“The Roosevelts”

On a warm day in 1900 a special train pulled into Union Station in Atlanta, Georgia. The train was carrying vice presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt, who was crisscrossing the country, campaigning hard to help get President William McKinley re-elected for a second term. During 1900 Mr. Roosevelt would visit 567 cities in 24 states, making more than a dozen speeches a day. He was young, ebullient and irrepressible, a whirlwind of energy who invigorated crowds everywhere he went. A throng had formed in anticipation of Mr. Roosevelt’s arrival, and when the train had stopped they crowded about the car where “Teddy” bounded out to the railing and began his rapid-fire speech. He spoke for 45 minutes and then the people eagerly reached for him as he began personally greeting as many as he could.

(George) Martin Fishback, my great-grandfather, wanted to see young Mr. Roosevelt in person and took his little daughter, my grandmother Lucie, with him for this once-in-a-lifetime event. He held tight to her hand as they waded through the mass of people swirling about the railroad car, and he listened intently to the speech, though Lucie began to tire after a time and complained that she couldn’t see anything. He picked her up then and stood her on a crate next to him so she could see better. When Mr. Roosevelt finished his speech and began to move into the crowd, he glimpsed my grandmother waving and made his way toward her.  He grasped her small hands in his and kissed her on the cheek, exclaiming, “God bless you, honey!” and shook my great-grandfather’s hand before he moved on. As Mr. Roosevelt released Lucie’s hands she gazed after him as he swept away, and Martin said, “That man’s going to be our president one of these days.”

I remember my grandmother telling me this story the first time when I was very young, and I loved hearing it again when she related it from time to time over the years.  I imagined how Teddy Roosevelt had kissed her and could feel her excitement. As soon as I was old enough, I looked up Mr. Roosevelt’s biography at the library and gazed at his picture, thinking how he’d spoken kindly to her and that she’d never forgotten it. The biographies I read as a child told of his exciting exploits, and I marveled at this man who always seemed larger than life to me.

therooseveltslgI thought about this story again while watching Ken Burns’ excellent 14-hour documentary film on PBS, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” I’ve read a number of Roosevelt biographies over the years, but this new film brought out information and insights that were new to me. I felt a thrill as I watched photos and footage of Teddy Roosevelt campaigning, both for President McKinley and then for his own elections. I admired Eleanor’s fortitude in conquering her fears, pushing herself to do the things she was sure she couldn’t, and her desire to keep going and keep doing, no matter what. I was in awe of Franklin’s political shrewdness and deftness and how he was truly the right man at the right time to lead this country.

But what I admire most about all three Roosevelts is their sense of altruism, their constant sense of duty and service towards others, the desire to make life better for as many people as possible. They had their faults and shortcomings and certainly made their share of mistakes, but they kept at it, they kept trying, kept moving forward, as they moved a country and a people forward, helping them to think and to reason and to stretch in ways they might not have otherwise. They changed the way government works in this country, and proposed and implemented most of the social programs that benefit all of us today, such as conservation of natural resources, food inspections, Social Security, unemployment benefits, the right to organize labor unions and their right to negotiate, the 40-hour work week, our national park system, the FDIC, to name only a few.

It is this sense of altruism that is missing in so much of American government today. Too many elected officials seem interested only in blocking beneficial legislation, in cutting benefits to Americans stretched to the limit, and in downgrading another political party when they’ve done so little good in their own. Theirs is not an attitude of service, but of self-serving childishness and pettiness, wasting their terms in office by failing to adequately serve the needs of their states, districts and constituents.

Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt made countless enemies during their presidential terms in office, usually because of their brashness in pushing legislation through, in going above and beyond the Constitution when needed and possibly overstepping their executive powers at times. But these bills were written and pushed through so they could benefit the largest number of people in the shortest time possible. If they erred, it was in the best possible way, always making the needs of the people, of their own generation and of future generations, the most important factor. Would that more of today’s politicians had more mercy towards others in their souls, rather than hardness in their hearts; the Roosevelts never forgot those they were elected to serve.

Project 52, Week 51 — A Fact of Life in the United States Today

Recently my daughter’s cell phone went on the fritz, so while she’s trying to decide on a new phone she’s been using my old one, which still works well enough for getting by.

