The purpose of government is to help
Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonion Institution; gift of Aileen Conkey.
There once was a story of America. It told of the aspiration of centuries of human struggle, of the glowing proof that people from every nation, every walk of life, every religious belief, could come together for the good of all. It told of a magnificent government – of, by, and for the people. It was a story of hope, fairness and respect, a story of community, of caring for one’s fellow man, a story of all the best that humans could be.
This story of America reached its apex in the 1950’s and 60’s. Things weren’t perfect – minorities struggled, there was racism, poverty. But the story sought perfection. It was the result of hard-won battles fought by working people and farmers following the Great Depression when the greed of Wall Street and the largest banks had led to such corruption the economy collapsed. But there was another critical factor involved in addressing the dire needs of average Americans – Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated President in 1933.
From a wealthy family, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio when he was 39 and would never walk again. Perhaps because he was disabled and knew it was only because he came from wealth that he was not destitute like so many other Americans, and perhaps because he understood the corrupt, predatory methods of the ultra-rich, Roosevelt became a champion of working people. Words of a campaign speech say much:
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We now know that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”
The wealthy class hated Roosevelt because they knew he understood how they had been looting working Americans and they knew he was determined to help those people. And help he did.
Under Roosevelt, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration put thousands of Americans back to work. Post offices, bridges, schools, highways and parks were built. Projects were provided for artists, writers, musicians.
The Tennessee Valley Authority built dams along the Tennessee River generating inexpensive hydroelectric power for people in the region.
The Rural Electrification Administration brought power lines to rural communities and farms across America.
The Social Security Act guaranteed pensions for millions of Americans, unemployment insurance, and care for dependent children and disabled.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act subsidized family farms, and the Home Owners’ Loan Act helped many purchase homes.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation protected bank deposits, and the Securities and Exchange Commission regulated the stock market and prevented the fraud that led to the 1929 crash.
The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment and commercial banking and ended corruption in Wall Street banks.
Taxes on large corporations and wealthy individuals were raised to reduce gross inequality and political manipulation.
The National Industrial Recovery Act unionized workers for higher wages and better working conditions. The National Labor Relations Act prevented businesses from treating workers unfairly.
The GI Bill provided free college education for thousands of war veterans.
The list goes on. In effect, what Roosevelt was saying throughout the years of his presidency was: I’m from the government – I am your government – and I’m here to help. That’s my job – the very reason for my existence – the very reason you created me. I’m from the government, and I’m here to help. What followed was the greatest working-class prosperity the world had ever known.
Sadly, greed and power lust never die. As Roosevelt stated, the ultra-wealthy hated him, hated the prosperous middle class with whom they were forced to share America’s wealth, hated not owning and controlling the government. They were determined to regain their privileged status.
Throughout the 1970’s organized money increasingly controlled the media. Roosevelt’s programs were derided, undermined, finally leading to the great harm inflicted on the Government of the United States when Ronald Reagan declared to the people of America: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” In that tragic moment, all Roosevelt had fought for, and government of, by, and for the people, were ground to dirt under the heel of the President of the United States.
It is unlikely Reagan developed those words any more than he developed the equally harmful phrase: “Government isn’t the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” Organized money had long been paying linguists to develop the sound bites, the catchy sentences the media spewed. Reagan was a useful mouthpiece. “We the people” were fed an endless stream of lies – “trickle-down economics,” “regulations kill jobs,” “taxes kill jobs,” “the government can’t create jobs,” “the rich are the job creators,” “the free market,” “the government can do nothing right,” “privatize,” “guns, you need guns” —and we swallowed them.
In the forty years since Reagan, every president, and legislators of every stripe, have continued in the service of organized money. Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall leading to corrupt Wall Street Banks and economic collapse in 2008-09. George W. Bush cut taxes for the rich and lied us into endless wars for oil and arms profiteers. Obama oversaw trillions of public dollars bailing out Wall Street while working people lost their homes. Trump cut more taxes for the rich and, for anyone vaguely willing to look at reality, his only purpose was to fill his own ego and wallet.
There is now a new, but old story in America. It is the story of survival of the fittest and every man for himself, of greed and ruthlessness where deception and using others is glorified. It is the story of hate where the less fortunate are shamed, and the poor blamed for their poverty. It is the story of lives laundered through Wall Street, where every human is fair game for exploitation, and where the misery of others is a rich man’s gain. It is a story that destroys community, pits neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. It is an ugly story, a story of all the worst that humans can be.
This is where we are today. Much like the years preceding the Great Depression, organized money owns our government, inequality is at record highs, and divide and conquer tears working people to shreds.
There once was a story of America. It was a story of community, of caring for one’s fellow man, a story of all the best that humans could be. It is the story we must retell.