Eleanor’s Daisies

In Decisive, Experimental, Goat, Marsh, Vehement on March 31, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Farm Debt Adjustment Committee meeting with farmer who has appealed for assistance. He has been threatened with foreclosure and loss of farm. Ozark Mountain town of Harrison, Arkansas

“Farm Debt Adjustment Committee meeting with farmer who has appealed for assistance.  He has been threatened with foreclosure and loss of farm. Ozark Mountain town of Harrison, Arkansas.  June, 1939”

For how many decades have politicians been declaring, “the future is now”?   So in order to “win the future,” we must return to “when the future” was now:  “now” tying historical nows to today’s nows in a contiguous tapestry where history palpitates and breathes in the deceased as simultaneously as in our longings today.

Though there are numerous well-publicized patches and evasions to the New York Times pay-wall, the fast-dwindling numbers of commenters and recommenders suggests few are willing to use the patches, or to pay.  With the losses of Herbert and Rich, and, my mythical favorite, the possibility of thousands of unemployed people logging in at their local libraries, bringing their voices to the same platform as the self-absorbed privileged and avid astro-turfers, the Times is feeling like the dispersed embers of a campfire that had only a few hours earlier emblazoned its crackling glory….

The populist roar and glow was feeling at times almost too good to be true: an earnestness too out-of-step with the party-line divisions and cynicism on which our system depends,  a system that by default encourages a status quo where the likes of Newt (salamanders scuttling under rocks) Gingrich makes a thirty-year career out of threatening to run for president, rather than doing so, because that is the most lucrative option (which forever trumps any public option).  The inter-changeable Palin Parades of Candidates are the constrained options of a deliberately cynical system that intentionally tries to weed out authenticity, and attempts to banish real choice from synthetic displays of elaborate ruses….

Were the reader comments too subversive a  reversal of such calculated cynicism that lines many a private pocket off of public welfare, by evincing a  shared, perceived, and nurtured, “common good”?  Never mind that such a rare pocket of genuineness was a unique “product,” seemingly exclusive to the deeply moderated comments:  the Times has seen fit to cut it off and impose the same austerity measures that everyone, equally, these days encounters, turning the “land of the free” into the “land of the pay-per-view.”   Not even taking a tiny glimpse at the mood of a fellow citizen is permitted any longer without paying first…all roads shall be toll-roads, whether on our interstates, subways, or in cyberspace, and Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” won’t waft to any idle wanderer’s ears anymore.  You could try it on the sidewalk, but in a nation where few walk anymore, those few seem deaf at best, and unreachable at worst.

What scandal!  To have beggars and thieves, prostitutes and politicians, rich men and middle-class women, all wandering on the same road, each carrying labels in their heads for their fellow citizens that do not match the labels given to them by their fellow travelers!  It had to be stopped, and the Times is just doing its level best to help ensure the “unwashed masses” aren’t heard from.  I am sympathetic to the plight of their loans, but  they are balancing their books on the backs of their readership, and not passing the hat among obscenely paid execs at the Times offices, and amongst their realtors, advertisers and creditors…if they could extract justice from those rocks, there would be actual hope on so many other fronts, like for the millions drowning in home, school, and health debt.

Given that Gingrich formed a group named “American Solutions for Winning the Future” in 2007, then awarded President Obama an awkwardly long-winded “prize” in 2010, which in turn generated $10 million in revenue for the group, the Obama administration was merely proving political deftness by further capitalizing on what had just been proven a lucrative phrase by rolling out their own “Win the Future” strategy.  Both sides capitalize on using the same nebulous phrases and are happy if Republicans and Democrats are able to create the illusion of  distinct agendas in their minds–politicians profit every bit as much from love mail as hate mail, so they try to generate both, excessively, always counting on few to notice that they are helping few at the expense of many.

A pity that President Obama uses his precious leisure reading time to mire with Reagan and Lincoln, when Eleanor Roosevelt could imbue him with the spine that she was also credited with demanding of FDR.  (See this website for extensive online archives: http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/documents/)

I also recommend the PBS Home Video of Eleanor Roosevelt, which may be obtained from your public library.

From, “If I Were a Republican Today,” 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt writes,

“In this country we believe in a two party system, but in the past few years it has [… been] difficult to form a clear-cut idea of what the two political parties actually represent. I believe it is important to always have a strong opposition party no matter which party is in power and that is why the issues should be clear.

Senator Wiley of Wisconsin, a short time ago on my television program, read me the new Republican Party platform, and I could not help thinking that it had some curiously reminiscent planks that might almost have made their first appearance in the New Deal.  The Republicans say they are for a reduction in taxes but they are not for a reduction in any of the services rendered the people!  The services are all to be met by more economical administration of government.

That, of course, is always the slogan of the party out of power because it is not in the position of administering these agencies of government and when you are not actually doing the job, it is always easier to say it could be done more economically, but the history of the Republican Party is not the history of retrenchment in government personnel or expenditure.”

(However, today, perhaps  with the Republicans slashing services and firing people, they may at last be maintaining their word, with only the minor casualty of immense poverty, suffering, debt and suicide in its wake.   Next comes my favorite–apparently the phrase “socialized medicine” can be traced at least as far back as the 1920s, if not earlier.)

