Why I'm a Democrat
by David Kowalski, Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 10:31:35 PM EST
The discussion about John Edwards and his new house brought memories of my childhood and adolesence floating out. A book has been advertised for a while called, "Why Mommy is a Democrat." In my case, I needed no explanation. My mother an her entire family were Democrats, vehement Democrats, and the reason was one word: Roosevelt.
A lot of what they said, of course, made no sense to a child. He closed the banks. Why was that a good thing? But two things quickly got imprinted. A lot of the members of my mother's family got their first jobs because of Roosevelt. Small, local jobs that taught them valuable skills and gave them crucial experience that led directly to a lifetime of middle class work as accountants or billers or nurses. These jobs weren't do nothing and were not a path to nowhere. In a time when hope was scarce, Roosevelt delivered in a personal and convincing manner.
Even more than that, these middle aged people may have respected an Eisenhower and even loved a JFK but Roosevelt enjoyed a status that was next to God. They'd passionately fight anybody who had the least criticism of him even decades after FDR's death. It didn't take much thought to realize that anybody who was able to generate so much passion so long after did a lot of good.
So I connected Democrats with providing jobs, training, education and hope. I connected them with providing opportunity and the support and leadership of LBJ in the civil rights movement connected the party with justice (although he also connected the Party to war and a long casualty list. All that made me a fan of the Democratic Party despite living in the Republican suburbs of New Jersey. But somehow, the deep connection to Roosevelt did not click for me. He was one of the great Presidents but so were Lincoln and Jefferson and even Teddy Roosevelt.
That link and that appreciation is far more recent. I could see the difference between Roosevelt and the lousy cynicism of Reagan. Yeah, morning in America only after steering America into the biggest recession since Hoover's Depression. Lies and that fake smile and the dodging of questions with "charm" that I only felt irritating. It was W though, who really drove the nail into the coffin. I could see the right wing nuts and their greed machine grinding down Clinton and Gore while covering up for George W. Bush. That visceral hate made me understand what FDR went through. Sure, Harry Truman was scrappy but Franklin Roosevelt was triumphant through it all. That had to be something else.
We can talk about Social Security, the minimum wage, the right to unionize, ending the real threat of Hitler and batshit crazy naziism, the WPA, and everything else. What he established was that Reagan was wrong: government is not the problem although those who govern may be a problem. Lincoln and the lethal struggles of three million American soldiers (over 600,000 of whom died) gave us a new birth of freedom. But other heroes in other generations make that freedom new and fresh. I believe that that struggle must be fought in each generation and that in my generation one party has done much the better in extending that opportunity and that freedom. That is why I'm a Democrat.