Radio Address on the National Democratic Platform From Albany, New York
I hope during this campaign to use the radio frequently to speak to you about important things that concern us all.
In the olden days, campaigns were conducted amid surroundings of brass bands and red lights. Oratory was an appeal primarily to the emotions and sometimes to the passions. It always has been my feeling that with the spread of education, with the wider reading of newspapers and especially with the advent of the radio, mere oratory and mere emotion are having less to do with the determination of public questions under our representative system of Government. Today, common sense plays the greater part and final opinions are arrived at in the quiet of the home.
In this quiet of common sense and friendliness, I want you to hear me tonight as I sit here in my own home, away from the excitement of the campaign. I am weighing all the things which I have learned in all my years in public service — first in Albany, twenty-one years ago, then during eight busy years in Washington, interspersed with visits into all the States of the Union and, during and after the War, to the Nations of Europe; then, in these latter years, in my tasks as Governor of New York, in order that the way may be clear for the more detailed discussion and debate which will come as the campaign proceeds, I propose tonight to state the broad policies of my party and to sketch the first outline of the final picture.
Where do we look for this? In the platform, of course. A platform is a proposal and at the same time a promise binding on the party and its candidates.
Now even the partisan opposition press has found it hard to criticize the Democratic platform this year. It is brief, only one-fifth of the length of the Republican platform, and easily understood. Eighty percent of it is constructive; only twenty percent critical. Moreover, it is forthright and genuine — honest to the core.
The entire platform needs to be read in the light of its short preamble. This indicates that our present economic condition —how it came, what it is, and how it can be remedied — is the main issue of this campaign. I can do no better than to read it exactly as it stands.
"In this time of unprecedented economic and social distress, the Democratic Party declares its conviction that the chief causes of this condition were the disastrous policies, pursued by our Government since the World War, of economic isolation fostering the merger of competitive businesses into monopolies and encouraging the indefensible expansion and contraction of credits for private profit at the expense of the public.
"Those who were responsible for these policies have abandoned the ideals on which the War was won and thrown away the fruits of victory, thus rejecting the greatest opportunity in history to bring peace, prosperity and happiness to our people and to the world. They have ruined our foreign trade, destroyed the values of our commodities and products, crippled our banking system, robbed millions of our people of their life savings and thrown millions more out of work, produced widespread poverty and brought the Government to a state of financial distress unprecedented in times of peace.
"The only hope for improving present conditions, restoring employment, affording permanent relief to the people and bringing the Nation back to its former proud position of domestic happiness and of financial, industrial, agricultural and commercial leadership in the world lies in a drastic change in economic and governmental policies. .
"Believing that a party platform is a covenant with the people to be, kept by the party when entrusted with power, and that the people are entitled to know in plain words the terms of the contract to which they are asked to subscribe, we hereby declare this to be the platform of the Democratic Party.
"The Democratic Party solemnly promises by appropriate action to put into effect the principles, policies and reforms herein advocated and to eradicate the policies, methods and practices herein condemned."
Immediately after this statement of principle, there follow three important declarations:
"An immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus and eliminating extravagance, to accomplish a saving of not less than 25 percent in the cost of Federal Government, and we call upon the Democratic Party in the States to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.
"Maintenance of the national credit by a Federal budget annually balanced on the basis of accurate Executive estimates within revenues, raised by a system of taxation levied on the principle of ability to pay.
"A sound currency to be preserved at all hazards, and an international monetary conference called, on the invitation of our Government, to consider the rehabilitation of silver and related questions."
With these declarations — for a balanced budget and for a sound currency — the Democratic Party sets its face against the time-serving and disastrous fiscal policy of recent years. What did that policy do?
1. In highly prosperous times, when tares were easy to obtain, it repealed taxes on abnormal profits and incomes, with the result that the war debt was not drastically reduced.
2. When the depression began, the Administration, instead of reducing annual expenses to meet decreasing revenues, became sponsor for deficits which at the end of this fiscal year will have added $5,000,000,000 to the national debt.
3. To meet this staggering deficit, the Administration has resorted to the type of inflation which has weakened public confidence in our Government credit both at home and abroad.
High-sounding, newly invented phrases cannot sugar-coat the pill.
Let us have the courage to stop borrowing to meet continuing deficits. Stop the deficits. Let us have equal courage to reverse the policy of the Republican leaders and insist on a sound currency.
Our party says clearly that not only must Government income meet prospective expenditures, but this income must be secured on the principle of ability to pay. This is a declaration in favor of graduated income, inheritance and profits taxes, and against taxes on food and clothing, whose burden is actually shifted to the consumers of these necessities of life on a per capita basis rather than on the basis of the relative size of personal incomes.
