To my amazement, Varney & Co. of FOX Business News invited me on their show on Friday May 9 to talk about my new book “The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great.” I expected a battle, but the day before I was to appear they sent me five questions based somewhat on the “talking points” for my book – not a one of which was antagonistic. Indeed, some were quite friendly.
Here are the questions that Varney’s producers sent me, along with my written responses to them:
What made FDR great? He knew American history, he believed in America’s promise and he had faith in his fellow citizens – the faith to mobilize their labors to not only beat the Great Depression but also to organize, fight for their rights, and expand democracy.
Why do you think we need to mobilize, organize, and bolster progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Bill de Blasio? We need political leaders who will remind us what it means to be an American and what it demands. FDR said patriotism means assuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Patriotism means combating injustices, and making sure the good things of life can be shared by more of us.
Do you believe we have come a long way since FDR or do you believe there is still more to do? Both – the Greatest Generation – my parents’ generation – not only saved the United States from the Great Depression and Fascism and made America stronger, richer, and more democratic in the process. They also went on to build the first-ever middle class nation, which we have seen under siege for more than 30 years – we’ve returned to the inequalities of the Gilded Age.
What politics do you believe Republicans need to fix in order to dominate the White House? I’m not worried about the Republicans, or for that matter, the Democrats. Like FDR, I’m worried about America, and whichever party solves Freedom from want and fear will dominate the White House.
With the 2014 midterm elections coming up, do you feel there’s still hope for the Democrats? Only if the Democrats are prepared to renew the fight for the Four Freedoms. Americans want to be Americans again. To be an American means that if America is in crisis, we need to enhance American democratic life, just as the Founders did, the Civil War generation did, and the Greatest Generation did. We need a middle class revolution.
So, silly me, I started to imagine that the host, Stuart Varney, might actually want to discuss the visionary promise of “Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear” that Franklin Roosevelt pronounced in his January 1941 State of the Message.
Well, I was wrong. Varney clearly didn’t want to talk about FDR, the Greatest Generation, or the Four Freedoms. It’s not even clear that he ever actually wanted to talk with me, as opposed to at me. He and his crew were set upon challenging me about the “morality” – or, I guess, immorality – of taxing the rich. In fact, they opened the segment by berating Pope Francis for calling on liberal governments to tax the wealthy to provide poor people the wherewithal to become more involved in public life. As Varney and Co. essentially presented it: Forget democracy and forget “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Taxes are simply socialist expropriations.
But as you will see, I had no intention of deferring to Varney’s agenda. And obviously, it greatly perturbed him and his sidekicks. They did everything they could to shout me down. But when all was said and done, they had failed to do so… Admittedly, I never got to finish an argument. But I think I made my points – about democracy, about taxing the rich, about paying a living wage, about the nation thriving in the 1950s when taxes were significantly higher than today.
And thus Varney and Company – apparently to avoid embarrassment – neither posted the video of the segment, nor – ignoring our request for a tape of it – provided my publisher Simon & Schuster with a copy.
What are they afraid of? Why won’t they – or anyone on the political right – talk seriously about American history – about FDR, the Greatest Generation, and the fight for the Four Freedoms?
And yet, the real question is, what are liberals and progressives going to do redeem that history and cultivate that memory?