Viewpoint: Roosevelt on economic rights

By Ann Diamond

In a Community Forum on these pages, State Sen. Brian Langley asked, “Who are Collins’ Counterparts?” He related that in his conversations with Democrats they previously liked Sen. Collins because “she votes against her party.” He goes on to ask the Democrats, “Who on your side of aisle votes right and stands up against your party”?

This reported exchange is emblematic of how politics today is portrayed as a conflict between two teams. Think Red Sox vs. Yankees. You support your side and root for the defeat of the other. What matters is that your side wins.

Missing from this view is a wider perspective that asks of both politicians and voters, “What is your vision of a just society?” and “What is your understanding of the common good?”

When I vote, when I support or decry an elected official, it is not because of the team they play on but because of the social vision and values that their actions and affiliations promote. Collins voted for a tax bill that will increase the wealth of corporations and the richest Americans at an eventual cost to all other Americans.

For more than 30 years, “trickle down” economics has not worked. There is greater economic inequality in our country today than at any time since 1928. The tax bill that Republicans passed, that Susan Collins voted for, will increase this inequality even further. The deficit will grow, and Republicans will call for Medicare and Medicaid to be cut. Attached to this tax bill was an act ending the mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance, which will essentially defund the Affordable Care Act, cause 13 million people to lose health insurance in the next few years and raise insurance premiums for everyone else. The legislative safeguards for health care that were promised to Collins in exchange for her vote are not the point. They may or may not come to pass. Regardless, this tax bill increases economic inequality. Where there is no economic justice, or at least the aspiration to such justice, there can be no true liberty and no real democracy.

Franklin Roosevelt recognized this in his 1944 State of the Union address: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence … . People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

President Roosevelt went on to propose “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race or creed. Among these are: The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family to a decent home; The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment; The right to a good education.”

I ask myself, and urge other citizens to ask themselves, which elected officials and which candidates support these fundamental rights of a free and just democracy?

Ann Diamond is a clinical psychologist. She lives in Bar Harbor.

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