A weekend engagement at First Baptist of Manchester, Georgia provided an opportunity to revisit Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Little White House” in Warm Springs, which he visited often. He was working on a speech promoting the formation of the United Nations and sitting for a portrait when he died there.
It wouldn’t hurt us to recall the significant legacy of his administration.
Roosevelt came to office in the midst of the depression, inheriting a total train wreck of an economy, but managed to turn things around through creative “New Deal” programs that used government spending (and even – gasp – deficits) to put people back to work and rebuild a solid economy in which everyone could participate.
Though born to wealth and power, Roosevelt had a deep concern for the hard and miserable life faced by the poor. His initiatives brought electricity at affordable rates to farm families, built new roads, and established the Social Security Administration.
While programs such as these endure and continue to make life better for Americans, perhaps Roosevelt’s greater gift was his ability to instill hope and allay fear. His first inaugural address set the stage with his memorable statement that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt tirelessly promoted values that were crystalized in his famous “Four Freedoms” speech, delivered to Congress in 1941, in which he insisted that Americans should cherish, promote, and preserve the essential human values of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from poverty, and freedom from fear.
Near the end of his life, as FDR saw the war winding down and prepared a speech to be delivered at the conference that would create the United Nations, Roosevelt reflected on life in a postwar world. Conquering enemies is not enough, he wrote, but Americans would need to “cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace” (find it here, p. 30).
In our day of ideological polarization and congressional gridlock, when American political agendas are more concerned with demonizing opponents than helping the nation, Roosevelt’s words seem both prophetic and eternally true. It’s no good to go around pounding enemies in other lands if we can’t live in peace with each other.
Are there any peacemakers around? People who might bring a bit of statesmanship and forward thinking and cooperation to the governing of our towns and cities, to our states, to our country?
Find them, and vote for them. Vote only once, but vote.
FDR also famously said “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
Bring your ID, if it’s required. Bring notes, if you need them.