Seventy-six years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression, with jobless workers selling apples on street corners and millions turned out of their homes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted the Democratic presidential nomination calling for a New Deal for the “forgotten” American people.
In his 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt put the blame for the economic crisis squarely on the “rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods,” unscrupulous bankers and financiers who “stand indicted in the court of public opinion.”
In words that could well apply to Wall Street and George W. Bush this week, Roosevelt declared, “Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.”
Roosevelt said solutions must be based on “social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”
Roosevelt did not come up with these ideas simply out of his own inclinations. Mass movements were sweeping the country, with millions demanding action that, in today’s words, put people before profits. People power was on the march – in the Unemployed Councils, the Ford Hunger March, organizations of Southern sharecroppers, veterans groups, workers fighting to build unions, and many more.
Roosevelt had the wisdom to recognize this great political power of the people. He said, “I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.”
Out of the New Deal came landmark programs to provide jobs and economic security for working people and curb corporate greed.
Recognizing that good jobs, unions and worker rights are key to economic stability, the New Deal produced historic labor legislation, and vast public investment in meaningful jobs. The link between energy, infrastructure investment and the economy was recognized with programs like the Rural Electrification Administration, which used co-ops to bring electricity to rural areas.
A new, green New Deal is needed today, and a president with the vision and depth to listen to and learn from the people power that is on the move.