POISONING THE WELL

Franklin Roosevelt was, and will always be, the only president elected to that office more than twice. He won an unprecedented four terms of office, although he died early in his fourth term, thus turning the presidency over to Harry Truman. To prevent anyone else from having Roosevelt’s seemingly iron grip on the oval office, an amendment was passed in 1947 limiting all future presidents to two terms. But the most interesting race of the four was in 1940 when Roosevelt would make history if elected a third time. His opponent that year was a mostly unknown candidate named Wendell Willkie who represented a small but internationalist and liberal wing of the Republican party (now as extinct as the Dodo bird.) My father, a life-long Democrat,  once told me the only time he was tempted to vote Republican, was for Wendell Willkie in 1940. As highly as he rated Roosevelt, he thought Wilkie was even better. In the end, though, he did vote Democratic.

To set the picture of what life was like in the world 72 years ago, one has to recognize how different, but also similar the times were in comparison to 2012. Storm clouds of war were descending in both Europe and the Pacific, but a strong streak of isolationism still existed in the U.S. Most Republicans, and indeed most Americans felt if we could somehow avoid  becoming entangled in the looming wars with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, we could avoid the costs and loss of life that such wars would undoubtably result in. But Willkie, being an internationalist as was Roosevelt, knew that America’s participation in the coming wars was unavoidable. In 1940 we were also just beginning to pull ourselves out of the worst and most destructive Depression in U.S. history. When FDR took office in 1933, the unemployment rate was about 25%. But his New Deal policies helped cut that in half, and he won a landslide re-election in 1936. By 1937, his administration started to cut back on the money the Government was pumping into the economy, causing unemployment to start creeping up again. Thus Willkie ran on a platform of declaring that the New Deal had not solved America’s economic crises, and new leadership was required. Sound familiar to this year’s campaign rhetoric? As with Obama today, there were the Roosevelt haters and bashers, such as famous journalist Westbrook Pegler. Only radio and TV weren’t available to do their bashing and hating, so they had to rely almost solely on newspapers and magazines. In the end, however, they were no match for Roosevelt’s rhetorical and speech-making skills.

Although the economy was still in poor shape in 1940, Willkie”s problem in trying to unseat Roosevelt was a lack of support within his own party. As I stated, most Republicans were isolationist and conservative and couldn’t warm to Willkie’s international and liberal leanings. Despite the poor economy, Roosevelt won the election easily. Even had he been elected, Willkie would not have served out his term, as he died at the young age of 52 in 1944. World War II came crashing down on the U.S. like a ton of bricks when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Of course the war took care of any lingering unemployment problems, as eventually 10 million people were recruited into the military, and the rest were sopped up in in armaments factories. Women who normally stayed home as housewives and mothers, had to go to work in tank and ship factories just to keep up with the war’s demands. With the unemployment problems gone, and with successful prosecution of the war effort, Roosevelt coasted to another victory in 1944, despite cries that he was becoming a dictator.

This year’s election, as in Roosevelt’s time, is marked by a poor economy and runaway Government costs and deficits. But it it also denoted by the venomous behavior of the Obama haters and bashers. However, unlike in FDR’s time, the vilest hate mongering  can use radio and TV as its platform. Thus Rush Limbaugh, 3 weeks before Obama was sworn into office, screamed out the famous line: “I want him to fail.” (So do Al-Qiada and all other terrorist groups around the world.) From then on, Limbaugh’s program of 3 hours per day, 5 days a-week, consists almost purely of venom and vitriol directed against Obama and the Democrats. He claims to have a listenership of 20 million, so his hate-mongering has made him a billionaire or close to it. I don’t blame him as much as the millions of pathetic souls out there, who can’t get through their day without listening to 3 hours of hate radio directed against their president. Of course, there’s about a thousand Rush wannabes in cities across the country spewing out the same type of vitriol. And leave us not forget Fox News on TV that does basically the same. Since the American electorate has been dumbed down by all this propaganda, the well of politics has been thoroughly poisoned, to the extent that nothing can be achieved in Congress or the Office of the President that would in anyway be beneficial to the American public. For example, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, stated very early on, that the Republican’s primary and overriding objective was to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Not do what’s right for the American people, perish the thought.

Obama’s rival in this year’s election, Mitt Romney, seems like a decent enough guy even if he has all the core values of wallpaper. He has done a total reversal on every major issue since he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, or became Governor in 2002. But even if he wins the presidency as is likely, and the the GOP wins both houses of Congress, this country will still be be in for a very rough slog. Because if the Republicans don’t elect 60 Senators, and it’s unlikely they will, the Democrats will use the filibuster in the Senate to attempt to thwart a President Romney at every turn, as the GOP did to President Obama.

Yes, we have some very serious problems such as a poor economy, high unemployment, huge deficit spending, etc. But the most serious problem of all, is that the well of the body politic has been so poisoned by hate radio and television, that cooperation within the government to attempt to resolve these problems seems a near impossibility. Congratulations to all hate-mongers out there. Your efforts are apparently paying off.

 

 

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