every four years, a President is inaugurated. The President gives
an inaugural address, which is covered by the TV networks. If most
daytime viewers had their preferences, the networks would not pre-empt
the soap operas or Oprah. The coverage is a revenue-loser for the
networks. The festivities are prime time TV news that evening. The
New York Times reproduces the inaugural address the next
morning. Almost nobody reads it. The event fades rapidly from the
memory of everyone who was not part of the event.
is a good thing. Paying a lot of attention to political speeches,
let alone political parades, is a mistake most of the time. This
is especially true of second inaugural addresses. The only famous
one is Lincoln’s, and he was dead a month later. His famous phrase,
"with malice toward none, with charity toward all," was
repudiated for the next decade by Congress during what came to be
known as Reconstruction.
the twentieth century, only two inaugural addresses stand out, Franklin
Roosevelt’s first address and Jack Kennedy’s. Kennedy’s famous
phrase is remembered more as the last hurrah of a now-lost vision
than as a serious proposal: "Ask not what your country can
do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." The can-do
political liberalism of Kennedy’s inaugural address in retrospect
was overwhelmed by reality, first by his assassination and then
by his successor’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.
my generation remembers about that phrase was the military draft
and the quagmire in Vietnam, the first war that the United States
clearly lost, and did so on national television. We do not remember
the Peace Corps, except possibly Tom Hanks’ version in Volunteers.
If you want two images that serve as the grave markers of Kennedy’s
inaugural address, think of the rider-less horse and the casket,
and think of the photo of that last helicopter out of Saigon. "Ask
not" by 1993 had become, "Don’t ask, don’t tell."
remember Johnson as totally confident when he came into office,
but invisible four years later at the Democrats’ national convention.
We think of Nixon as confident when coming in both times, but ludicrous
with his V sign as he flew away in a helicopter, disgraced. Politics
had consumed its two most dedicated American worshipers: Johnson
and Nixon. Ford is barely remembered: the only President who received
no electoral votes prior to becoming President. His most memorable
phrase: "I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln." Too bad he didn’t
say it at his inaugural. That may be because he didn’t give an inaugural
address — a tradition I favor. Carter’s walk down Pennsylvania
Avenue is remembered, but mostly as a stunt. What he said at the
inaugural isn’t remembered at all. None of the inaugural addresses
since Kennedy’s are part of the American heritage of rhetoric.
is remembered, mainly because of its phrase, "we have nothing
to fear but fear itself." In the context of 25% unemployment,
the closing of thousands of rural banks, and the seeming imperviousness
of the depression to government action, that was a ludicrous statement.
In fact, later in the speech, Roosevelt said as much, but that is
not what we recall of his rhetoric.
was most significant about that inaugural address was that Roosevelt
announced what he intended to do. He then spent the next 12 years
doing the opposite. In the name of the People, he solidified control
by the elite he represented yet pretended to despise. By the time
of his death in 1945, he could well have said, "Mission accomplished!"
Nothing that has happened in Washington in the last 60 years has
significantly challenged his revolution, which in fact was a consolidation.
CALL TO REVOLUTION
1933 address announced in plain language a Constitutional revolution.
That revolution had been launched by Lincoln in the Civil War, had
escalated under Teddy Roosevelt, and had been solidified by Wilson
during World War I. It involved the centralization of power by the
Federal government, power that was exercised primarily by the President
and the executive bureaucracy. Roosevelt in 1933 faced a national
crisis, and he called on the voters to accept whatever he might
do. With only one major exception, they did. The exception was his
plan to pack the Supreme Court in 1937. But the Court buckled, and
ratified his acts after 1937.
in the speech, Roosevelt praised the Constitution. He did so as
a send-up of his threat to ignore it.
I am prepared
under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a
stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.
These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build
out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional
authority, to bring to speedy adoption.
But in the
event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses,
in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I
shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront
me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument
to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war
against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given
to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.
offered an explanation for the depression. He demonized the bankers.
