Action Speaks, the always entertaining panel discussion series at AS220, continues its fall season November 14 with a look at topic of great interest in Rhode Island: economic security.
DEEPLY AMERICAN FDR.
Moderator Marc Levitt, as usual, uses an underappreciated date in history as a jumping off point for the chat. This time, it's 1944: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's call for a "Second Bill of Rights" guaranteeing citizens economic security.
The panel will discuss whether government should be guaranteeing such a thing — and, perhaps, whether this kind of assurance is even politically possible these days. Scheduled panelists include Tara Melish, a law professor at State University of New York-Buffalo who specializes in international law and rights, including comparative approaches to economic rights.
The Phoenix caught up with her for a Q&A via e-mail in advance of her appearance. The event is scheduled for 5:30 pm at AS220, 115 Empire St, Providence. It is free and open to the public.
WHAT PASSES FOR ACTIVIST, BIG GOVERNMENT THESE DAYS IS ACTUALLY QUITE CONSERVATIVE. OBAMACARE IS MORE AN EXPANSION OF THE PRIVATE INSURANCE MARKET THAN A "GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER OF HEALTH CARE," NO MATTER WHAT THE CRITICS SAY. CAN YOU IMAGINE ANYTHING SO RADICAL AS FDR'S CALL FOR AN "ECONOMIC BILL OF RIGHTS" IN MAINSTREAM POLITICS ANYTIME SOON? FDR's call for an "economic bill of rights," as bold and powerful as it was, was not in fact as radical as it might sound, particularly in the context of the early 1940s. Endorsed by a modern president with sufficient political backbone, neither is it outside the bounds of what might be considered permissible discourse in mainstream politics today. This is particularly so if one takes account of how the idea of an "economic bill of rights" was publicly framed by FDR and his administration. It was framed not as a "new" idea, but one that had already been firmly and comprehensively accepted by the American people. The "bill" was, in this sense, deeply American. It would serve not to undermine American industry or ambition, but rather to strengthen and ensure it, embodying the nation's most cherished commitments to personal responsibility, work for the able, competitive opportunity, innovation, dignified agency and productive ambition. As an essential requirement of national security in a world riled by war, it was, moreover, not only necessary but "practically realizable." Although the precise contours of policies would be shaped through democratic debate, responsive learning, and respect for local priorities and administration, America had the resources and "can-do" spirit to put the "economic bill of rights" into practice. It thus had the obligation to do so. It was a rallying cry for responsive, democratic, non-ideological policy-making and strong Federal leadership in the sphere of economic security, both individual and national.
Today, the idea of an "economic bill of rights" seems radical and foreign only because the American left has, over the last several decades, effectively ceded the language of democratic progressivism to the extreme political right. Without a countervailing frame, "rights" have become synonymous with "freeloaders." Public policies designed to redress market breakdown, barriers to opportunity, and social vulnerability become forms of "socialism." Within this context, the greatest surprise may in fact be that mainstream politicians have not sought to fill the void and take a better cue from FDR, reengaging the idea of guaranteeing minimum security for all Americans as a way to frame effective people-centered policy responses to the critical "economic recovery" and "national security" challenges we face today.