My daughter never calls me; for years she’s been sending me text messages instead. We generally have something to text each other about every day, even if it’s just to determine who’s going to pick up dog food on the way home. So I was a bit taken aback last Wednesday when my phone rang and I saw her name on my caller ID. When I answered I heard what sounded like a struggle going on and someone trying to speak, unable to get the words out. I immediately began shouting for her to answer me, but to no avail, and after several agonizing seconds, the phone went dead. Trying not to jump to frightening conclusions, I called the bakery where she works, but there was no answer as I let it ring 20, 30 times. Trying then not to sound frantic, I called her boyfriend, who also works at the bakery, but he was away at the time and I implored him to have her call or text me as soon as possible to let me know everything was all right. About 45 minutes later I received a text message from my daughter stating she was fine, that although she puts the touchscreen phone on “lock” when she has it in her pocket at work, it doesn’t seem to stay locked, and the phone must have dialed me by accident. That she had it in her pocket in a busy bakery accounted for the muffled sounds I couldn’t interpret at the time. All was well, I was relieved.

You might think I had a bit of an overreaction, that it should have occurred to me that the phone called me in error in the first place, and yes, I did think of that. But this occurred on Wednesday, the day after the tragic shooting at the Clackamas Mall here in the Portland area. As a community, we were still reeling from that and feeling on edge, and I was still thanking my lucky stars; my daughter used to work at that mall until a few months ago when she began working at the bakery. At that time of day she would have been in the food court where the shooting was taking place. It’s not that I necessarily seriously thought a shooter had entered the bakery and had shot my daughter, who was struggling to talk to me as she lay in a pool of blood, though I have to admit the thought did cross my mind. The fact that it was even a realistic possibility was frightening, and depressing, but it is a fact of life in our country today.

As the Portland area sank from shock into sadness and was beginning the long road of healing, on Friday the unthinkable happened in Connecticut, where young, innocent children were shot multiple times in their classrooms and the staff who tried to help them were gunned down as well. This new shock has put the entire nation on edge, and the world mourns these young innocents, and is sad for a country where firearm abuse is out of control, and no one in power seems truly willing to do anything that will help change the situation.

There have been two issues that have been at the forefront of my “causes,” if you will, throughout my entire adult life. I am a staunch believer in universal health care for all Americans, as a right, not a privilege, and strict gun control laws. However, I am willing to concede that even just reasonable, practical gun control laws would considerably reduce the deaths in this country from firearms, so I am in favor of whatever legislation will help reduce the carnage from gunfire that mounts up daily in the United States. However, gun control is not a popular issue, for some odd reason, and once this country begins to heal from this heinous crime in Connecticut, cries for sane gun control laws will begin to lessen until it is no longer part of the national conversation. Until the next mass shooting, of course, and these shootings will continue, and the cycle of “We must do something!” and the dwindling of these cries will continue as well. Nothing will change.

In this country, when something is deemed harmful and capable of severe injury and even death, legislation is passed that will reduce the harm as much as possible. A car can easily be a deadly weapon. Over the years efforts have been made to make cars safer, to make drivers safer, from seatbelts to shoulder restraints to child safety seats to airbags to outlawing cell phone use while driving. These laws are passed and though some may grumble a bit at the loss of “freedom,” we realize they are for our own good and we adjust, as these new regulations become part of our daily lives. We have regulations for workplace safety through OSHA, we have restrictions and laws regarding food safety, medication safety, traffic safety, airline safety. Though these laws don’t always work perfectly, they do reduce the harm to our fellow citizens.

So why are guns, which are capable of producing harm and death every bit as much as a car and more so, not regulated the same way? There are outcries from many gun owners, and the gun lobby, not to mention the NRA, invoking the Second Amendment as an unlimited freedom to carry, both openly and concealed, firearms of every kind, with no restrictions whatsoever. But the freedom to bear arms also has a converse freedom, that of unarmed people being entitled to safety and freedom from fear of those misusing their Second Amendment rights. If limiting firearms goes against the Bill of Rights, then it’s time to change the Bill of Rights with a new amendment. I firmly believe that if our founding fathers had known what the state of firearm abuse in this country would have been like over 200 years after that amendment was penned, it surely would have been written differently.

