By Jim Heffernan
I was thinking about how I might articulate my personal moral and political philosophy in another way and, after a bit, this description jumped out.
Both of my parents were 12 years old when the Stock Market crashed in 1929 and ushered in the “Great Depression.” Both of their fathers died when they were 16. Both were Catholic. They both venerated Jesus, Mary, and FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt.)
I may have rejected their theology, but their morality is my guidepost. I may occasionally stray, but I always regret it. The central tenet of their morality boils down to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
My cathedral is Buckminster Fuller’s “Spaceship Earth.” This planet we live on is a marvelous vehicle hurtling through space, originating from an unknown past and bound for an unknown destination. We are the crew and our mission is to take care of one another and our spaceship until we reach our destination.
I think too many crewmembers are thinking only of themselves. I think our mission is in peril.
I’m always struck how thousands of indigenous people, who were here long before we “discovered” America, managed to live on this land for thousands of years without damaging the spaceship.
When we Europeans arrived, we brought to this continent strange and new diseases and the concept of “private property”. In barely 400 years, we have despoiled vast areas in our corner of the planet. It’s an open question whether our spaceship will support a human crew for as long as another millennia. We could be in a period of “Great Extinction” ** and unaware of it because our greed makes it convenient not to know.
The core of my politics remain the politics of FDR. He famously encapsulated his beliefs in 1940 with his “Four Freedoms”* and in 1944 in his “Second Bill of Rights*.” Roosevelt proposed these wonderful concepts not just for us in America, but for the entire world.
I think a great deal of what ails us today is the we ignore the values of FDR and have replaced them with Milton Friedman’s “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits” and Ronald Reagan’s “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”.”
If I could magically be granted one wish it would be for our nation to repudiate the words of Friedman and Reagan and re-embrace the moral clarity of FDR.
Sadly, Americans of the “red” and “blue” persuasion have let these rights be weakened and ignored for the sake of winning elections and higher profits. Some even deny them as rights and instead characterize them as “privileges”
These rights are essential if we are to be a great country for all of us.
*I particularly like this link because it also has 4 Norman Rockwell cover illustrations
*This link is particularly poignant for the video clip of FDR seated before a microphone giving the 1944 State of the Union as a radio address. He was a very sick man and would die 4 months later.
Second Bill of Rights
(excerpted from 1944 State of the Union message)
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.”
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
** “Great Extinction” is a geological term for the five periods in the last 440 million years when 70-95% of species died out.