By David Glenn Cox
Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “FDR always had words.” There’s a lot of talk about FDR these days. I turned on the car radio the other day and the NPR host was talking about FDR. Could it be a societal aversion to the big orange Cheeto? Do we long for the calm cool man with a smile and a joke who read books and knew how to do stuff. A longing for competence? To find practical solutions that work. When I was living in Cleveland, they have a beautiful system of parks. Many rockworks are of native blue stone, covered picnic areas and in the corner up near the rafters was a small wooden plaque which read, WPA PROJECT 1935.
In Alabama, we had Big Jim Folsom as Governor and he was a friend to the road building industry. He’d build a thirty-mile road to a twenty-mile destination. They’re easy to spot. They wined and twist through each county touching a corner of everyone’s property, everybody gets a taste. Ostensibly, they were, “Farm to Market” roads when actually they were “Get Big Jim Votes” roads. The principle is the same, spending public money on public works to improve the condition of the economy. Yet actually polar opposites.
The blue stone in the park was available for free. That left lumber, concrete and wages as expenses. The workers were trained in carpentry, masonry, stone cutting and management. People earned money, learned trades while improving their community. Boondoggles! We poke along. A plan so large in scope it rivals the moon landings and yet intricate in its detail.
In the Tennessee Valley hydro-electric damns bring flood control and near limitless water for farmers. Parks and recreation for city dwellers and cheap electricity for industry. It also meant electricity in almost every home. Much like today with hi-speed Internet, private power companies wouldn’t venture too far out of town as it was too expensive and not cost effective. Just let the free market work, we don’t need your big govment programs round here! You know what is really dangerous on a farm? An open flame.
In the Pacific Northwest more hydro-electric power. A travelling three ring Big Top circus, a travelling Symphony Orchestra and Public dances. Musicians on Bourbon St. gave music lessons. Little leagues and day camps got children out of the house in Summer and gave them a hot meal at lunch. It wasn’t just about feeding the political machine it was about actually doing the job. It was about getting the country up off its ass and moving after the freewheeling engine of Capitalism had blown itself to pieces. I’m always amused when Republicans offer, “The New Deal really didn’t work.” Oh yeah, what was your fucking idea? Let children starve? Let the free market work?
It wasn’t just about public works it was about public improvement. The CCC taught forty thousand men to read and write. Ages 18 to 26, the troublesome years. A young generation sitting on the front stoop of mom’s house waiting for something to happen. Or a chance to get out of the house and have a job! To go places and see things, a chance to grow up and see a different view of the world. As this was the era of Lucky Lindy the CCC and WPA built hundreds of landing fields. This wasn’t a sop to the airline industry, there was no airline industry.
Thousands of miles of fire roads, hundreds of fire towers. The Soil Conservation Service, the Forest Service, night schools and harmonica bands. There was more going on here than just promising a check. That’s easy, any orange moron can do that. How about art schools? Murals and public art honoring who we are as a people. Murals now valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars done for twenty-one dollars a week.
Outside of Atlanta is a staunchly conservative community of twelve thousand people. Before the New Deal it was a crossroads. A feed store and a Post office in a region of subsistence dirt farmers. Then they built the dam and created Lake Lanier. The dirt farmers now owned lakefront property which attracted the city folks from Atlanta. The town grew and became very prosperous with million-dollar lake front homes and golf courses. Marina’s and boat dealerships and all manner of restaurants everything you expect in a modern recreational community all staunchly conservative and devotedly Republican. We don’t need your big government programs round here! We’ll take our freedom thank you!
So, when you pull down your hunting rifle this fall, remember that there wouldn’t be any deer in the woods if it wasn’t for the New Deal. The Great Depression had decimated the population to near extinction and fees from hunting licenses helped pay to repopulate them. And there might not be any woods to go to either. The CCC planted one billion trees from coast to coast. Programs which pay more than they cost.
A clear plan to improve the economy, improve the community and improve the lives of the people. Not just brick a mortar public works project. A scheme for improving the lives of Americans for the express purpose of improving the lives of Americans. And far from failing, the modern city of Atlanta could not exist without FDR and the New Deal.
It was the polio which changed him from a New York Hudson River society elitist to the man who became FDR. It was during his convalescence at Warm Springs he first encountered the struggling of working people. Dirt farmers once scratching at the earth for a meager existence now drive Cadillac’s and Mercedes. Oblivious to where their own existence came from.
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt