Erasing FDR

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Okay, that’s it! I’m definitely not voting Republican in 2004.

I know that comes as big shock to folks who think all the Bush-bashing columns are just my way of getting the party of big, fat elephants to get out of ditch on the right side of the policy highway, but it’s finally dawned on me that they’ve already driven out of there – heading due right as fast as that elephant’s legs will carry them.

They want to get rid of the Social Security system and have now passed legislation that may well be the death knell for Medicare, but dismantling the gains for middle class Americans started by FDR’s New Deal and continued with the Great Society ideas started by JFK and implemented by LBJ isn’t enough for the Bushite Republicans.

Not only do they want to eliminate the programs that brought this nation out of the devastation of the Great Depression and that made this not only the richest nation in the world, but also the nation whose &uot;ordinary&uot; people enjoyed the highest standard of living in history, now the Bushites want to erase the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from our memories.

They want to remove FDR’s image from the dime and replace it with Ronald Reagan’s. I have no problem with honoring Reagan, but at the expense of FDR? I don’t think so. History will one day objectively assess Reagan’s presidency to determine if he falls into the &uot;great&uot; category of American presidents, but history has already determined that President Roosevelt was one of our greatest.

I tend to think of Washington and Roosevelt as topping the list. Washington’s unique blend of brilliance and humility allowed democracy to take root. If anybody else had been our first president, I believe the Revolution would have resulted in a tyranny – which is what almost always happens after violent revolutions – and our &uot;experiment with democracy&uot; would have failed.

FDR, on the other hand, brought this nation from an abyss of poverty and stagnation, offering hope and prosperity for millions of Americans – including our parents and grandparents. He created jobs so people would have a sense of worth. He fostered a pro-business climate that allowed them to give people work. His social programs defended the defenseless and told all Americans that their nation would not abandon them in an empty field of ignobility.

Then there was the whole saving the world from fascism thing.

His policies and those of another great president, Harry Truman, led to what Republicans now view as the &uot;golden age&uot; in America – the 1950s. Don’t deny it, Republicans, you love the &uot;Father Knows Best&uot; world of the ’50s – where the father comes home from work every afternoon and never works on weekends, the kids are well behaved, and the wife is home all day keeping house and cooking fantastic meals.

That family – and all the idealized ’50s families – did not want for what they needed (even the families in the subversive &uot;Honeymooners&uot;). Husbands and wives always got along because the women were deferential and fulfilled their roles in life – cooking, cleaning and raising the kids – without complaint. The income provided by the husband/father was sufficient for everybody’s needs.

With everybody happy, the ’50s ideal family is something the Republicans still long for, but what would happen if you plopped one of those families into America of 2003? Let’s take a look.

First, we’ll have to grant that dad can keep his old white collar job, that the kids are savvy enough to not get beat up every day in school, and that mom knows how to use modern appliances and such. In other words, except for the lifestyle aspects, we’ll assume this ’50s family is up to date technologically.

Mom’s home, cleaning and cooking, and the kids are in school studying and playing. Dad will be the first one affected by what has changed over the past 50 years. When he goes to work, he’ll notice that far fewer people are in the office than were there in the ’50s. Technology took about a third of the workforce and corporate downsizing eliminated another third of the positions because the company has undergone a major overhaul. Back in the ’50s, shareholders expected a good profit from their investment and the CEO made about 20 times what the lowest paid employee made – making him fairly wealthy and set up for retirement.

Fifty years later, corporate stockholders no longer want decent profits; they want to get rich overnight and every year after that they expect to get even richer. They reward their CEO for their riches by making him or her rich – giving salaries, bonuses and stock options that pay the CEO 2,000 times what the average employee makes.

Back in the ’50s, employees were rewarded with bonuses if their productivity produced higher than expected profits. These days, the employees haven’t seen a raise in five years of increasing productivity and corporate profits and the idea of them getting a bonus based on increased productivity is simply a running joke, whispered to one another between mouthfuls of food during the half-hour lunch break.

Dad will also discover that he’s not getting home at 5:30 p.m. on the dot like he did in the ’50s. Because so many people have been let go due to downsizing, Dad now has twice as much work to do. He kept pretty busy in the old days, but now there’s no time to breathe during the workday and he has to work two to four hours of overtime every night just to get his work done. He’s a salaried employee, by the way, so he won’t get paid for his extra time and will not get any other compensation – unless the knowledge that his CEO will get paid $30 million in bonuses and stock options this year because of increased productivity gives him pleasure. Oh, yeah, and he will no longer be able to teach the kids how to play baseball on Saturday because, you guessed it, he has to work. The family is not seeing grandma on Sundays any longer because by the time he gets out of church, Dad is so beat all he wants to do is relax and nap – that is when he doesn’t have to go to his study to take care of a few things he brought home from the office.

Dad’s been working mighty hard, but getting his paycheck will make everything all right. Right? Wrong. In the ’50s, the company paid for his health insurance (and for the rest of the family) and doubled what he paid into the corporate retirement account. Today, dad has a 401K retirement plan that he alone contributes to because the company only provides some stock options.

The thing that most shocks dad, however, is the huge deductions for health, eye, and dental care coming from his check. The company does contribute some, but most of the health costs are paid by dad, which means, since he’s coving the entire family of four, that a healthy chunk of what dad earned is gone before he gets his check.

He also finds that government deductions have climbed through the roof. As a percentage, Social Security and federal income tax deductions haven’t changed very much (despite much ballyhooing to the contrary by politicians of both parties), but state and local taxes have increased astronomically in the Bush years because the federal government is putting more burden for federally mandated programs on local government. Of course, Republicans blame local Democrats even though Bush and his Congress are to blame, and such is the gullibility of people that they are beginning to believe it.

So, Dad quickly discovers that his salary is not adequate. Something’s gotta change or this family will be homeless. The solution is easy. Mom has to go to work. Back in the glorious ’50s – because of the policies of Democratic presidents like Roosevelt and Truman – dad’s salary was enough for the family. In post-Reagan America, mom and dad both have to work to maintain the same standard of living.

So, the Republicans want to take FDR off the dime and put Reagan on it. Maybe that’s appropriate, not because Reagan has done more for middle class Americans, but because he is the Republican hero who has made the two-income, workaholic family a necessity – which, by the way, is shrinking every year despite the enormous efforts of moms and dads across the country.

Shame on you if you have fallen for the demonization of FDR the Republicans have been engaged in for the past 35 years. His policies were designed to strengthen the middle class and keep businesses afloat. The Bushites don’t give a flip for the middle class except at election time and are doing all they can to destroy everything FDR, HST, JFK, and LBJ did to give everyone a fighting chance to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Put Reagan where he belongs – on the $1 million bill – and let us folks with coins in our pockets remember the great things those presidents did for us before their policies were dismantled and their good names smeared by radical, right-wing demagogues.