Wednesday, September 24, 2008


President George Bush is going to address the nation tonight on prime time -- I can hardly wait.

But I have a better idea, instead of listening to him, you can listen to a Real President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who often spoke to the people in what he called "Fireside Chats.

At the time he took office in March 1933, the nation was deep in Depression. Unemployment was over 25 per cent and stocks were in the basement. A banking crisis was sweeping the countryside. Long lines of depositors were closing their accounts in big banks and in small banks. Many banks failed and closed their doors.

It was a dangerous and frightening moment. The American people were being pushed to the brink by forces they barely understood.

Roosevelt took dramatic action in his first week in office. He declared a bank holiday -- meaning that he ordered the temporary closure of every bank in the country, until the Federal Reserve could distribute enough cash for the needs of most of the banks.

Upon taking this action, Roosevelt addressed the people on the radio, for the first time, to explain what he had done and why he hoped it would work.

Roosevelt began:

"My friends:

I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking -- to talk with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking, but more particularly with the overwhelming majority of you who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks...."

He explained the banking system, how it worked, what went wrong, and how it could be fixed, in a language that was very clear and not condescending.

It's a short speech and he finished with an appeal to the spirit of the people:

"After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work.

It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine."

Ahh -- there was a man! We need Roosevelt now, and we can find him now, because the spirit of Roosevelt is embedded in the American tradition. That spirit is still here and so is the strength.

"Confidence and courage are the essentials of success," he said --- Amen to that.

Our current President is really not up to the task of reassuring the nation, but I haven't got time to hoot and holler at him.

Instead I will look to that candidate who most truly imbibes the spirit of FDR -- Do you know who I'm talking about?

HISTORICAL NOTE: Roosevelt had an enormous majority in Congress in 1933. He rushed through a large stimulus package and established many government employments programs -- it was called the New Deal.

In hindsight, it has been argued by Roosevelt's many conservative critics, that his New Deal prolonged the Depression rather than healed it.

Be that as it may, I believe that Roosevelt saved the nation from a far greater peril -- civil strife, violent rebellion, mob action, and a complete rendering of the social fabric. Maybe the programs didn't work too well economically, but they sustained us, they kept us going, and they kept us working together.

Last week, I was at Deception Pass State Park. Walking around I viewed the sturdy stone cabins built by the CCC boys in the 1930s. These cabins are weather-worn and moss-covered, now 75 years old. But they were built strong and they should last another century.

We can do at least that well.

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