My wife and I have been working our way through Ken Burns’ documentary, The Roosevelts. At first, it took a little persuading on my wife’s part. Of course I thought Teddy Roosevelt was an interesting character, and FDR may have been the last true Democrat to inhabit the Oval Office, but they were a rich family. American aristocrats. I’m glad she convinced me. Subtitled “An Intimate Portrait,” the fourteen-hour mini-series doesn’t idealize the three most famous Roosevelts (Eleanor is included too); they have their faults and foibles. One thing, however, has won me over time and again—these three genuinely cared for other people. Sure, there was ambition and fame involved, but their personal writings reveal that they believed it was the obligation of the wealthy to give back to society. Industry bosses hated them.
More than once I’ve found tears in my eyes as the narrative unfolds that includes people writing personal letters of praise, petition, and always hope, to a president whose New Deal was intended to ensure that as many people could be helped were. I keep thinking to myself—when is the last time we had a president who really cared about the people? I voted for Carter, Clinton, and Obama. I think they did, and are doing, okay. Of the three I saw Carter building houses for the homeless after his administration. I have seen Obama fighting back emotion at the senseless shooting of black youths by police. I think they care about people. Franklin Roosevelt, even after an assassination attempt, however, rode in open-topped cars. He drove on his own to talk to people and ask them how they were. He was a president who cared. Our presidents are now behind bulletproof glass.
Politics has a disenchantment in its wings. It has become a game the wealthy play. Even the most well-meaning Democrat has no hope against the wealthiest one-tenth of one-percent who hold all the power in their hands. Watching The Roosevelts it’s clear that it has been so since industrialization. Seeing the J. P. Morgans and even the less enlightened Roosevelts declaring politics had no business stopping their astronomical earnings is down-heartening. I almost cut up my Chase card in protest. The wealthy despise the poor against whom only they can be declared extraordinary. Today our presidents, well-meaning or not, are behind bulletproof glass. They are in the shadow of big money. And some of the hopefuls have even convinced many of their fellow citizens that the only way forward is to follow their cash all the way to the banks they own. It’s not a presidential race, it’s a game where diamonds are trump.