Monday, April 6, 2009

FDR's Oglethorpe University Address Speaks Loudly Today

Did you know that in May 1932, presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt gave the commencement address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta? Until this morning when I caught up with Thomas Friedman's April 4, 2009 op-ed piece, I did not. Beyond a sense of regional pride that a local school had scored such a high-profile speaker, the relevance of those remarks as we approach this graduation season are striking.

Jonathon Alter's recently published book on the "First 100 Days" of FDR's first term serves as a vibrant example of how a history lesson reads as fresh as a contemporary Tweet might seem today. Alter brings the reader into the world of uncertainty and fear that gripped the country in 1932. Those descriptions are eerily familiar to contemporary news reports. Although the unemployment rate of 1932 was roughly triple that of early 2009, in context it was similarly higher than recent years at the time.

Listen to the quotation from FDR's May 1932 address, “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” said Roosevelt. “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Could President Obama have expressed his own approach to the economic challenges of 2009 any more clearly than that? No. This administration is following FDR's philsophy almost exactly in its multi-pronged approach to the banking crisis, the failing auto industry, the housing crisis and an approach to resurrect GDP growth.

As Americans adjust to hard times and look to our political leaders to address them, it is clear that differences continue as to the best approach both in terms of size and of philosophy. For those resisting the President this soon into his term I say this, "Let the American people who overwhelmingly elected President Obama have the change they chose. That means not only a different direction now but a course-correcting leader for the next four years."

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