As I have been reading in the New York Times and USAToday, the registered voters of Scotland who are 16 years of age and over are voting today on whether they want their independence from the British. Sean Connery, Alan Cumming, and a slew of other Scottish actors say yes; author J. K. Rowling and the financial markets say no. [Read Alan Cumming’s thoughtful op-ed piece in today’s Times at the link below.]
It hasn’t escaped my notice that I cannot vote on this matter, am not Scottish, and the country of my birth the United States became independent from Britain in 1776–and if I was better at math and not a writer I could tell you off the top of my head how many years that has been. Plenty. Enough that the two parties that talk about running our country don’t actually do much governing any more.
I digress a bit here from the Scots and their future, but each night this week I have been watching Ken Burns’s stellar historical documentary series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Fifth cousins Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were members of the two parties dividing the American political landscape with TR a Republican and FDR a Democrat. And there was TR’s incomparable niece, Eleanor, who married Franklin Roosevelt and would have made a wonderful President herself!
What is remarkable is that both TR and FDR were mavericks who defied tradition, their own parties, the entrenched corporations running the country out of their back pockets, and the do-nothing policies of the political nonentities (such as Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and to some extent Woodrow Wilson) who passed for leadership between their two presidential tenures.
They cared more about, as TR would say, doing something, and doing it on behalf of the working people of the United States not simply the business titans who bought and sold companies, jobs, and people’s livelihoods as if it was all a low-stakes poker game. Not surprisingly these are the presidents who are remembers by their initials alone. If you add John F. Kennedy, you will have the trio of presidents who the American people knew and still know by their initials.
What these guys had was leadership ability and the balls to take the risk of doing something wrong, but doing something to actually benefit the people who make up the country they governed. That idea hasn’t been too popular in governments before and since. I give Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former general who learned a thing or two when he was commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, major points for seeing (1) the dangers of the military/industrial complex ruling the country, and (2) how important it is for lower- and middle-class people of any country to have a fair chance to make a living which is what keeps dictatorships at bay.
Nixon gets a nod for the Clean Air Act and ending the Vietnam War. Although he loses them again for being so egotistical and paranoid that his own party had to draw the line and force him to resign after the Watergate scandal brought hearings that I watched each day after school for months on end.
JFK was young and a breath of fresh air for a brief period before he was assassinated. He got civil rights rolling for African-Americans, and Lyndon Johnson finished the deal with legislation providing health care for the elderly and poor and made a reality of the end of slavery after a century. Johnson made it more possible for black Americans to exercise their right to vote and more equal opportunity to participate in the society of their birth.
Let me just say from the bottom of my heart, Joe, just give me TR and FDR any day of the week.
They weren’t always right, and sometimes they knew it. But they had the balls to stick a finger in the face of the bosses that ran our country into the ditches of poverty, hunger, ignorance, and desolation and say, “Enough, you sons of bitches!” And do something about it that actually worked.
Funny how the old, dried up white guys (yeah especially you Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover) of the early and mid 20th century who were used to making all the decisions in back rooms got out of the way of TR and FDR when they thundered through on the people’s business! TR was a hurricane of energy and was a bit crazy, but, Lord, you gotta love a man (and the American people did) who wants to ride off and correct every wrong. He was waaaayyyy too fond of war, but if he had lived to see how the wars of the 20th century were actually fought by the soldiers with all the SNAFUS and FUBARS everywhere, he might have seen reason. Or maybe not. But I’ll take him anyway.
And FDF saved our country’s economic ass, gave us Social Security for the elderly and disabled, and told people that all we had to fear was fear itself. Sounds like double talk, I know, but we have spent an inordinate amount of time being fearful in the 21st Century. We can’t right every wrong in the world; we can’t make every dictatorship treat its people fairly; and we can’t bring the American jobs back from China that have been lost over the past 30 years. Now 90 percent of the clothes in my closet bear the label Made in China, and American corporations are sending ever more jobs to countries with no basic protections for the people who are essentially slaves making the goods that used to be made here. Sad stuff to contemplate, people.
But I digress too long. Back to Scotland and the question of whether they should have their own country and make their own way in this uncertain world. As an American with Irish, German, perhaps Scotch-Irish, and English ancestry, I vote, “Aye.” Let the Scots have their independence. Maybe they won’t have the British pound to buy their bread any more, but it will be a loaf of their own making.
Grading on a curve (discounting the current dysfunction of Congress and all our various seemingly unending wars), the former British colonies in America have done a good job governing themselves for the last 238 years or so (ok, I got out the calculator!). On balance, most of the people got taxation with representation most of the time. For many years, women, blacks, and non-landholders did not have the vote, but the possibility for land, a mule, and the opportunity for a thriving middle class lifted many boats through the years. And as we say in the South, I hear tell that someday there might even be a woman president in the White House.
So, aye, to you Scotland! I have read the articles about the financial consequences, the predictions about whether you will be admitted to the European Union, and the fine-print guys warning how the banks in Scotland will all close and run for England. As for me, I think maybe the sky won’t fall in, Chicken Little, if you Scots get to have your own country just as we Americans did a few centuries ago. I raise a glass to your optimism, and say, “Aye.” And may you have the best of luck at finding at least one Roosevelt to give ’em hell!
//Anna – 9/18/2014