The series, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History", was not without its flaws — the series focused more on the personal lives of Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (as the title implies), rather than the political environment they were operating in. I would have liked to see more on Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting efforts — and perhaps a nod to the Populist movement’s promotion of that issue in the 1890s — and organized labor’s role in helping to elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and support his New Deal, particularly passage of the National Labor Relations Act, which helped labor finally organize industries and provide the foundation for the middle class. The series also gave short shrift to the Four Freedoms (freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear) that FDR articulated in his 1941 as the foundation of our democracy, and the Economic Bill of Rights that FDR proposed in his 1944.
“These were social-democratic initiatives that, as polls showed, an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted to carry out at war’s end, but that were determinedly blocked by conservatives, southern reactionaries, and corporate bosses,” Harvey J. Kaye, professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, wrote at TheDailyBeast.com (9/14).
“After nearly 40 years of concerted class war from above against the memory and legacy of the progressive Age of Roosevelt, we sorely need a history that would serve to remind us how, from the ’30s through the ’60s, Americans carried out an historic revolution that created the first-ever Middle Class nation and help us remember that we might do the same,” Kaye said.
We didn’t quite get that from the Burns series but, to be fair, he packed a lot into 14 hours, as he brought the Roosevelts back to life and shined a light on Eleanor’s role in advancing progressive initiatives at the White House — and also noted their faults, such as Teddy’s imperialism and both presidents’ failure to confront racism.
However, it was good to be reminded that a president not only could get elected, but could get re-elected while taking on the “economic royalists” and calling for things such as a right of workers to organize, small businesses to trade in a market free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies; the right to employment at a living wage that would provide food, clothing and recreation for families; the right to affordable housing, medical care, social security and a good education; and farmers’ rights to a fair income.
President Obama is no Roosevelt, though he led the nation through the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression. We give him more credit than many on the Left allow for getting the Affordable Care Act passed, even with its shortcomings. But Obama has been more inclined to seek compromise than to lead.
Lately, President Obama has disappointed immigration-reform advocates with his decision to delay executive action to provide relief for undocumented immigrants, at least until after the midterm election. But since Republican House Speaker John Boehner has refused to let the House act on the bipartisan immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate, executive orders may be the only way we’ll see reform as long as the House leadership is intimidated by right-wing Teabaggers.
We recently listened to Ray Marshall, former secretary of labor under Jimmy Carter, talk about immigration. Marshall has been working on labor and immigration policy for more than 50 years, including his tenure on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching economics and public affairs. Immigration reform protects all workers, he noted, since employers can and do take advantage of undocumented workers to keep wages low. Real wages for American workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than they were in 1970. “You can’t sustain a democracy with declining real wages very long,” he said.
“We need immigrants, but we need value-added immigration,” he said. “If immigrant workers complement your workers, it’s good. If they compete with native workers, they depress wages and displace them.”
He added, “You need the immigrants’ help to enforce the law.” That means that the Department of Labor should enforce the wage and hour law, and undocumented immigrants who complain to the Department of Labor should have protected status while their complaints are processed.
A majority of people support immigration reform, and that includes a majority of Republicans, he said, but the bill is hung up mainly over what happens to the 11.5 million undocumented aliens. A poll conducted for the Brookings Institute in June found 62% of all respondents believe we should legalize undocumented aliens and only 19% said we should deport them. Among the Tea Party, 37% said we should legalize them while 37% would identify and deport all immigrants who are in the US illegally. But 53% of all voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Boehner knows if he brings it to the floor it will pass, and the President will sign it. But he won’t do it because the Tea Party would rebel.
“President Obama tried deporting 400,000 people but you never can satisfy them (Republicans),” Marshall said. “They say ‘There’s still 11.5 million’.”
Marshall recommended that the President do everything he can by executive order. “The President could order ICE to go after criminals instead of otherwise law-abiding immigrants,” he said.
He also noted that high-tech companies have suppressed wages by importing workers with H1B visas. “There’s no evidence of a genuine shortage of college-educated workers in the United States, nor is there a shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math graduates, but the President has been hoodwinked by employers in high-tech industry into believing there is a shortage. But there is a high demand for indentured workers who are willing to work for lower wages,” since H1B visa workers can’t quit their job or they’ll be deported. “They prefer foreign workers for the job because they can’t complain.”
He proposes a foreign workers adjustment commission, with somebody in charge of immigration policy, preferably in the Department of Labor, since Homeland Security, which includes ICE, is mainly interested in enforcing laws.
He added, “We can make labor rights part of international trade agreements, but the World Trade Organization [which enforces the agreements] is run by people who want low wage standards.”
Chinese leaders understand better than Americans do the need for industrial strategy. In a meeting with them, he said, “They told me ‘We’re not after your low-wage jobs. We’re after your high-tech jobs.’” And they got a bunch of them.
The Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, passed in 1978, nominally requires the government and the Federal Reserve to pursue full employment, but many government economists never believed in full employment, and then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker believed in massive unemployment, Marshall said.
The New Deal tested the power of full employment, and it saved the nation from the Great Depression and helped the Allies win World War II, the Navy vet noted. Two of the three US destroyers at the Battle of Midway were built by the WPA.
Full employment empowers workers, because it gives them bargaining power — which is why business leaders don’t like it.
Marshall also ridiculed the conservatives who push for more austerity in government spending, which he compared to a physician treating a sickness by bleeding the patient. “We tried Milton Friedman’s way and we got the Great Recession. If we hadn’t interceded it would have been another Great Depression.”
In conclusion, we hope President Obama discovers his inner Roosevelt — whichever Roosevelt is appropriate for the task. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014
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