This article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof summarizes what, in my opinion, sensible gun control should look like. It can save many lives; not all, of course, but many. Gunowners, no one is taking away your guns. If you are a responsible, mature gun owner, there’s nothing here you should object to. There will still be less regulation than in owning and driving a car. But in a civilized country, this is what needs to happen.

But it won’t happen. And more’s the pity. We are a nation of violence. And until we stop loving it that way, our children will keep on dying. As a nation, we should be horribly ashamed and moved to change at last.

Project 52, Week 36 — Making an Important Choice

I had mentioned last week that I was going to discuss the book The Art of Choosing in this week’s blog entry, but because of circumstances and a heavy work load this past week I have not yet finished the book. I’d rather wait until I’ve completed it to give my impressions and share some of the conclusions I will have reached as a result.

But I do want to talk about choice, a specific choice, which will be coming up soon for all of us here in the U.S., but which many people may forgo. I am talking about voting on November 6th; this is a very important election for all of us, and will determine the country’s direction for some time to come. We need to make the choice as to what kind of country we want this to be, and every vote is important. Starting today, and each weekend until the election, I will be calling registered voters on behalf of the President to urge them to be sure to vote and not let apathy keep them from casting their ballots.

I first became involved in a political campaign in 1970 when, at age 16, two friends and I volunteered to help elect John J. Gilligan as Governor of Ohio. We were too young to vote ourselves, but we cheerfully wore green banners and straw hats and passed out leaflets, encouraging people to vote for then-candidate Gilligan (who went on to win and did become Governor of Ohio). It was an exciting time and we felt gratified to have a part in the campaign. Then in 1974 I became involved in the campaign of Charles “Pug” Ravenel for Governor of South Carolina. I typed memos and answered phones in the campaign office, went door-to-door and talked to people about the candidate and urged them to vote. In this case, Mr. Ravenel was disqualified late in the campaign due to seemingly not having met the state’s 5-year residency requirement and therefore did not complete his run, but up until that point it was a gratifying experience.

After that, although I voted and encouraged others to do so, I didn’t become involved in another campaign until 2008. I decided at this point I wanted to become a part of history, and volunteered to make phone calls to get out the vote. I enjoyed doing this, as I like talking with people, and it was truly an eye-opening experience, mainly because of the misinformation and outright lies people were choosing to believe about then-candidate Obama. I spoke with many people in my area and was floored to discover that these college-educated folks persisted in choosing to believe some emails they’d received with this misinformation, rather than checking out the facts for themselves. I lived in a heavily Republican district at that time and felt rather like a salmon swimming upstream during the campaign, though Florida did go for President Obama that year.

I hadn’t planned on becoming involved in the campaign this time around, but because of a growing realization of how pivotal this election is, I felt I had to volunteer. I now live in a heavily Democratic area and my state will very likely go for the President, so most of my calling will be to registered voters in swing states, such as Florida and Ohio, to strongly encourage them to make sure they cast their ballots. If you are a registered voter in the U.S., VOTE!

(Note:  I do not plan to become involved in a political debate in this blog, so comments that are intended to start one will be deleted)

“You can’t go home again…”

…so said my friend whose husband recently deleted his Facebook account.  He’d gotten in touch with long-ago friends from school, but naturally their respective views had changed over the years.  Over time he became increasingly distressed and disgusted that some of the people he’d liked so much in those days now had developed social and political views that were meanspirited, sometimes downright cruel, and showed little concern for others.   He finally had enough and took his leave of them.

When I signed up for Facebook, it was to follow fellow writers and friends who had migrated from MySpace; finding long-ago friends was not something I anticipated and it was a pleasant surprise to hear from these friends as we caught up with each others’ lives.  We all reminisced and enjoyed sharing memories of those earlier days; it was like old times. But of course our views had evolved in different directions.   I have no problem with that fact; but I do have a problem when my views are not given the same respect I give to theirs.

Years ago I stopped associating with a group of people whose views and ideas did not reflect who they purported to be, people who talked about love, tolerance and forgiveness, but were small and mean toward others in their hearts.  They were good at showing a lack of compassion toward those less fortunate, and to those who had problems they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand.  I remained a part of this group for a time, as there were some people in it I liked otherwise very much and I kept hoping they’d change their minds about some things, but finally I had enough and walked away.

