From Four Freedoms to Four Fights

Freedom_from_want_1943-Norman_RockwellIn his 1941 061315_clinton_rally2_ap1_1160x629State of the Union, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlined his vision of America as redefined by the New Deal and as defining itself against the imminent threat of fascism. (Eleven months later, the U.S. would enter World War Two.) That vision was encapsulated in his Four Freedoms, commemorated two years later in a series of paintings by Norman Rockwell (one of which is pictured here). They were: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. (Read and listen to the speech.)


On Roosevelt Island this past Saturday, June 13, Hillary Rodham Clinton auspiciously  kicked off her campaign for president. According to the New York Times, among the policies she specified were universal pre-Kindergarten, paid family leave, equal pay for women, and creating a revised tax code that “rewards hard work at home,” rather than “stashing profits overseas.” Amy Chozik, writing for the Times, points out that Clinton “did not detail how she would achieve those policies or address their costs.” Even so, as Annie Karni notes for Politico, Clinton denounced Republicans for, in her words, “reject[ing] what it takes to build an inclusive economy. It takes an inclusive society.”


Candidate Clinton is doing more than evoking the spirit of FDR’s struggle to effect social justice and economic opportunity for all Americans. Indeed, she’s deploying a political rhetoric drawn directly from the Four Freedoms in her Four Fights. Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports that Clinton declared, “If you’ll give me the chance, I’ll wage and win Four Fights for you”: These fights, she went on, aim “to make the economy work for everyday Americans”; “to strengthen America’s families”; “to harness all of America’s power, smarts, and values to maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity”; and to “refor[m] our government and revitaliz[e] our democracy.”


The legacies into which Clinton is tapping seem to have real sway now, suggesting a move away from Democratic neoliberalism to a concern for social and economic inequality that has its foundations in the New Deal. Among prominent politicians, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is leading the charge with an ambitious plan to, among other things, create more affordable housing and make it easier for undocumented New Yorkers to rent apartments and open bank accounts. And for him, it’s personal. A recent Rolling Stone profile recounts how the mayor, raised by older parents in Massachusetts, was early on introduced to stories of the Great Depression and New Deal. “It’s almost like we skipped a generation,” he recalls. “We would have these family gatherings, and everyone would be around the table, and it felt like there were two empty chairs for Franklin Roosevelt and [progressive New York mayor] Fiorello La Guardia. There was a reverence for them in our family. I was steeped in the notion that you take heart from a government that is trying with all its might to find a solution for you.”



Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

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