Something more is needed than a domestic balanced budget and a just revenue system. Muddled Government finance creates a general uncertainty concerning the value of national currencies; this uncertainty has a way of spreading from country to country. The world is tormented with it now. The United States could well afford to take the lead in asking for a general conference to establish less changeable fiscal relationships and to determine what can be done to restore the purchasing power of that half of the world's inhabitants who are on a silver basis, and to exchange views regarding governmental finance.
It is obvious that sound money is an international necessity, not a domestic consideration for one Nation alone. Nothing is more needed than such an exchange of opinion; nothing could do more to create stable conditions in which trade could once more be resumed.
We face a condition which, at first, seems to involve either an unbalanced budget and an unsound currency or else failure of the Government to assume its just duties — the relief of distress and protection against loss of savings built up through many years by numberless small investors. This concerns you, my friends, who managed to lay aside a few dollars for a rainy day.
This dilemma can be met by saving in one place what we would spend in others, or by acquiring the necessary revenue through taxation. Revenues must cover expenditures by one means or another. Any Government, like any family, can for a year spend a little more than it earns. But you and I know that a continuation of that habit means the poorhouse.
At best, the Federal Government will necessarily bear a heavy burden. It has been the theory of Republican leaders that relief is a local responsibility, a theory stated repeatedly and modified only with the greatest reluctance. The Democratic platform was framed with an eye to actual human needs. What could be finer than that bold and humanitarian statement pledging "continuous responsibility of the Government (meaning the Federal Government) for human welfare, especially for the protection of children."
In view of this statement, the plank concerning relief for the unemployed becomes significant:
"We advocate extension of Federal credit to the States to provide unemployment relief wherever the diminishing resources of the States make it impossible for them to provide for the needy; expansion of the Federal program of necessary and useful construction affected with a public interest, such as flood control and waterways, including the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence deep waterways; the spread of employment by a substantial reduction in the hours of labor, the encouragement of the shorter week by applying that principle in Government service; advance planning of public works."
Following this there is the party declaration concerning agriculture.
"We advocate for the restoration of agriculture, the Nation's basic industry, better financing of farm mortgages through reorganized farm bank agencies at low rates of interest, on an amortization plan, giving preference to credits for the redemption of farms and homes sold under foreclosure; extension and development of the farm cooperative movement and effective control of crop surpluses so that our farmers may have the full benefit of the domestic market.
"Enactment of every constitutional measure that will aid the farmer to receive for basic farm commodities prices in excess of cost of production.
"We condemn the extravagance of the Farm Board, its disastrous action which made the Government a speculator in farm products and the unsound policy of restricting agricultural production to the demands of domestic markets."
The platform contains admirable statements about a group of subjects which logically go together — the tariff and foreign policy. The tariff plank reads as follows:
"A competitive tariff for revenue, with a fact-finding tariff commission free from Executive interference, reciprocal tariff agreements with other Nations and an international economic conference designed to restore international trade and facilitate exchange.
"The Hawley-Smoot tariff law, the prohibitive rates of which have resulted in retaliatory action by more than forty countries, created international economic hostilities, destroyed international trade, driven our factories into foreign countries, robbed the American farmer of his foreign markets and increased his cost of production."
A tariff is a tax laid on certain goods passing from the producer to the consumer. It is laid on these goods rather than other similar ones because they originate abroad. This is obviously protection for the producers of competing goods at home. Peasants who live at lower levels than our farmers, workers who are sweated to reduce costs, ought not to determine prices for American-made goods. There are standards which we desire to set for ourselves. Tariffs should be high enough to maintain living standards which we set for ourselves. But if they are higher, they become a particularly vicious kind of direct tax which is laid doubly on the consumer. Not only are the prices of foreign goods raised, but those of domestic goods also.
It is a difficult and highly technical matter to determine standards and costs of production abroad and at home. A commission of experts can be trusted to find such facts, but not to dictate policies. The facts should be left to speak for themselves, free from presidential interference.
One of the great needs of the world is to set international trade flowing again. The proper procedure is to ascertain all the pertinent facts, to publish them widely and then to negotiate with each country affected. Trade barriers of all kinds ought to be lowered, not by rule of thumb, but with due regard to safety and justice — lowered, nevertheless, as quickly and definitely as possible. Policy needs to be dominated by the realities we discover and by the national purposes we seek.
This tariff policy, however, cannot be separated from our other relations with foreign countries; the whole thing ties in together. The platform is explicit here also:
"A firm foreign policy, including peace with all the world and the settlement of international disputes by arbitration; no interference in the internal affairs of other Nations; the sanctity of treaties and the maintenance of good faith and of good-will in financial obligations; adherence to the World Court with the pending reservations; the Pact of Paris, abolishing war as an instrument of national policy, to be made effective by provisions for consultation and conference in case of threatened violation of treaties; international agreement for reduction of armaments; and cooperation with Nations of the Western Hemisphere to maintain the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine. We oppose cancellation of due debts owing to the United States by foreign Nations."
