by Robert Morrison
June 13, 2014
What is not generally appreciated today is how far President Obama has taken the country from the roots of classic American Liberalism. It is one thing for conservatives and partisan Republicans to decry Mr. Obama’s rule by Executive Order, his governing by mandate. Such opposition, when principled, is what our system is designed to foster. “The business of the opposition is to oppose,” is the phrase that best describes a vibrant two-party democracy. The idea behind that is that it is in the give-and-take of open debate that the best policies for the whole country will be determined.
We know Mr. Obama actively dislikes open debate. He has declared broad areas of American public life off limits to debate. The climate change issue is “settled.” He and most fellow graduates of Ivy League law schools consider Roe v. Wade “settled law.” The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-D-Penn.) went so far as to call that most unsettling ruling a “super precedent.”
Marriage is another issue the president considers now settled. No matter that the position upon which he was elected in 2008, and the position held by virtually all his Democratic opponents cleaved to in that contest is the position they have now abandoned. They’ve evolved, they tell us, and now that’s “settled.”
To understand how radically President Obama has departed from American Liberalism, we need only to compare his record with that of the U.S.’ most sustained, arguably most successful, example of liberal government.
Just as conservatives regularly invoke Ronald Reagan’s electoral triumphs, liberals look to the four election victories of Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR is their model for a genuinely popular activist government committed to liberal change.
But an important recent article in The New Republic by Robert Kagan brings us a startling quote from Roosevelt in 1941 that shows the stark differences between FDR’s American Liberalism and President Obama’s essentially European leftism.
The “institutions of democracy” would be placed at risk even if America’s security was not, because America would have to become an armed camp to defend itself. Roosevelt urged Americans to look beyond their immediate physical security. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” he said, “when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy, and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.”
President Roosevelt was trying in the speech quoted above to prepare Americans for what he saw as an urgent necessity to defend democracy by fighting against Hitler and the Nazi menace.
The speech, however, stands out almost as a statue in a great museum illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning from a threatening storm outside: Notice what Franklin Roosevelt places on a par with men defending their own homes: “the tenets of faith and humanity.” And these are shown as foundational for “their churches, their governments, and their very civilization.”
Roosevelt was a religious man. His faith had deepened in his early bout with paralyzing polio. He doubtless saw his own rise to the pinnacle of American politics as a result of divine Providence.
In August, 1941, four months before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt sailed aboard the USS Augusta to a secret rendezvous with Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The liberal Roosevelt braved death to meet with the conservative Churchill. Those chilly waters of the North Atlantic were infested with German U-boats. Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s warships would have been prime targets for sinking.
When FDR’s son Elliott went to see Churchill in his plush stateroom, aboard HMS Prince of Wales, anchored in the cold, black waters of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, he told the wartime Prime Minister “father thinks you are the greatest man in the world.” Elliott added “my father is a very religious man.”
Churchill already knew that. That’s why he chose the hymns that would be sung by thousands of British and American sailors in a joint worship service on board the Royal Navy battleship. Prince of Wales still bore scars from the recent pursuit and sinking of the great German warship, Bismarck.
The Prime Minister sang lustily if off key, joining his new American friend in “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Eternal Father Strong to Save,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Roosevelt was deeply moved and it shows in the old newsreels. He knew that Nazism was anti-Christian even as it was murderously anti-Semitic.
President Obama’s leftism derives none of its strength from these Christian sources. During the entire twelve years of FDR’s popular administration, there was never anything remotely like the ObamaCare Mandates that so menace religious freedom in America.
When he greeted the first Soviet ambassador to the U.S., Maxim Litvinov, FDR sternly lectured that atheist Communist about the need for greater religious freedom in the USSR. He thought, doubtless naively, that the grandson of a rabbi would understand how essential religion is to a healthy state.
Today, as we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case, we are concerned that the four liberal justices — Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan — will line up against the ideals of religious freedom that FDR and liberals of his era would have instinctively understood and respected.
Nor is it Christians alone whose freedoms are threatened under the Obama administration. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America shares our concerns with the HHS Mandate.
The [Obama] Administration’s ruling makes the price of…an outward approach [to our fellow Americans] the violations of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing.
To our Jewish fellow citizens, whose religious freedom is also threatened by the Obama administration, we can only say: Amen!
Let us pray for a liberty-affirming result from the Supreme Court.