For 25 years I lived in a state where this same set of views was pervasive, in the culture and in the political scene. During the last presidential election I worked for the Obama/Biden campaign and was appalled anew at the views of many of the registered voters in the area with whom I spoke, many of whom held erroneous ideas and preferred to believe obvious lies and innuendo over the truth.  These people exhibited this same small, mean outlook I’d tried to get away from before.  I was ashamed when these same types of people attended the first McCain/Palin rally across the bay from my home, and made the national news by yelling for then-candidate Obama and his family to have vile things done to them, and worse to the candidate himself.

When the opportunity presented itself that I could move away from that state and its people, I jumped at the chance.  I wanted an area with cool weather and a liberal outlook, and so I moved happily to Oregon.  Granted, the entire state is not liberal, but my new city is very liberal, and it’s a refreshing change to see liberal bumper stickers and many Obama/Biden stickers from 2008; I saw only one or two when I worked with the campaign in Florida.

So, at this stage in my life I’ve situated myself where I want to be, and am working at surrounding myself with the kind of people with whom I can be myself, not having to suppress my point of view to get along with others.  But now I find myself again in a situation online where there are people I remember fondly, but we’ve all changed so.  There are people I knew as teens who were kind and helpful to others and were willing to give others a chance, and to consider ideas besides their own.  But some of them now hold the same beliefs as the people I left behind in Florida.  As my daughter recently said, “Why are you still friends with them?”  Well, because we were such good friends in the old days, and I guess I’ve been hanging on to that.  But it’s not worth the extra stress I’m feeling when they ridicule things that are important to me, and it’s time to move on.

You truly can’t go home again…

Health Care Reform–Is It?

At the time of the 2000 presidential election, I was a registered independent voter.  Shortly after the election I received a call from the Republican National Committee, telling me that George W. Bush was eager to get to work on the issues that concerned all Americans, and what issue would I like him to work on first?

Not missing a beat, I said, “Universal health care for all Americans!”

There was dead silence on the other end of the line for several seconds.

When the caller had a chance to catch his breath, I offered, “Of course, I understand, being he’s a Republican, that’s something the new president will not be working on.”

The caller gave a nervous chuckle, thanked me for my time and hung up quickly.  And that’s the last we’ll hear of that, I mused.  I was sorely disappointed that President and Mrs. Clinton could not get health care reform done in the early 90’s; it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.

Fast forward to the election of 2008, when a Democrat in the White House looked like a distinct possibility.  Wanting to get in the thick of things this time, I switched to the Democratic Party and first supported Senator Clinton; I knew her stance on health care and felt if elected she could get it done this time.  But when it looked as if Senator Obama was more electable, I switched horses and jumped on the Obama bandwagon.  The issue of universal health care was more important to me than who won the election, as long it was a Democrat.

So now here we are, with a health care bill passed in the House.  The Republicans in the Senate will do what they can to derail it, led by the vehemence of Senator McCain, and send it back to the House chopped to pieces, but if the Democrats stand together, that won’t have to happen.  And we’ll have some reform.

I’m glad we’ve come this far; it’s an improvement, and more Americans will receive coverage.   To me, the bill does not go far enough; I would have liked to have seen a public option, at least, and, ideally, truly universal health care for all.  How could anyone who cares about anyone else in this world besides themselves not want that?  How could anyone not care whether a fellow American has to die or at least suffer personal and financial ruin because of the inability to pay for medical attention?  How can any Republican who is opposed to health care for all sleep at night?

Here is the best thing I’ve read today, at MSNBC.com.  It’s a comment from a physician regarding his impression of the new health care bill:

“I am a doctor.  Here is my plight:  I will have to pay more in Medicare taxes and take a pay cut at the same time. Having said this, I see patients daily that have no money for the medicine they need to live. They return to the E.R. numerous times for their “health care.”  And guess who pays the E.R. bill?  You and I.  Either we let these people die at the door of the hospital because they cannot pay.  Or, we pay for their health care.  There is no other option…I have a conscience.  I won’t let my fellow American die at the door.  I’ll pay for her health care.  God forgive me, and the rest of you who complain about it.”

Absolutely.  Me too.  I’ll pay it.  If health care reform means I have to pay more somewhere along the way so that someone else gets the care they deserve, then yes, most certainly, I will pay it.  Is this reform?  Not as much reform as I would like, but we’re getting there.  We’ll take what we can get.  For now.