Time passes and takes with it those who can bear witness, reality becomes history, but in the deep well of national memory, the past holds lessons for the future.
On this day 67 years ago, I was in uniform in a sleeping bag on a German farmhouse floor when someone shook me awake to whisper, “Roosevelt is dead.”
At 21, I was part of a generation that could remember no other president. FDR had been sworn into office on my ninth birthday.
That day will be recalled mostly in nursing homes by people who were kids in 1945 and remember a grief so universal it would be unimaginable today. New generations will be surprised to learn the nation was once so united in trusting—-and loving--a man in the White House.
History may find FDR flawed, but naive as Americans were back then, we did not expect perfection, only an honest attempt to save us from the Depression.
Bill Moyers recalls his father, an East Texas laborer, who voted for Roosevelt because “the President’s my best friend” and he “knew FDR was talking for him when he said life was no longer free, liberty no longer real, men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness--against economic tyranny."
In his first Inaugural, Roosevelt railed against "the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish" and charted a return to "ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
Such words may sound naïve in our wised-up era, but they held the country together, rebuilt an economy ravaged by greed and made us powerful enough to win a war that had to be fought to preserve our freedom—-literally, not in the selfish sense the word is used today by haters of government “intrusion” into their lives.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for most Americans, is an historical figure, but those who lived in his time can testify that he left the U.S. prosperous and united for more than half a century to come until the descendants of those he called “self-seekers” took over again.
Now, another election is ahead to offer a choice between a leader standing with “patriotic millionaires” who want their taxes raised and a “vulture capitalist” bent on defending and expanding the economic tyranny Roosevelt fought.
He belongs to the ages now but, to keep FDR’s legacy alive, Barack Obama will have to fight that same battle all over again.