This, of course, had been part of the Democrats’ political tradition
ever since William Jennings Bryan hijacked the Party with his Cross
of Gold speech in 1896. Roosevelt announced:
And yet our
distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by
no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers
conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have
still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty
and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep,
but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.
was the time-honored analysis of Marxists and socialists: nature
as bountiful but perversely restrained by the institutions of capitalism.
It was time to identify these unscrupulous manipulators.
this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods
have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence,
have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of
the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of
public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
changers. Where had Americans heard that term before? In church.
Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple. Roosevelt made
it clear that he was prepared to do the same.
have tried. But their efforts have been cast in the pattern of
an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed
only the lending of more money.
true. The Federal Reserve System, created under Wilson in 1913,
had the power to control the money supply through the control of
credit, mainly through the purchase of U.S. government debt. But
the public was not borrowing in 1933. Commercial banks were failing.
Within days of the inaugural, Roosevelt unilaterally shut the banks,
fearing more bank runs. (The bank "holiday" idea had been
Herbert Hoover’s, as Hoover insisted in his autobiography, but Roosevelt
had refused to support Hoover’s plan.)
Federal Reserve System had been heralded by its proponents as the
engine of financial stability, the guarantor of continuity of credit.
Yet the nation in 1933 was facing the worst depression in its history.
The FED’s monopoly over the money supply granted by the Federal
government in 1913 in the name of financial stability had failed
to work. But Roosevelt did not target the FED in his speech. He
targeted commercial bankers, who were in no position to offset the
public’s unwillingness to borrow money in the face of a 33% fall
in prices, 1929—33. Few businessmen wanted to borrow dollars
when they might have to pay off the loan with appreciating dollars.
then, like voters today, did not understand central banking. They
understood rhetoric about profit-seeking money changers.
of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow
their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading
tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of
a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there
is no vision the people perish.
money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of
our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient
truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to
which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
OF THEIR OWN
great irony of this speech was lost on the listeners, and has been
lost on, or buried by, the history textbook writers and even the
historical monograph writers. Franklin Roosevelt had been one of
these money changers. He had been the well-paid agent of the bond
industry prior to his election as Governor of New York in 1928.
Beginning in 1921, after he had lost his position as Undersecretary
of the Navy under Wilson, and after he had gone down to defeat with
Cox as the Party’s Vice-Presidential candidate in 1920, Roosevelt
became Vice-President of Fidelity Deposit Company of Maryland.
had gone to Groton, the elite prep school. He had gone to Harvard.
He was the heir of the Delano fortune, which had been made in part
by selling opium in China. He was a rich only son of a wealthy New
inaugural address looked as if it was the product of a rich man
who had seen the moral light. On the contrary, it was designed to
divert the public’s attention from a new deal for big business,
which would strengthen the hand of the biggest corporations, whose
managers desperately wanted price floors and protection against
story was told in detail by Antony Sutton three decades ago: Wall
Street and FDR (Arlington House, 1975), which is now
free of charge on-line. The historical profession paid no attention
to this book, which was published by a conservative publishing house.
As Sutton wrote at the time, the vast majority of historians of
Roosevelt’s administration have been FDR apologists. The ones who
know the story of his Wall Street connections deliberately have
concealed this information, knowing full well that the public had
been misled about Roosevelt’s background as a "money changer."
His Wall Street connections before his election as Governor make
his inaugural address appear as a rhetorical deception without precedent
in American history, which in fact it was.
had run the American Construction Council in the mid-1920s. It was
basically an industry trade council dedicated to price-fixing arrangements.
The A.C.C. had originally been proposed by Secretary of Commerce
Herbert Hoover. Hoover and FDR were well acquainted with each other.
