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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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March 4, 1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering his Inaugural Address,
in which he tells the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."


Cheers, Mr. Roosevelt
by Bill Orton

March 4, 2008 -- Roll out the barrels. Tune up the Marine Corps Band. It is time to celebrate a victory of hope over fear.

It was a bright spring day exactly 75 years ago. Americans anxiously listened over their radio sets as Franklin Delano Roosevelt told thousands gathered at his inauguration that he would talk the truth, frankly and boldly. "This great nation will endure, revive and prosper," he said.

Hard words to believe on March 4, 1933. The American economy lay in ruin. One- quarter of all Americans were out of work. The people had endured three long years of bitter economic depression.

But there stood Mr. Roosevelt, beaming with optimism. Just five sentences into his Inaugural, he uttered what would become not simply his most famous phrase, but words that would uplift a nation from despair and drive his presidency:

    "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
After laying out the list of woes facing the nation and stating that "only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment," the new President then vigorous laid forth an agenda of "action, and action now."

"There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it," said President Roosevelt. "We must act and act quickly."

And so he did.

In the first three months of the new Administration, Franklin Roosevelt crafted not simply new agencies, new spending priorities and a new vision of government, but new hope and optimism that Americans were in this together.

It is then an auspicious day for us to remember Franklin Roosevelt.

Not simply did FDR's inauguration 75 years ago today usher in our modern political age, but on this anniversary date, voters in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont are casting ballots in the same environment that confronted the electorate of 1932.

Hope versus fear

Hillary's "red phone" hit and John McCain's attacks over national security are nothing new. Aside from reason, there are really only two paths to power in America -- hope and fear.

Reason alone is not enough to prevail in a national campaign. Intelligent explanations on the issues -- like big dusty books of history -- are important and unread.

Instead, it is the countervailing forces of hope and fear which animate elections and drive voters. Unchecked, either will lead to lopsided victories.

Hope plays to our highest wishes of how things can be. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each ran for office based on campaigns of hope. So has Mr. Huckabee.

Fear is used not to run for office, but instead to campaign against one's opponent. It is a blunt and effective to smash another candidate, leaving only one option for voters.

George W. Bush and Karl Rove mastered fear so completely as to convince Americans that a decorated war veteran was unfit to lead. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon each twisted war and peace to bury their opponents, Barry Goldwater and George McGovern.

But this is an election where the countervailing forces are roughly equal and where the true measure of victory will be decided by whether the Democratic nominee is a hope or fear candidate, for that outcome will drive the tone of the general election.

It's my belief that voters will cast their ballot for hope.

We're not there yet, but I believe that voters today will reject the politics of fear and deliver victory in all four states to the candidate of hope.

This nomination fight could easily go all the way to the Democratic convention in Denver. As of this morning, the two candidates are within five percent of one another in delegate totals. It really is anyone's game.

If the gentleman from Illinois wins the nomination, then there is a real shot that the general election will be an honest discussion of issues based on reason, free of fearmongering and conducted with dignity.

That is a reason to celebrate.

Oh, and remember those barrels? One of the hopes that FDR delivered on was to end prohibition.

Cheers to you, Franklin Roosevelt...

-B



Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.