Franklin D. Roosevelt

Radio Address to the New York Herald Tribune Forum.

October 26, 1939

Mrs. Reid, Ladies and Gentlemen of the "Herald Tribune" Forum:

I am glad to say a word in this forum because I heartily approve the forum idea. After all, two eighteenth century forums in Philadelphia gave us the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

It is the magic of radio that has so greatly increased the use-fulness of the forum. Radio listeners have learned to discriminate over the air between the honest advocate who relies on truth and logic and the more dramatic speaker who is clever in appealing to the passions and prejudices of his listeners.

We have had an example of objective reporting during recent weeks in the presentation of international subjects, both in the press and radio. Right here I should like to throw bouquets to the majority of the press and the radio. Through a period of grave anxiety, both have tried to discriminate between fact and propaganda and unfounded rumor, and to give to their readers and listeners an unbiased and factual chronicle of developments. This has worked so well in international reporting that one may be pardoned for wishing for more of it in the field of domestic news. It is a good rule. If it is a good rule in one, why is it not a good rule in the other?

From the end of the World War twenty-one years ago, this country, like many others, went through a phase of having large groups of people carried away by some emotion—some alluring, attractive, even speciously inspiring, public presentation of a nostrum, a cure-all. Many Americans lost their heads because several plausible fellows lost theirs in expounding schemes to end barbarity, to give weekly handouts to people, to give everybody a better job- or, more modestly, for example, to put a chicken or two in every pot—all by adoption of some new financial plan or some new social system. And all of them burst like bubbles.

Some proponents of nostrums were honest and sincere, others -too many of them- were seekers of personal power; still others saw a chance to get rich on the dimes and quarters of the poorer people in our population. All of them, perhaps unconsciously, were capitalizing on the fact that the democratic form of Government works slowly. There always exists in a democratic society a large group which, quite naturally, champs at the bit over the slowness of democracy; and that is why it is right for us who believe in democracy to keep the democratic processes progressive—in other words, moving forward with the advances in civilization. That is why it is dangerous for democracy to stop moving forward because any period of stagnation increases the numbers of those who demand action and action now.

There are, therefore, two distinct dangers to democracy. There is the peril from those who seek the fulfillment of fine ideals at a pace that is too fast for the machinery of the modern body politic to function—people who by insistence on too great speed foster an oligarchic form of Government such as Communism, or Naziism or Fascism.

The other group which presents an equal danger, is composed of that small minority which complains that the democratic processes are inefficient as well as being too slow, people who would have the whole of Government put into the hands of a little group of those who have proved their efficiency in lines of specialized science or specialized private business, but who do not see the picture as a whole. They equally, and in most cases unconsciously too, are in effect advocating the oligarchic form of Government—Communism, or Naziism or Fascism.

Extreme Rightists and extreme Leftists ought not to be taken out by us and shot against the wall, for they sharpen the argument, and make us realize the value of the democratic middle course—especially if that middle course, in order to keep up with the times, is, and I quote what I have said before, "just a little bit left of center."

I am reminded of four definitions:

A Radical is a man with both feet firmly planted— in the air.

A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards.

A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest-at the command—of his head.

It has been a good thing for us that during the past twenty years we have seen the effect of organized propaganda even when that propaganda has been based on nostrums or prejudices.

It has been a good thing for our country that the Congress of the United States has been deluged from time to time by organized propaganda. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate begin to discriminate nowadays between honest, spontaneous, unsolicited expressions of opinion on the part of the voters and the propaganda type of mass appeals.

Because the country is so profoundly interested in the world situation today, I do want to leave with you one thought bearing on international relations. I make bold to do this because the topic of this evening's discussion, as I understand it, is "The War's Challenge to the United States."

In and out of Congress we have heard orators and commentators and others beating their breasts and proclaiming against sending the boys of American mothers to fight on the battlefields of Europe. That I do not hesitate to label as one of the worst fakes in current history. It is a deliberate setting up of an imaginary bogey man. The simple truth is that no person in any responsible place in the national administration in Washington, or in any State Government, or in any city Government, or in any county Government, has ever suggested in any shape, manner or form the remotest possibility of sending the boys of American mothers to fight on the battlefields of Europe. That is why I label that argument a shameless and dishonest fake.

I have not the slightest objection to make against those amateurs who, to the reading and the listening public, discourse on the inner meanings of the military and naval events of the war in Europe. They do no harm because the average citizen is acquiring rapidly the gift of discrimination—and the more all of these subjects are talked about by amateur armchair strategists the more the public will make up its own mind in the long run. The public will acquire the ability to think things through for themselves.

The fact of the international situation—the simple fact, without any bogey in it, without any appeals to prejudice—is that the United States of America, as I have said before, is neutral and does not intend to get involved in war. That we can be neutral in thought as well as in act is impossible of fulfillment because again, the people of this country, thinking things through calmly and without prejudice, have been and are making up their minds about the relative merits of current events on other continents.

It is a fact increasingly manifest that presentation of real news has sharpened the minds and the judgment of men and Women everywhere in these days of real public discussion. We Americans begin to know the difference between the truth on the one side and the falsehood on the other, no matter how often the falsehood is iterated and reiterated. Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address to the New York Herald Tribune Forum. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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