On Jan. 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his State of the Union address, urged Congress to draft legislation that would achieve a “Second Bill of Rights” for the American people.
Arguing that “America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens,” Roosevelt was determined to see a country where livable wages and affordable health care were adopted as universal and inalienable rights.
Roosevelt dealt with two of the greatest challenges ever faced by an American president. He was elected in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. He also faced the challenge of right-wing fascism during World War II.
Roosevelt rose to the occasion, signed Social Security into law and defeated Hitler’s fascists in Europe. As a man from great wealth, Roosevelt was labeled a “traitor to his class” by his wealthy opponents, who opposed his New Deal for working people in our country, “regardless of station, race or creed.”
Roosevelt realized early in his administration that a country cannot prosper when a small percentage of people hold most of the wealth and all the political cards. His greatest quality is something he shared with Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy — his empathy, a quality sorely lacking today in the vitriolic atmosphere of American attack politics.
Empathy is “the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings or emotions of someone else.” It’s a quality that allowed Lincoln to forgive the South at the close of the Civil War in his effort to heal the nation. It is critical for a statesman or stateswoman to possess this quality; it allows one to listen and understand what life’s experiences have done to our friends, neighbors and constituents. A world without empathy is a frightening place. Values become skewed toward material wealth at the expense of compassion and equality.
When I began my campaign to return to Augusta as a member of the Maine House of Representatives, it was with some trepidation that I approached my first doors to communicate with my voters. After all, with polls showing the American people with a highly negative opinion of our politics and politicians (and who can blame them?), I was worried that this anger would boil over as I knocked on doors.
I was wrong.
Far from being greeted with anger and hostility at the state of affairs in our country, my voters have been hungry to tell their stories. They sit me down at their kitchen tables; all they are asking for is for someone who will listen. None wants sympathy, but I believe the warm response I have been receiving has a lot to do with empathy.
Constituents remember me as someone who has always fought for livable wages and affordable health care, two of the hallmarks of FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights. The question I have for my country is why, 70 years after Roosevelt issued his Economic Bill of Rights, have we come up so short in achieving these goals? Why have obstructionists in Washington and Augusta blocked even modest attempts to increase the minimum wage or a plan to implement affordable health care?
As President Roosevelt said in 1944, “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
When I read FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, it’s truly amazing that the issues he raised are the same exact issues plaguing our country today. These are the issues people raise when I knock on your doors. I want you to know I am listening. I urge everyone to read this incredible and courageous document before they vote on Nov. 4. Vote for candidates who support his important message.
Since I began my public service career in Maine in 1974, FDR’s message has been the hallmark of my beliefs, and it has motivated the actions I have taken to improve lives. I promise: that fact will never change... (See more at: https://bangordailynews.com)