Civic Responsibility

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Friday, September 19th, 2014 – Volume 10; Number 39

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

Civic Responsibility

The Roosevelts” aired on PBS this past week providing fascinating insights about a family that looked past its great wealth and accepted civic responsibility for those in society who were less fortunate.

The elite prep school, Groton, is linked to the Roosevelt family from support at its founding in 1884 by Theodore Roosevelt, attendance by a long list of offspring, and perhaps its most famous graduate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Regarded as a top boarding school for preparing students for entry into upper crust universities, Groton’s motto links service to freedom and emphasizes serving the public good. TR’s niece and FDR’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt attended a finishing school in England and her life exemplified service to others.

Although TR was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat they shared a certain disrespect for the Constitution of the United States. Action was more important than planned perfection or philosophical principle. Ideology yielded to pragmatism. Both were highly critical of monopolistic businesses. Banker JP Morgan was highly critical of both. They took liberties with separation of powers in order to advance worthwhile causes in support of ordinary citizens. TR was a gung-ho, git r dun cowboy and champion of war. FDR impatiently watched Hitler rattle Europe until the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor opened his door to making global war.

One has to be amazed at the dramatic turn the major political parties have taken in just the 69 years since FDR died. Republicans exemplified by Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller were cautious about military involvements and could not win in the states South of the Mason Dixon line. Southerners still hated the party of Abraham Lincoln. Democrats dominated elections in the South and advanced into Korea and Vietnam.

The long film on the Roosevelt family is well balanced with critical analysis and complimentary admiration. Commentary in the Ken Burns documentary included clips from syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will and Harvard Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Will is treated as royalty by FOX News, but has been critical of some contemporary Republican policies. Goodwin earned her spurs and met her husband in the Lyndon Johnson administration, but initially alienated LBJ over published criticism of his conduct of the Vietnam war. She is well known for her recent biography of Abraham Lincoln. Clearly political opposites, both Goodwin and Will are Pulitzer Prize winners and, together with Burns, are great fans of baseball.

It was hard to come away from viewing the first five episodes (number six of seven airs tonight) without a profound sense that civic responsibility can cross the boundary between the uber-rich and the rest of us. We live in a highly challenging time. Probably no more and no less than the challenging times of the first half of the 20th Century and the time of the Roosevelt’s. FDR saw civic responsibility in flaunting the Constitution with an amendment, packing the Supreme Court to support his Social Security initiative. Today civic responsibility confronts a contemporary initiative to amend the Constitution and prevent the uber-rich from packing our politics with money.

Lighter Side

When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer “present” or “not guilty.” Theodore Roosevelt

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress. John Adams

I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency – even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting. Ronald Reagan

These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin. You know, for a while I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, “Intelligence Briefing.” George W. Bush