When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, the American economy was on its knees. Thousands were poor, homeless, unemployed, without hope. They wanted someone to blame; they wanted someone to answer for their fate. And this is what Roosevelt told them:
“If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership, which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.
“With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.”
Roosevelt recognized that people feared their own powerlessness -— fear, itself -— and that they did not know their own strength. And his government gave them a way to discover that strength and use it to combat the problems they faced —- instead of blaming, instead of throwing up their hands in despair.
It’s not too late to begin a New Deal on the Gulf Coast. It’s not too late to make rebuilding part of our nation the mission of all of us.
It’s not too late to fill New Orleans’ empty streets with an army holding hammers instead of guns.
It’s not too late for our government to, once again, lead us, to remind us there is nothing we are not capable of, if we only remember who we are and what we’ve done before.
As Roosevelt said, “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”