Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Our Time...1933, 1954, or 2009?

As we were going through some of my Father-in-Law, Aldo Preti's belongings, I ran across his college yearbook from Fordham University; "The Maroon", circa 1954. For fun I thought I would read what the college aged editors had to say about what was happening in the world at that time and how they saw themselves fitting into society. These were the children born in the 1920's growing up in the Great Depression and they wrote about what they had seen in their lifetimes...so far. I quote from, "In Our Time" by Maurice R. Berube and John J. Oldfield:

"In the land where the business of government was business, the failure at Wall Street cut short the the wildest spree upon which America had embarked. The boom had busted, flaming youth flickered out and the Great Depression ushered in the Big Hangover. 'For the first time in history', Will Rogers, remarked, 'a nation had the distinction of going to the poorhouse in an automobile'.

-Roosevelt Inaugurated-

The year 1933 marked the beginning of a new era in the growing up of America. The nation for the past four years had suffered the worst peace time catastrophe in its history. The soup line saw the demise of the Republican Party's twelve year rule and the Democrats installed their first President since Wilson. In March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated 32nd President of the United States, and he boldly announced that the only thin America need fear was fear itself.

The soaring rate of unemployment was met by the new Administration with rapid and drastic measures. Forty-eight hours after Roosevelt's inauguration, Congress enacted in its famous 'hundred-day' session to enact far-reaching social and economic reforms. Countless relief agencies and statutes were created to offset the dark shadow of of peril and panic...the W.P.A...P.W.A....T.V.A....C.C.C....A.A.A....N.R.A....gave rise to a new type of 'alphabetical government'.

-The New Deal-

Roosevelt's regime undertook a program of economic planning which it preferred not to call a revolution but a new deal. As Mark Twain had pointed out in the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 'When six men out of a thousand crack the whip over the other fellows' backs, then what the other nine hundred and ninety-four dupes need is a new deal."

Roosevelt's three 'R's", Relief, Recovery and Reform, took the form of subsidies, guaranties, public works, encouragement of labor unions, and deficit spending. In the planned economy was a new concept which superseded the Jacksonian principle of governmental non-intervention in business. Highly experimental, the New Deal was bound to be controversial. Its harsher critics confused it with Socialism.

About the only thing that drew no fire was the repeal of prohibition. The progression of the New Deal met with with the violent opposition of such extreme programs as the Townsend Plan and Upton Sinclair's Epic Plan.

Amidst the horde of new prophets, the raucous voice of Huey Long was the loudest, with his "Share the Wealth: plan. The immense popularity that the dictator-like Long commanded indicated the desperation of the American people....The Louisiana Kingfish was removed as a threat to democracy by an assassin's bullet on September 8, 1935.

-Returned by a Landslide-

The New Deal retained the public's approval as evidenced by the resounding Rooseveltian victory of 1936 over the Republican's colorless Alf Landon of Kansas. 'Life, Liberty, and Landon' won only two states in the election, prompting James Farley's celebrated comment, 'As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.'

The severest critics of Roosevelt reform work were 'the nine old men in the ivory tower of the Supreme Court', as the president saw them, who systematically nullified the liberal legislation of the New Deal's first phase. Believing he had a mandate from the people in the election of 1936, Roosevelt promptly set about to countermand the court's behavior by championing his famed and most controversial proposal to date...'the court-packing plan.' The proposal lacked Congressional support. The court, nevertheless, was to heed political tradewinds and reverse its stand. The NRA was perhaps the most important law junked by the Court, but it reappeared substantially in the Wagner Act of 1935, which protected the worker's right to organize. Encouraged by the government and stimulated by hard times, the stock of organized labor prospered both in membership and influence. under the leadership of a bushy-browed Pennsylvanian, John L. Lewis, the C.I.O. was created for unskilled workers in mass production industries. It rivaled its parent, the A.F. of L. in membership.

-Social Consciousness-

It was only natural then, for the flavor of the American life in the thirties to be hued with a deep-felt social consciousness...the legitimate offspring of the depression. The credo of such rising young intellectuals as William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, James T. Ferrell, and Clifford Odets embodied this acute social sense. Steinbeck's, 'Grapes of Wrath', dealing with the 'Okies' hard-hit by the Dust Bowl, produced a tremor which paved the way for relief. Caldwell's 'Tobacco Road', a novel concerning the depravity and squalor that characterized poor economic conditions, was so popular that its dramatization smashed the previous record for long engagements set by 'Abie's Irish Rose' in the twenties. Even Tin Pan Alley was impressed by the 'forgotten' man's burden and spoofed depression blues with such tunes as 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum."

- Economic Security a Goal -

Hollywood mass produced the gangster film which implied that crime as a by-product of slum conditions. The depression brought home the fact that, in a complex interdependent society, there was need for economic effort. 'No man can go it alone' says Ernest Hemingway's hero in 'To Have and Have Not.'

There was no corner of life in America that did not feel the ramifications of economic wretchedness. Our generation, not yet of the age of reason, saw our parents stamp in our minds the moral that the bluebird of happiness was to be found in economic security.

Although our parents were somber, Hollywood diverted then with Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, while we discovered pert little Shirley Temple, the new edition of America's sweetheart....

...The Great Depression considerably altered the pattern of American life bu forging an indelible imprint on the American psyche. Everyone was socially conscious, and more significantly placed economic security as the Holy Grail to be sought. The instability of our economy ingrained in young America's mind the idea that the only thing to be feared was not fear but future economic collapse."

If you read this far, you should have been struck by the similarities of their time and our time. Does history truly repeat itself? It sure appears to do so.

Post script: Maurice R Berube went on to be a Professor at Old Dominion and an author of nine books. John J. Oldfield became the Vicar of St. John's Church in the Bronx and authored one book.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Look Down...The Moving Sidewalk Is About To End

These past few months have been about spending time with my wife's family as her Father, Aldo Preti, went through a nearly year-long terminal illness and died this past Saturday morning. We bury him today in St. Raymond's cemetery within 10 blocks of the same place he was born, raised, lived his entire life and died. In this day and age, it is a remarkable thing to see this level of consistency and continuity in their lives. As I reach the age where grandparents are gone, some long gone, and parents are now dying, I am reminded of my own mortality and the precious moments that I have that can so easily be taken from me. As I was flying back to NYC this past week after a quick flight home to SFO, I was on a moving sidewalk at JFK and I heard the words of the automated voice speaking to me; "Look down, the moving sidewalk is about to end". As I slowed my step and made sure that I was balanced, I looked down and found that the moving sidewalk was not really ending, but it was surely ending for me. The metaphor of life and death was right there in front of me, and of all places at JFK. I was reminded how important it is to take the time and look down to be sure that relationships are secure and strong, that commitments are steadfast, that friendships are consistent and dependable, that loved ones know that they are loved, that hugs and kisses are plentiful and come with ease, that God is never more than my silent prayer away, that moments, actions and words are deliberate and thought through before taken or spoken, that my mind is open enough for the recognition of beauty, art and emotions of the moment. That today I am making the most of the time I have left on the moving sidewalk of life before it ends for me.

It's Been Awhile...thanks for your patience

I've neglected Bolts of Thinking as I have been focused on my Purposed worKING blog; http://purposedworking.blogspot.com.

But, it is time to revive Bolts of Thinking. Thanks for your patience as I bring it back more regularly. Rusty