The coronavirus pandemic may plunge the United States into its worst social and economic crisis since the Great Depression. But our response — from the president’s blame-shifting rhetoric to the Senate’s inadequate relief package — has yet to rise to the scale and scope of the challenge.
I’ve written before about why Congress needs to do far more than it has if it wants to save the economy from disease-induced depression. Here, I want to focus on rhetoric. If the country needs a New Deal-esque effort to stop the pandemic, then it also needs New Deal-esque leadership to mobilize manpower and resources to that end.
It’s with this in mind that I want to look to Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. Elected in November 1932, Roosevelt was well aware of a deep national hunger for leadership — for someone to bring energy to government and confront an economic crisis that threatened the entire social order.
Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. The day was gray and grim. “Though the city was gay with flags and lively with the music of bands and cheers for the marchers in the inaugural parade which followed the oath taking,” Arthur Krock wrote in The New York Times, “the atmosphere which surrounded the change of government in the United States was comparable to that which might be found in a beleaguered capital in wartime.” [Continue reading…]