It’s not often that I take on board the views of the execrable Katrina vanden Heuvel, the plutocratic heiress (natch) who screeches from the pages of The Nation, but sometimes she inadvertently puts things in a highly useful perspective. Today she screeches in the Washington Post about how the election will determine whether FDR’s “freedoms” will be preserved. Just so!
Hurricane Katrina directs our attention to FDR’s “four freedoms” speech in 1941, in which FDR continued his mischievous mixing of traditional individual rights (“natural rights” to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison) that limit government power, and positive rights that require the government to tax someone to provide benefits to someone else. Notice the mix of the “four freedoms”—freedom of speech, freedom of worship (traditional Bill of Rights stuff) plus freedom from want and freedom from fear (vaguely put welfare state rights—which are not “rights” at all).
Vanden Heuvel then helpfully points us to FDR’s 1944 State of the Union speech where he was much more specific in laying out the welfare state rights that are today the heart of liberalism: a right to housing, right to a job (provided by government if necessary), right to health care, etc. But she leaves out the most remarkable passage of that famous speech—a passage that expresses the spirit and temper of modern liberalism more fully than a laundry list of welfare state goodies:
One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear- thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called normalcy of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of fascism here at home.
Take that in slowly: with his pejorative references to “rightist reaction” and a “return to normalcy,” FDR is saying, none to subtlely, that Republicans are the equivalent of fascist Nazis. In that respect, Vanden Heuvel is indeed a worthy heir to FDR. Remember this speech next time you hear a liberal talk about “coarse” rhetoric today.
SPECIAL BONUS–I love this passage from vanden Heuvel’s article:
But the conservative narrative about freedom took on a troubling new meaning last week when Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast. Under President Obama’s leadership, our federal government responded in service of those disaster victims desperately in need of relief.
Tell that to Staten Island and Far Rockaway. Really–it’s hard to write satire this good.