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Montana Politics US Politics

Thoughts About a Real Wartime President

I have been doing a little reading this week about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and came across his final State of the Union address, delivered in 1944. It’s certainly telling to compare FDR to our little war president. The passages below are all from FDR’s speech.

However, while the majority goes on about its great work without complaint, a noisy minority..swarm through the lobbies of the Congress and the cocktail bars of Washington, representing these special groups as opposed to the basic interests of the Nation as a whole. They have come to look upon the war primarily as a chance to make profits for themselves at the expense of their neighbors

Those who are doing most of the complaining are not deliberately striving to sabotage the national war effort. They are laboring under the delusion that the time is past when we must make prodigious sacrifices- that the war is already won and we can begin to slacken off… Overconfidence and complacency are among our deadliest enemies…They were merely saying, "The war’s in the bag- so let’s relax."That attitude on the part of anyone—Government or management or labor—can lengthen this war. It can kill American boys.

A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.

National service is the most democratic way to wage a war. Like selective service for the armed forces, it rests on the obligation of each citizen to serve his Nation to his utmost where he is best qualified.There are millions of American men and women who are not in this war at all. It is not because they do not want to be in it. But they want to know where they can best do their share. National service provides that direction. It will be a means by which every man and woman can find that inner satisfaction which comes from making the fullest possible contribution to victory.

Just like his imaginary record as a solider, Bush’s wartime presidency is locked in the land of make believe. As long he closes his eyes and listens to the stories that Dick and Don tell him, President Bush can pretend that he is a stalwart wartime leader. But as FDR proved, leadership is about more than talking tough; it is about leading a nation, making it believe in the necessity of shared sacrifice for shared goals, and most importantly, telling it the difficult things that a President must sometimes say. FDR’s administration was about more than rhetoric, it was not the shell game of empty words this presidency has brought us. The next time President Bush is tempted to think of himself as a war time President, I hope he is reminded at least of this important warning in FDR’s speech:

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of "rightist reaction" in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called "normalcy" of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

Somehow, I suspect he hasn’t been.


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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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