By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Pink confetti, the remains of the celebrated cherry blossoms, floats in the pools beneath the waterfalls of the expansive Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. The memorial has been here since 1997, but I have not had the chance to see it before today. FDR is, in most ways, my favorite president. He did not want a fancy monument. But then, he didn’t want a fourth term, either.
Ambling through the outdoor rooms defined by granite etched with FDR’s silver-tongued quotes is like having a good dream you cannot quite describe the next morning. It makes you glad and sad all at once. Glad that FDR is remembered. Sad that his vision for our country seems forgotten. To paraphrase Faulkner, history is never dead. It’s not even history. The sculptor’s interpretation of a Great Depression breadline, for instance, is both a poignant portrait of the past and eerily prophetic. And FDR’s quotes seem as relevant today as when our most eloquent leader uttered them.
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
You have to wonder if today’s Washington leaders and lobbyists might not happen by on some moonlit night and read those word, slap their foreheads and declare, “Wait a minute! We seem to have strayed. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer. A great canyon has been carved, and the middle class swallowed into it. We are failing the test.” What would FDR have done? The writing is on the walls. How would the man who created Social Security, saved farms and bank deposits and created parks, art and public buildings by putting people back to work, how might he have handled today’s crises born of greed and apathy and abuse of power?
“Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” That’s certainly not how we approach charity these days. We despise those who need and receive government help, unless it’s money that is flowing our own way. Those charities – Medicare, Social Security, farm subsidies – those we don’t count.
“It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic modern nation that it have free and independent labor unions.”
Tell that to the Wisconsin legislature. Tell that to American corporations sending our jobs and manufacturing talents to foreign shores with human tides of cheap labor.
“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.”
State legislatures across the land obviously need to read FDR daily, like devotionals. Today’s subject: schools. Tomorrow’s: greed.
“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
These are the words of a wealthy man who might have retired to his palatial estate and counted his gold but instead, despite physical handicap, worked tirelessly for his country and spoke unfailingly of its endurance. If there is anything left of a national conscience, if it’s anything other than a granite memory, there might yet be hope.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.