I’ve spent a perfectly delightful Friday working on a writing project that has required me to nose around a lot of old material on Franklin Roosevelt, and at some point it was inevitable that I would re-read for the hundredth time Winston Churchill’s fine essay on FDR in Great Contemporaries. Churchill was an admirer of FDR’s (meeting FDR was like taking your first sip of champagne, Churchill wrote), and generally a fan of the New Deal. There’s one passage, though, that seems freshly salient in the time of Obama and Occupy Wall Street:
A second danger to President Roosevelt’s valiant and heroic experiments seems to arise from the disposition to hunt down rich men as if they were noxious beasts. It is a very attractive sport, and once it gets started quite a lot of people everywhere are found ready to join in the chase. Moreover, the quarry is at once swift and crafty, and therefore elusive. The pursuit is long and exciting, and everyone’s blood is infected with its ardour. The question arises whether the general well-being of the masses of the community will be advanced by an excessive indulgence in this amusement. The millionaire or multi-millionaire is a highly economic animal. He sucks up with sponge-like efficiency money from all quarters. In this process, far from depriving ordinary people of their earnings, he launches enterprise and carries it through, raises values, and he expands that credit without which on a vast scale no fuller economic life can be opened to the millions. To hunt wealth is not to capture commonwealth.
No wonder Obama sent the Churchill bust back from the Oval Office.