FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights”… Has the Time Come?
Sounds Like Utopia, But At What Price?
IN RESEARCHING material for his new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, filmmaker Michael Moore dug up some long forgotten film footage of president Franklin Roosevelt presenting what Roosevelt called a Second Bill of Rights during his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944.
To the various pundits now aware of this footage, what Roosevelt had to say –particularly in the context of today’s contentious battle over health care reform combined with the recession — is surprising, to put it mildly.
Few knew, or remembered, how far Roosevelt wanted to go to provide the basics of a good life for all Americans. Back then, conservatives pushed back hard against his “New Deal” agenda. Today they, and the Tea Party set, would be appalled at what they would be compelled to call a Communist Agenda.
(Irrespective of labels, I wonder how it could be paid for.)
Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, told The Daily Beast about FDR’s Second Bill of Rights:
“It was a radical proposal, suggesting a positive role for government in protecting people against the vagaries of the market, and had he lived, it is fascinating to wonder how much of these ideas might have been translated into policy.”
Listen to FDR speak about his proposed Second Bill of Rights (with the text below).
Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The Economic Bill of Rights”
Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.