This problem of the debts is complex. Its solution has, however, been brought measurably nearer by the recent results at Lausanne. Great Britain, France and Germany have at last agreed among themselves concerning reparations. The danger now is that they may turn a united front against us. This comes, I am convinced, not so much from the debts they owe us, as from our barriers against their trade, which make the problem so difficult.
The debts will not be a problem — we shall not have to cancel them — if we are realistic about providing ways in which payment is possible through the profits arising from the rehabilitation of trade. The Republican platform said nothing at all about this; but their position has been the absurd one of demanding payment and at the same time making payment impossible. This policy finally forced a moratorium as it was bound to do. Our policy declares for payment, but at the same time for lowered tariffs and resumption of trade which open the way for payment.
Up to this point, you and I have been considering both the immediate relief for the present emergency and also the immediate initiating of plans to bring us back to a more normal economic condition. At the same time it is equally our duty to guard against repetition of the evils and errors which have cost us so much. It is not enough to say that when prosperity is restored we shall then consider how to avoid repeating all the old errors. Today we recognize these errors. Today they should be outlawed for all time to come. It must be made more difficult for a depression to happen in the future; it must be made impossible for its indefensible features to show themselves again. Concerning the necessary revision of some of our institutions for this purpose, I shall have more to say later. At present I read you the party's stand:
"Strict and impartial enforcement of anti-trust laws to prevent monopoly and unfair trade practices, and revision thereof for the better protection of labor and the small producer and distributor; conservation, development and use of the Nation's water power in the public interest.
"Protection of the investing public by requiring to be filed with the Government and carried in advertisements of all offerings of foreign and domestic stocks and bonds true information as to bonuses, commissions, principal invested and interests of sellers. Regulation to the full extent of Federal power of:
"Holding companies which sell securities in interstate commerce;
"Rates of utility companies operating across State lines; "Exchanges trading in securities and commodities.
"Quicker methods of realizing on assets for the relief of depositors of suspended banks, and a more rigid supervision of national banks for the protection of depositors and the prevention of the use of their moneys in speculation' to the detriment of local credits.
"The severance of affiliated securities companies and the divorce of underwriting schemes from commercial banks; and further restriction of Federal Reserve Banks in permitting the use of Federal Reserve facilities for speculative purposes."
"Action and utterances of high public officials designed to influence stock exchange prices.
"The usurpation of power by the State Department in assuming to pass upon foreign securities offered by international bankers, as a result of which billions of dollars in questionable bonds have been sold to the public upon the implied approval of the Federal Government."
Now we come to the famous repeal plank. It is simple and it has meaning: "We favor the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.
"To effect such repeal we demand that the Congress immediately propose a constitutional amendment to truly representative conventions in the States called to act solely on that proposal.
"We urge the enactment of such measures by the several States as will actually promote temperance, effectively prevent the return of the saloon and bring the liquor traffic into the open under complete supervision and control by the States.
"We demand that the Federal Government effectively exercise its power to enable the States to protect themselves against importation of intoxicating liquors in violation of their laws.
"Pending repeal, we favor immediate modification of the Volstead Act to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution and to provide therefrom a proper and needed revenue."
Nothing need be added to that, except that if the present Congress takes no action, I shall urge the new Congress to carry out these provisions.
There are a number of other plans of importance, but less in need of elaboration, which, because my time is so short, I shall only read to you.
They are as follows:
"We advocate a navy and an army adequate for national defense, based on a survey of all facts affecting the existing establishments, that the people in time of peace may not be burdened by an expenditure fast approaching one billion dollars annually.
"The full measure of justice and generosity for all war veterans who have suffered disability or disease caused by or resulting from actual service in time of war and for their dependents.
"Unemployment and old-age insurance, under State laws.
"Independence for the Philippines; ultimate statehood for Puerto Rico; the employment of American citizens in the operation of the Panama Canal.
"Simplification of legal procedure and reorganization of the judicial system to make the attainment of justice speedy, certain and at less cost.
"Continuous publicity of political contributions and expenditures, strengthening of the corrupt practices act and severe penalties for misappropriation of campaign funds.
"The improper and excessive use of money in political activities.
"Paid lobbies of special interests to influence members of Congress and other public servants by personal contacts.
"The open and covert resistance of administrative officials to every effort made by Congressional committees to curtail the extravagant expenditures of the Government, and to revoke improvident subsidies granted to favored interests."
And now, my friends, I close my talk with you tonight with this concluding declaration:
"To accomplish these purposes and to recover economic liberty we pledge the nominees of this convention, and the best effort of a great party whose founder announced the doctrine which guides us now: in the hour of our country's need, equal rights to all, special privilege to none."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address on the National Democratic Platform From Albany, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/288090