The Politics Of Fear
In a way, ever since Herbert Hoover ran for re-election in the midst of the Great Depression in 1932, fear has been a dominant theme in our political campaigns. Beginning with FDR's use of the word in his First Inaugural Address, fear of something has been an issue, beginning with economic uncertainty in 1932, alarm over the rise of Fascism in 1936, dread that the European war would involve America in 1940, the first rumblings of the Cold War peeking out in 1944, dire predictions of Communist world domination in 1948, the early Domino Theory in 1952, The Bomb in 1956, the country being turned over to the Pope in 1960, MAD in 1964, 'them damn Commie pinko hippies' in 1968, unpatriotic liberals in 1972, 'we're not #1 anymore' after Vietnam in 1976, 'we're gonna be #1 again' in 1980 (confirming 1976?), 'them Rooskies' in 1984, Nicaragua (!) in 1988, Saddam in 1992, Clinton in 1996, Gore in 2000, and now Osama and the Terrorists in 2004.
Certainly, some of these fears over the years were real issues that needed attention. But some of the others were either blown out of proportion or were outright lies. In an effort to restore some balance to this fear issue, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the time when the idea that fear itself was to be feared and listen to the words of the last leader to use fear as something to be conquered - instead of listening to one who conquers through the use of fear.
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel.
This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.
Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties.
[G]overnment of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return.
Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.
Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have [not] admitted their failure,
Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of [prosperity] they have proposed only the [spending] of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence.
They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.
Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.
Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor — the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others — the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.
Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.
We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed.
And with any luck, we won't.
Copyrighted source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.