Three words to describe the 2014 Ken Burns series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: illuminating, intriguing, fascinating.
It is illuminating because it is not only chock full of revealing historical facts but also because of the way Burns explores the evolution of the three primary characters’—Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor—thinking and the complexities of their relationships, among themselves and with others.
It is intriguing to learn more about what motivated them, told through the poignant stories of the ordeals they endured throughout their lives. Burns makes them very human, complete with warts and flaws, yet conveys how each in his/her own inimitable way ceaselessly remained dedicated to strongly-held principles to the end of their days. Because of their passion and focus on their overarching goals of advancing economic justice, America and the way we look at government was altered permanently.
It is fascinating to learn of the animosity and competition between the two Roosevelt clans: The Oyster Bay Republicans with Theodore and the Hyde Park Democrats with Franklin and Eleanor. Yet, among the three individuals, there was only respect, admiration, and encouragement.
Theodore, who struggled with acute asthma during his boyhood, treated his niece Eleanor, who grew up demeaned by her mother, as a daughter. He also encouraged his fifth-cousin Franklin, despite his Democratic affiliation, in his foray into politics. In return, the younger Roosevelts idolized their mentor, even in Franklin’s case following in his career footsteps: under-secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, President of the United States. In the end, he accomplished much of what Theodore had hoped to achieve despite the debilitating polio he suffered from for half of his adult life.
Reflecting on their stories, I wonder if Theodore, Eleanor, or Franklin would recognize and feel at home in their 2018 parties. Undoubtedly, Theodore would not in today’s Party of Trump, which is intent on repealing progressive advances Teddy championed rather than building on them. For Franklin and Eleanor, after watching the circus that unfolded in the 2018 legislative session with Democrats showing their stripes by compromising on heart-and-soul, bread-and-butter Democratic principles, I can only conclude that the answer is no.
It is for that reason I no longer find the new-age Democratic Party the bastion of progressive thought and action I grew up in and on. Instead, it’s become a mushy conglomerate of hard-nosed equivocators, dominated by trendy suits, who in another time—a half century ago—would have been Eisenhower-Rockefeller Republicans: Strong on social issues, but pliable on economic ones, adopting and promoting Chamber-of-Commerce approaches to the Roosevelt safety net and economic justice.
The Democratic Party has made it clear that in politics and governance a person’s word is no longer his/her bond. It has steadily reneged on its commitment to maintaining high-quality public education throughout Colorado. Because of that, Colorado is close to a billion dollars behind in paying its legal obligations and has consequently moved to the cellar among states when it comes to supporting and educating its youth.
The Party is now complicit in helping the state to violate and renege on its legal and moral contract with its public employees. And it sits on its hands as thousands are denied their basic human right: health care.
All because it trembles, as Republicans worship, before the altar of TABOR.
The Party’s noble function is to negotiate regressive actions to stave off the right’s withering fire on economic justice, orchestrated by corporate plutocrats and aided and abetted by Ayn Rand true-believers enthralled with her there-are-only-producers-and-takers economics, all the while ironically, if not hypocritically, demanding the benefits of progressive advances: e.g., FDA, Social Security, Medicare, and of late, Obamacare.
It seems complicated, but it’s simple: Today’s Democratic Party has abandoned the common people. Instead of championing them, it leaves them at the mercy of plutocratic capitalists, those Franklin dubbed “economic royalists.”
The Colorado Democratic Party no longer operates in the legacy of FDR. Rather, it’s become a coarse facsimile that patronizes the people it swears to protect. It has become an empty shell of its former New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society self, full of sound and fury, like Macbeth’s life in the sere of his days, signifying nothing.