June 2004
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Day June 24, 2004

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the “Four Freedoms”

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression-everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want-which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear-which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception-the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, January 6, 1941

If there is a basis for security and prosperity in the post-Cold War era, it strikes me that FDR’s words prior to the Cold War still point in the right direction.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is the extent to which politics in my lifetime has been, and continues to be, a struggle by Democrats to preserve FDR’s legacy and by conservative Republicans to dismantle it now that no depression exists to call into question the efficacy of the “invisible hand” of the unrestrained and unregulated market.

Although hardly a novel observation, I think there is a great deal of truth in it. I also think it accounts for the lack of innovation that many liberals, progressives, and Democrats feel. We’re not doing anything new — our job today is to fight to hold ground, not extend the territory covered by Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” not to mention his “Second Bill of Rights.”

But I feel a welcome ferment on the rise. Some progressives are exploring market-oriented approaches to New Deal-style social justice, eschewing bureaucracy and “welfare state” style approaches. Here I’m thinking especially of the example provided by Matt Miller and his book, The Two Percent Solution, which should be required reading for Democrats and progressives of all descriptions.

The Cheney Decision and Transparency of Executive Power

The decision in Vice President Cheney v. U.S. District Court was announced today, and the Court weakened the Nixon precedent and widened the scope for Executive confidentiality. A good analysis is available today on SCOTUSblog.

As happens in many far-reaching rulings, the technical grounds upon which the ruling is based and the eventual outcome of the case are less important than the long-term effects. The key Nixon precedent has been reconstrued to apply to criminal cases, while the Cheney ruling would seem to provide wide protection for the Executive Branch against discovery in civil suits. Naturally, most attempts to use the courts to increase transparency are civil actions. Thus, a strict reading of Cheney would considerably raise the bar on all civil discovery against the Executive Branch.

This is a dark day for advocates of government transparency.

Raising the Debt Ceiling

Congress is preparing to raise the statutory limit on the national debt again, for the third year in a row. The authorization will likely be embedded in the defense appropriations bill currently in play, so we probably won’t hear much about it on the front page. For example, the Washington Post’s article on the appropriations bill contained one sentence at the end: “Tuesday’s major controversy occurred when House Republicans used a partyline vote to add language that would let Congress raise the government’s borrowing limit later this year.”

When the House-Senate final appropriations bill appears, the likelihood is high that specific limits will be sidestepped, in favor of general authorization. The text added by House Republicans seems innocuous: “The United States government shall take all steps necessary to guarantee the full faith and credit of the government.” However innocuous it seems, the debt ceiling will have to be raised, because the government was only $232 billion away from the current $7.384 trillion dollar cap as of May 31st. The administration would naturally like to delay authorization as long as possible, hopefully until the November elections.

The proposed budget envisions raising the ceiling by another $690 billion, which would follow 2003’s debt ceiling increase of $984 billion, and another $450 billion in 2002.

Prior to 2002, the debt ceiling was last altered in 1997, given four years of budget surpluses under President Clinton. In fact, Clinton’s administration proved twice as fiscally conservative (as measured by increases in the national debt). On Jan. 20, 1993 when Clinton took office, the national debt stood at $4.188 trillion, and $5.727 trillion on 1/20/2001 at end of two terms. In 3.5 years of George W. Bush’s administration, the debt has risen from $5.727 trillion to $7.218 trillion.

Thus, the debt was raised $1.539 trillion over 8 years of Democratic leadership, an average of $192 billion per year. In only 3.5 years in office, George W. Bush, the debt has risen $1.491 trillion, an average of $426 billion per year. Debt is accumulating 2.2 times faster under Bush than under Clinton. Naturally, two wars have a strong effect, but the single largest factor in spiraling debt are budget deficits due to unwise tax cuts.

At the current rate of growth, the national debt would hit $10 trillion by the end of 2010.

So much for Republicans being the party of fiscal conservatism.