The Golds were an FDR household. Both my Mom and Dad were born in Chicago soon after the beginning of the Great Depression and FDR was their President for their first 13 to 15 years of life. During a time of unparalleled financial hardship followed by unprecedented global conflict, FDR was perhaps our most powerful president ever. Notwithstanding some horrific decisions like the internment of Japanese Americans, FDR was a benevolent dictator that helped create Social Security, insured savings, the Conservation Corps and massive public works projects across the nation. Putting people to work and giving them confidence that government would help the people through difficult times was the mission of the FDR administration. FDR started out his first term with the immortal line, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
As I was watching Obama’s inaugural address, I was struck by the parallels of FDR’s first inaugural address and Obama’s big moment. Our current economic crisis is worse than at any time since the Depression. Fear and cynicism were at their peak at the end of the terms of both Bush and Hoover. Unemployment was soaring in both periods at record rates. As inspirational orators, FDR and Obama have few peers. In Obama’s address, he took the crisis of fear issue head on by making it clear that his administration chooses hope over fear. Personal sacrifice, innovation and hard work are the solutions to our current crisis and Obama made it clear that his administration would strive to restore Americans’ faith in government to help solve seemingly overwhelming problems.
Obama’s inaugural address set the tone for the months ahead. There will be no panacea to our problems. The challenges in a truly global economy with 24/7 media scrutiny, two wars, rising unemployment, plummeting consumer confidence, climate change and a nation of far too many cynics are similar in magnitude to the Great Depression. Obama’s speech made it clear that he has chosen optimism over despair. He made it clear that we need to “dare to be great” once again, like we have as a nation so many times before. He offered few answers other than hard work and an open mind to new ideas and new solutions.
There were a few words devoted to the need to “let clean waters flow” in poor nations and how our energy use “strengthens our adversaries and threatens our planet.” In addition, Obama promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Although these statements were all important acknowledgements of some of the world’s largest environmental challenges, the speech was about distilling our nation’s and global problems in a way that we all can grasp and understand. Obama made it clear that a partnership between the public and government is necessary to drag us out of these myriad crises. In essence, the address gave us a strong dose of FDR’s brand of patriotism at a time we need it most.