For true security, let's reclaim FDR's Second Bill of Rights

August 06, 2004|By Cass R. Sunstein

IN THE LAST few weeks, the nation has devoted a great deal of attention to the "greatest generation" and its successful fight against fascism. But something important is missing from the celebration: the distinctive vision of the leader of that generation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his effort to connect the idea of security with protection against human vulnerability in all its forms.

In his eloquent remarks inaugurating the World War II memorial in Washington, President Bush insisted, "Across the years, we still know his voice." But do we? Let's listen to him.

On Jan. 11, 1944, the war effort was going well. Ultimate victory no longer was in serious doubt. The real question was the nature of the peace.

At noon, Mr. Roosevelt sent the text of his State of the Union address to Congress. Ill with a cold, Mr. Roosevelt did not make the usual trip to Capitol Hill to appear in person. Instead, he spoke to the nation via radio - the first and only time a State of the Union address was also a fireside chat.

Mr. Roosevelt began by emphasizing that the war was a shared endeavor in which the United States was simply one participant: "This nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world's greatest war against human slavery." The war was in the process of being won. But mere survival was hardly enough. Mr. Roosevelt insisted that "essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all nations."

Mr. Roosevelt looked back, and not entirely approvingly, to the framing of our Constitution. At its inception, the nation had grown "under the protection of certain inalienable political rights - among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures." But these rights had proved inadequate. "We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all - regardless of station, race, or creed."

Then he listed the relevant rights:

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation."

"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation."

"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living."

"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad."

"The right of every family to a decent home."

"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health."

"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment."

"The right to a good education."

Mr. Roosevelt's radio audience, the members of the greatest generation, knew exactly what he was doing. He was building on his 1941 catalog of the Four Freedoms - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear - which, in Mr. Roosevelt's account, must be enjoyed "everywhere in the world."

President Bush has increasingly attempted to link the war against terrorism with Mr. Roosevelt's struggle against fascism. But the contrasts between the two leaders is striking. It was the threat from abroad, after all, that led Mr. Roosevelt to a renewed emphasis on human vulnerability and on the importance of "security" - with an understanding that this term included not merely protection against weapons, bullets and bombs, but also against hunger, disease, illiteracy and desperate poverty.

In the midst of World War II, the greatest leader of the greatest generation had a project, one that he believed to be radically incomplete. That project is captured in FDR's Second Bill of Rights. Reclaiming it would be the best way to celebrate the victors in World War II.

Cass R. Sunstein teaches at the University of Chicago and is the author of The Second Bill of Rights.

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