“If I were a Republican today I think I would ask my Party to take a clear-cut stand. At present it is not clear cut. They say, for instance, they are against the Administration’s health bill because it is “socialized medicine,” but they acknowledge that we need more medical care throughout the country, and so they are vaguely for better medical care without specifying exactly how it is to be accomplished. They are for freedom as against Socialism, but no one in the Democratic Administration is a Socialist.”

1950-2011.  The exact same debate in the exact same terms.  When was the future, again?

“It used to be said of the two political parties that the Republican Party believed in looking after the interests of the people at the top. If they prospered, the prosperity would carry on down to all the people. On the other hand, that the Democratic Party believed that they had to look after the well-being of the people at the bottom and that if they prospered and had a satisfactory life, the people at the top would also prosper.”

Next, from, “How to Take Criticism,” November, 1944,  perhaps too many people have this dubious “enviable” stance:

“Many people feel there is an advantage to doing nothing. It is rather comfortable, you do not have to exert yourself physically or mentally. You can accept all of the privileges that come to you, and have no responsibilities. You are to be envied if your conscience lets you do it!

No human being enjoys being disliked so it would be normal to try to avoid actions which bring criticism. When it comes to deciding on whether you will be a Dresden china figure, daintily placed on the mantelpiece, and thus avoid any criticism, or lead a strictly personal life when the world is rocking on its foundations, or of facing criticism and at least trying to live as an independent citizen of the United States, considering it your duty to use such opportunities as come your way for service as you see it, then the decision for certain people will be easy. They will do and be damned, but the others who won’t do, what of them? You might expect them to be praised but that is not the way it works. In these situations you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

I think it is salutary to read criticisms, even unkind and untrue ones. I do when they happen to come my way in the natural course of events. I do not seek them out, but they certainly tend to keep one from being overconfident or getting what is commonly known as the “swelled head,” but all of us must be wary not to have our confidence in ourselves completely destroyed, or we will be unable to do anything. Some criticisms I read and forget. Some remain with me and have been very valuable because I know they were kindly meant and honest and I admired and believed in the integrity of the people who expressed their convictions which were opposed to mine.

Friendship with oneself is all important because without it, one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”

And, worth reading in its entirety, in “Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education,” April, 1930,  Mrs. Roosevelt shows how our “current” education debate has been traveling the same path for generations…but she flips the blame right back to how teachers can and must inspire:

“We entrust the building of our children’s characters and the development of their minds to people whom we, as a rule, compensate less liberally than we do the men and women who build our houses and make our day-by-day existence more comfortable and luxurious. These men and women teachers, paid from $1,200 to $5,000, and in extraordinary cases $10,000 a year, mold the future citizens of our country, and we do not treat them with the respect or consideration which their high calling deserves, nor do we reward them with the only reward which spells success according to our present standards.

One of our hard-worked businessmen said to me not long ago, “Why, these teacher fellows have a snap. Look at their long summer holidays, and you can’t tell me it’s as hard to tell a lot of youngsters about logarithms or Scott’s novels as it is to handle my board of directors at one end and my shop committee at the other.” My thought was that if he and his fellow members on the board of directors and the men on the shop committee had had the right kind of teaching his job would be easier because at both ends he would have men better able to understand the whole problem of industry and realize the necessity of cooperation.

Teachers must have leisure to prepare, to study, to journey in new fields, and to open new sources of knowledge and inspiration and experience for themselves. You cannot impart what you have not made your own. You cannot engender enthusiasm if you have lost it. Teaching is dead when the subject does not inspire enthusiasm in the teacher. Then there must be leisure to cultivate your pupils. The best teaching is often done outside of the classroom.”

She opened the essay with this exhortation:

“Theodore Roosevelt was teaching by precept and example that men owed something at all times, whether in peace or in war, for the privilege of citizenship and that the burden rested equally on rich and poor. He was saying that, no matter what conditions existed, the blame lay no more heavily on the politician and his machine controlling city, State, or nation, than on the shoulders of the average citizen who concerned himself so little with his government that he allowed men to stay in power in spite of his dissatisfaction because he was too indifferent to exert himself to get better men in office.”

And Russ Feingold is leading us the way to do just that.  I was happy to donate to his group, but getting rid of Immelt is but a tiny chink.  Each of our tiny hearts have to keep beating in justice, too, to be part of the waves of Democracy in which every molecule of water makes a river or an ocean.

Eleanor would surely want us all to call her by her first name, and she would surely eschew roses for daisies.   So for anyone locked out by the Times pay-wall, I suggest you can stay every bit as current on today’s politics by visiting her writings and those of the Depression era.  The bloom of her daisies remain every bit as fresh so long as we keep watering them with our aspirations.

One generation sings “We Shall Overcome,” and “Kum-ba-ya,” and the next generations bastardize them as more tools for exploitation of individuals.  But the seeds of unity can stay apparently dormant for generations, resting in the hearts of individuals who know that even if it is not we, but our children, or children’s children children, who resurrect  fairness, honesty, unity, and wholesomeness from the ashes of corruption, greed, cynicism and selfishness, the pendulum never stays in one place for very long.


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