Lessons for Obama: How FDR Fended Off The 1%’s Attacks
Many of the same ultra-right families of the richest 1% in the U.S. currently attacking New Deal reforms protecting working families are the same families who attacked President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s for introducing these reforms. Then and now, the targets include old age pensions (Social Security), more progressive taxation on the rich, and the right of employees to bargain collectively with their employers for improvement in wages and work conditions.
President Roosevelt, however, responded differently to their attacks than President Obama. Here I discuss how, first by looking at a powerful family which, more than any other, led the attacks on FDR: the du Ponts of Delaware. They were the founders of the largest chemical company in the U.S.: E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, otherwise known simply as Du Pont. Keep in mind that they are not mere throwbacks to the 1930s. Ultra-conservative in their politics, and one of the richest families in America, the du Ponts were the primary financial backers of Newt Gingrich when he launched his “Contract with America” against President Clinton in the 1990s. As head of the du Pont-founded Government of the People Action Committee (GOPAC), Gingrich helped capture control of Congress for the Republicans in 1994 and propelled himself into the powerful seat of Speaker of the House – just a few heartbeats from his current goal, the White House. In 2005, one-time presidential hopeful and former Delaware governor Pierre S. du Pont IV, the founder of GOPAC, awarded Gingrich the “Pete du Pont Freedom Award.”
Introducing the du Ponts
The du Ponts are no average rich family. Since their arrival in America after fleeing revolutionary France as the aristocratic former Keepers of the King's Gunpowder, the du Ponts have long been among the worst examples of the 1%. Never having moved beyond industry to high finance, they never developed a sense of “nobles oblige” toward the 99% like the more enlightened Rockefellers, who not only used their oil industry profits to move into banking, but also favored liberal reforms for working people, earning moderate-to-liberal Republicans the term “Rockefeller Republicans.” (Mit Romney is the latest incarnation of that category. His father, George Romney, former president of American Motors and governor of Michigan, was seen by many as a stalking horse candidate for New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller when he briefly entered the race for the 1968 Republican nomination against Richard Nixon.)
During his first two years in office, when he had a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, he did not pursue investigations into charges of war crimes leveled at former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney for illegally authorizing torture in Afghanistan to obtain false confessions of Iraq’s alleged ties to 9/11. Using torture to obtain false confessions to get Congressional and popular support for the invasion of Iraq could have been subject to legal inquiry by both the Justice Department and Congress. But fear, not courage or the Constitution, triumphed. In fact, according to Christopher Edley, Dean of the UC Berkeley Law School and a high-ranking member of President-Elect Obama’s 2008 transition team, the mere fear of a military coup by the Pentagon’s powerful generals if Obama pursued war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan was enough to convince the Obama team to dismiss any serious consideration of prosecution of the higher ups responsible for the torture policy. This was the origin of Obama’s famous refusal to pursue prosecution: “We need to look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.”
Now, with his presidency confronted by a serious Republican challenge by corporate raider Mitt Romney, it appears that President Obama is beginning to take the gloves off as election season heats up. He needs to, if he hopes to remobilize his disappointed voter base. But with Texas’s Rick Perry backing out of the Republican primaries and throwing his weight behind du-Pont-backed Newt Gingrich, we may be seeing a repeat of the 1930s, with just as much drama and intrigue.
Next: Did Roosevelt’s policies really work to end the Great Depression?
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© Gerard Colby.
Gerard Colby is the author of Du Pont: Behind The Nylon Curtain (Prentice Hall, 1974), Du Pont Dynasty (Lyle Stuart, 1984), and with Charlotte Dennett of THY WILL BE DONE, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (HarperCollins, 2005). He was the lead contributor to Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press (ed. Kristina Borjesson), winner of the National Press Club’s first Arthur Kruse Award for Press Criticism. He has taught international economics, political science and the history of Latin American political economy at various colleges, has lectured throughout the U.S. and Brazil, and has done investigative journalism for national and local news services for over 30 years. From 2004 to 2009 he served as President of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 of the Technical, Office and Professional Division of the United Auto Workers.