Friday, February 6, 2009


To quote John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the occasion of his inauguration." let us begin." I would like to first thank the editorial staff of the Voice for giving me the chance to share my thoughts with this wonderful community. In addition, I would also like to extend a kind word to Bob Schaeffer. Bob, it will be a cold day in hell when I move to your side of the aisle but there is no doubt that you have achieved the goals of a good journalist; namely getting people to think about the world around them and motivating them to take action. In short, I would not be here were it not for your capacity to bring my Irish blood to a fine boil.

Unlike the Relative Truth, this column will be likely hew closer to the philosophy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt than Ronald Wilson Reagan. But at the request of my editors, the subjects will be wide and varied. Sometimes we will go head to head with the " Robert Novak" of Severna Park. Other times we will pursue other topics. But through it all I hope to impart a philosophical dictum I once learned from a wise old Jesuit priest, namely that things work best when people understand that life is not an on and off switch but a volume control.

Much of the greatness of our nation is based on this notion. Historians speak of the concept of American exceptionalism. This idea is based on the idea that freedom and liberty rather than government control are at the heart of our success. But those who claim that the government that governs least governs best have short memories. Since the Great Depression we have worked to find a middle ground. We reject European socialism but also refuse to embrace libertarianism. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are often given credit for crafting what has come to be known as the " third way" position. But the attempt to find the middle ground actually goes back to the foundations of the Republic. No less a man than James Madison held that a well functioning political process is endangered by extreme wealth and extreme indigence."

So while we aspire to live up to the stereotype of the intrepid, self-sufficient entrepreneur, we also understand that programs like Medicare, Social Security and College loans are part of the glue that holds our society together. This is why I believe that a political philosophy that rests on tax cuts is no philosophy at all but simply an abdication of responsibility. People of good will can argue over the merits and the level of resources that should be made available to the aforementioned programs. But no serious politician would ever call for their abolishment. Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.

Thankfully many of the folks (my sainted Irish mother for one) who lived through the great depression are still with us. They can tell you what life without an adequate safety net is like. The world of 1932 was one of formerly proud men and women living in shacks and rummaging through garbage dumps for food. It was one of malnourished parents and children and of demagogues from the left (Huey Long) and the right (Father Coughlin) who were biding their time to take advantage of the situation. Hoover, said that prosperity was right around the corner. It was not.

FDR's New Deal brought hope to this broken world. Opinion is mixed on how much his policies had to do with changing this situation, but after implementation of the New Deal most agreed that government may not have owed anyone a living, but it did have an obligation to arrange society in a such a way that would greatly reduce the problems of poverty, hunger and unemployment.

On January 11, 1944, Roosevelt proposed what has come to be known as the second bill of rights. The first Bill of Rights sets out our rights as political animals. FDR's second bill set out our rights as human beings.
• The right to a useful and remunerative job
• The right to EARN enough to obtain adequate food and clothing
• The right of every farmer to sell his products at a return that will provide to him a decent living.
• The right of every businessman to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition both at home or abroad
• The right to adequate medical care
• The right to adequate protection from the fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
• The right to a good education.

I am not naive. I realize that bringing the aforementioned 2nd bill of rights to fruition will be expensive and that many of its tenets will have unintended consequences that will have to be addressed.
Nevertheless, they are goals worth pursing. As FDR once noted the “Necessitous men are not free men.”

In the end we need to realize that, as Linda Loman notes in the play Death of a Salesman,” we are all “ little boats looking for harbors.” In the spirit of the season, this little boat is thankful today for two things, one that I live in a state and a nation that has the courage to make life better for its citizens. And, that I have, at least for the time being, found a safe harbor within the pages of the Severna Park Voice.

A safe and happy Thanksgiving to all.

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