Excerpt from Ken Burns’ ‘The Roosevelts’ Reveals Everything Wrong With Our Current Political Class’ by Joseph Palermo
Ken Burns’ seven-part PBS series on the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, is a remarkable achievement. Burns sheds a poignant new light on the personal and public lives of three monumental figures in 20th Century American history. And in doing so, he illustrates the relative rottenness of the hacks, partisans, and plutocrats who make up the political class that rules America today.
By exploring the lives and times of TR, FDR, and ER Burns shows that in our not-so-distant past the governing institutions of this country were actually responsive to the needs and desires of working-class Americans. This superb and moving portrait is a perfect fit for our times. The utter failure of our current “leaders” is glaring by comparison.
Yes, TR was a warmonger, and FDR signed the order that imprisoned innocent Japanese Americans. There are long lists of both presidents’ failures. But we shouldn’t let those flaws bury the fact that both TR and FDR were not afraid to stand up to big corporations and Wall Street if they viewed their actions as damaging to the country. That alone is probably the biggest difference between those leaders of the early decades of the 20th Century and today.
After thirty years of “supply-side” economics that has left working people still waiting for better times to “trickle down”; eight years of George W. Bush’s misrule that brought us war and recession; the Far-Right ascendency in 2010 that has all but shuttered the federal government in an attempt to destroy Barack Obama; and a Supreme Court that is proudly subservient to every tenet of plutocracy — I think it’s okay to flip on PBS and feel a bit nostalgic for a time when there existed effective politicians who actually gave a damn about the quality of life of the majority of Americans.
Over the past thirty years, Presidents and Congresses have become so subservient to corporations and Wall Street that the two major political parties are all but indistinguishable.
One of the reasons why our politics have become so volatile and opinion polls show over and over again that our people have nothing but contempt for the whole political class in Washington is the widespread recognition that the plutocrats, CEOs, and Wall Street bankers have effectively seized our governing institutions.
Another subtext for our times of the Burns documentary is the reminder that people who come from the richest .01 percent of Americans don’t have to be total assholes. Unlike the Koch Brothers, or the Waltons, or Representative Darrell Issa (the richest man in the House of Representatives) the Roosevelts didn’t feel they had a class interest in keeping their boots on the necks of America’s working people; they strived to uplift them.
And they saw the federal government not as a bazaar of accounts receivable to vacuum up precious tax dollars for the already rich but as a means to improve the lives of the 99 percent.
Have we come to expect perfection in our political leaders? Why do we allow corporations and Wall Street and other institutions to take over our country to the point that the 99% is scrambling to throw off the yoke of the oppressors? Our leaders seem to have little interest in making our lives any easier. Is this because we can’t pay those leaders the big bucks and the lobbyists and corporate America can?
The Roosevelts was an incredibly interesting series. It could have very well been Ken Burn’s best documentary since the Civil War. No one advances with the notion that any of the three Roosevelts were saints or even close to perfect. They obviously weren’t. However, it seems that people of that day were much more inclined to overlook and forgive. All three appeared to be very concerned with the daily lives of the common man more so than advancement of corporate America. At no time have Americans had more contempt for the political process than they do now. Congress has a less than 20 percent approval rating. That abysmal number seems to put Congress lower than a snake’s belly. The President (and ones in recent years) are a little higher in approval but not by a lot.
The Roosevelts were rich and privileged, yet they don’t beat you over the head with their superiority. Instead, they attempt to become like us. They try to be normal people with all of their souls. Can we say the same for Darryl Issa?