This, too, the public has never suspected. Both men shared the same
economic outlook: the Federal government as the source of economic
order and protection. Both men were backed by the same Wall Street
was nothing new in 1932. Except for Bryan, who was a Populist and
defender of direct government ownership of business, Wall Street
had controlled the nomination of every major party Presidential
candidate since the end of the Civil War. It still does.
had received donations for his 1928 campaign from Wall Street financiers,
most notably Joe Kennedy. And, as Sutton shows, Roosevelt repaid
them by creating a series of New Deal agencies whose primary function
was to save the large corporations by allowing price-fixing under
government authorization. The Supreme Court kept declaring these
agencies unconstitutional, which is why Roosevelt proposed the Court-packing
scheme in 1937 as a way to get a pro-New Deal majority on the Court.
knew Sutton personally. His scholarship was impeccable. His three
volumes on the technology of the Soviet Union, 1917—1965, showed
that the USSR had developed very little technology of its own, outside
of armaments. Its technology was either stolen from the West or
bought from the West. The myth of Soviet economic productivity was
admitted by scholars only after 1989, when the USSR’s leaders admitted
that it was facing bankruptcy. Sutton’s first book on Soviet technology
received almost no attention from the academic guild, even in journals
that specialized in economic history. There was a systematic blackout
on volumes 2 and 3, despite the fact that the set had been published
by the Hoover Institution. (I pointed this out in my
Foreword to his book, The
Best Enemy Money Can Buy, 1986.)
book on Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, available
on-line, received no academic attention, nor
did Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, also available
free on-line. He was the first historian to publish a detailed
history of Skull & Bones, the Yale University secret society
that has produced three presidents (Taft and the two Bushes). That
book, too, went down the academic memory hole.
some of you, this is the first time you have heard of any of this.
This indicates how successful the blackout has been. Before the
Internet, it was easy for the academic guild to bottle up studies
like Sutton’s. It no longer is.
long-term connections between American big business and the official
enemy nations of the United States are not discussed publicly. Occasionally,
this neglect gets to me.
1984, I attended a closed dinner meeting of the leaders of the American
Right, where the organization gave an award to John
Lehman, Ph.D., the Secretary of the Navy. The man who handed
him this award was his former roommate, although we attendees did
not know this. Lehman had been one of Henry Kissinger’s aides before
he became Secretary of the Navy. He is still in the news: a member
of the 9/11 Commission. He is an investment banker, as his Web site
reveals. Anyway, at that awards meeting, he gave a brief speech
on the build-up of the Soviet navy. Knowing what I knew, I started
to walk out. There are limits to my tolerance. But it was a large
room. I didn’t make it to the door before I heard him criticize
Congressional opponents of a larger U.S. Navy. This got to me: the
Russians this, the Russians that. I turned around and yelled, "If
they are our enemies, why do we feed them?" There was silence.
So, just in case anyone missed my point, I said again, "Why
do we feed them?"
course, I could have mentioned the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council
(USTEC), the highly secretive association of the largest American
corporations that were trading with the Soviet Union, and which,
despite partial government funding, refused to provide a list of
its members. The government also refused to reveal this information,
despite Freedom of Information Act requests. I had extensive files
on this organization. But no one in the audience, other than Lehman,
would have known what I was talking about.
could also have mentioned the fact that the U.S. government in 1972
had authorized the export to the USSR of the unique, patented ball
bearing machine tools that alone made possible MIRVed nuclear warheads,
a fact that Tony Sutton had revealed in his 1973 book, National
Aid to the Soviet Union
(Arlington House). That fact remains unknown in American conservative
circles, over three decades later. So, I skipped that, too. But
the fact that our farmers had been feeding the Russians ever since
Herbert Hoover’s days under Harding was well known. So, I asked
the obvious question. Why do we feed our enemies? Lehman mumbled.
had the right answer. They were the best enemies our money could
all in all, I don’t get too excited about Presidential inaugural
addresses. I figure they’re important for the President and his
immediate family, mandatory for senior staffers on the White House’s
payroll, and good copy opportunities for editorial writers.
the State of the Union Address, no problem is ever mentioned which
does not have a multi-billion dollar government solution at hand.
This means ignoring two kinds of problems: problems that really
don’t require government spending to solve them and problems that
cannot be solved despite government spending.
test of the relevance of an inaugural address is whether the problems
addressed in it are solved four years later, and the programs created
to solve them are no longer being funded. "Mission accomplished!"
be the day.