had something of the challenge, the symbolism, and the simplicity of a trumpet blast. After a clear presentation of our plight and of the evident truth that it "comes from no failure of substance," he properly indicted "the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods" for their "incompetence," for their lack of vision, for their "false leadership," for the futility of their efforts "cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition," and delivered this verbal scourging : "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization."

And then this exposition of his new faith : "We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement and in the thrill of creative effort." And after decrying "the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success," and demanding "an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred truth the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing," the President observed: "Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance."

Good, Mr. President! There is a declaration of principle which all Americans who cherish what is noblest in our traditions will applaud, a standard to which they may repair. It was perhaps inevitable that this first message of the nation's new leader should be cast in general terms. The crisis was too acute, the cumulation of unexpected events too pressing, to make possible the presentation of a detailed program, even had the time and place warranted it. But the assertion that our greatest primary task is to "put people to work," and that "it is no unsolvable problem," provides a formula which, if materialized with the utmost speed and determination, will mark March 4 as the true bottom to which our nation has sunk, economically, socially, spiritually.

There are those who will view the President's message as empty verbiage, will disparage it as not fundamental, as an attempt to invoke "ancient truths" in the same message which decries "exhortations" and the following of "an outworn tradition." We prefer to believe at this moment that Mr. Roosevelt has come to understand that the changed times demand a new technique and a basically new approach to the problems of society, and that his words are implicit with that knowledge. He cannot very well put "an end to speculation with other people's money" without changing drastically at certain points the profit system which, through the excesses and perversions of the recent past, has created the greatest disaster in our history.

To achieve "social values more noble than mere monetary profit," to "keep the money changers permanently out of the temple of our civilization" (incidentally, it would be well to search them as they pass out) would be to transform America. It would, of course, be a transformation in terms of the third decade of the twentieth century, in terms of an industrial and highly complex civilization, but directed toward a goal such as Jefferson envisaged--a democracy based on full economic, as well as political, equality. It would be a transformation into what this country might have been, and what, given the right kind of leadership, it may still be. The nation will eagerly await Mr. Roosevelt's fulfilment of these pledges.

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