Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Co-opting of Greed

The little history I was taught in grade school characterized Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a benign, fatherly figure sitting in his wheelchair, snuggled under a lap rug and in his familiar, folksy voice speaking confidentially to his fellow citizens during his famous fireside chats. As close to royal rule as America ever came, four terms--12 years and 82 days--Roosevelt, instead of leading America through a difficult time, politicized it. And many, who study history and economics would argue, prolonged the suffering of the American people.

Yet the image stands.

In fact, Roosevelt, in his effort to seek election to the presidency in 1933 created a theme of Americans as the forgotten man. The average American oppressed by the wealthy elite. Enter class demagoguery into the political process. FDR argued that he (government) would defend the "forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid" (Shlaes, 128). A member of the wealthy class from birth, Roosevelt had no compunction about demonizing the very class he was a member of. So vicious were his attacks, fellow democrat Al Smith, whose family was so poor he had to drop of out school at 14 years of age, denounced Roosevelt saying, "We seem to seek negative victory rather than affirmative victory. I will take off my coat and fight to the end against any candidate who persists in any demagogic appeal to the masses of the working people of this country to destroy themselves by setting class against class and rich against poor (128).

Yet, beyond the demagoguery, there was another problem. Roosevelt co-opted the quote about the "forgotten man." The statement was made by William Graham Sumner of Yale University in 1883 to characterize the man who worked and paid and was never considered, not the man who took from others' labor via government handouts.

"I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of...
He works, he votes, generally he prays--but he always pays..."

We are told by the current administration the rich are greedy. But I ask you, how would you characterize a man who takes without earning? Who assumes a right to others' property through the money laundering machine of government? Where is greed in working hard and keeping the fruit of your labor? No, to me the "rich" are industrious, hard-working people and the greedy are those in government who steal their labor to reallocate it to those who can't or won't work. They do this not because they are altruistic but because doing so increases their power. They are the greedy.

And hard working Americans are the The Forgotten Men and Women of the 21st century.

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