Friday, June 25

Cass Sunstein on FDR's unfinished revolution

"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." -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Next month's Democratic Convention will be held at one of the most remarkable times in American history. After a burst of creativity during the Reagan era, the nation's conservatives are intellectually exhausted. Preoccupied by terrorism and obsessed by tax cuts, Republican leaders have resorted to self-congratulatory displays of patriotism and demonization of their political opponents. For their part, Democrats have an extraordinary opportunity to think ambitiously -- one that they would be wise to seize rather than squander...

On Jan. 11, 1944, the war against fascism was going well, and the real question was the nature of the peace. At noon, Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to Congress. "This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world's greatest war against human slavery." And as a result of that partnership, the war was being won. He continued, "But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival ... The one supreme objective for the future ... can be summed up in one word: Security." Roosevelt argued that security "means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors" but "also economic security, social security, moral security." Roosevelt insisted that "essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want."

Directly linking international concerns to domestic affairs, Roosevelt emphasized the need for a "realistic tax law -- which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters." He stressed that the nation "cannot be content, no matter how high the general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people -- whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth -- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure."

At this point Roosevelt became stunningly bold and ambitious. He looked back, not entirely approvingly, to the framing of the U.S. Constitution. At its inception, he said, the nation had grown "under the protection of certain inalienable political rights -- among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures." But over time, these rights had proved inadequate: "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence ... 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."

Then he listed the bill's eight rights:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, shops, farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return that will provide a decent living;

The right of every business, 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; and

The right to a good education.

Roosevelt added that these "rights spell 'security'" -- the "one word" that captured the overriding objective for the future. Recognizing that the second Bill of Rights was continuous with the war effort, he said, "After this war is won, we must be prepared to move forward in the implementation of these rights ... 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 our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world." | "Think ambitiously"

There is an interview with Sunstein here:

FDR's unfinished revolution: " there has been talk in Federalist Society circles of the 'Constitution-in-Exile,' which is the pre-Roosevelt Constitution. The Constitution-in-Exile is thought by many Bush supporters to be the real Constitution. That's why it's the Constitution-in-Exile, and why it has to be restored to the throne... If you look at the pre-Roosevelt Constitution, which had very limited powers for Congress, no protection against sex discrimination, no right of privacy, no civil rights statutes -- and, probably, those would be viewed as beyond Congress' power in 1928 or so -- movements in that direction are certainly sought by many prominent people in the Bush administration.

And that leads to a larger point about Roosevelt's speech and your book. In arguing for government-guaranteed rights to a job, to education, to healthcare -- even to recreation -- both the speech and the book espouse a brand of liberalism that isn't particularly fashionable today. Even if Kerry wins in November, and even if he gets to appoint a few Supreme Court justices, it still seems unlikely that we'll see a major push toward these rights.

That's right. The candidate who was speaking most in Roosevelt's terms in the election was John Edwards. He often sounded like Roosevelt when he talked about there being 'two Americas' and 43 million people who lack healthcare. Roosevelt said, you know, 'I see one-third of the nation ill-clothed, ill-nourished and ill-housed,' and this is unacceptable."