How Think Progress Would Have Attacked Franklin Roosevelt

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, 2016.

The past few days’ kerfuffle over the attacks that Think Progress has leveled against Bernie Sanders raises a question for the historically minded: How viciously would it have lashed out against Franklin Roosevelt for his presumed hypocrisy in attacking the reactionary rich more directly and vehemently than Sanders ever has?

Think Progress, which is the news and commentary website operating under the aegis and with the funding of the Democratic Party–aligned think tank Center for American Progress, accused Sanders last week of just such hypocrisy for his repeated attacks on the rich, even as he had a yearly income in excess of $1 million from the sale of his books. As one article on the Think Progress website put it:

It’s all very off-brand and embarrassing, but Sen. Bernie Sanders is a millionaire. Turns out railing against “millionaires and billionaires” can be quite the lucrative enterprise.

Sanders, who released his last ten years of tax returns on Monday, acknowledged that the proceeds from his book sales brought him over the millionaire threshold, and chastised Think Progress—and CAP, headed by longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Neera Tanden—for running this sort of ad hominem attack, not just on him but on other progressive Democrats as well.

Think Progress is hardly the first institution or individual to label liberals and leftists of some means as inauthentic or hypocritical for their own attacks on concentrated wealth. The Democratic leader subjected to the greatest number and most vicious of such attacks was Franklin Roosevelt, the heir to an old New York fortune who raised taxes on the wealthy, legalized collective bargaining, and levied attacks on the rich far more coruscating than anything Sanders has ever said. In his nationally broadcast Madison Square Garden speech on the eve of the 1936 election, when he was seeking his second term as president, FDR identified his “unscrupulous enemies” as

business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

Whew! Next to that, Sanders sounds like Mr. Rogers.

FDR’s invective against the “forces of selfishness,” and the policies he enacted to combat those forces and create a larger, more confident middle class, prompted conservatives to contrast his anti-plutocratic politics with his personal wealth and accuse him of hypocrisy, insincerity, and double standards. Where did a rich guy come off criticizing other rich guys—or at least, other rich guys who wanted to keep prosperity from trickling down to the hoi polloi? What a sham! What chutzpah!

Not that Sanders has anything remotely resembling a fortune, much less an FDR-type fortune, but this is precisely the same attack that Think Progress belched forth last week against Bernie.

A lot of good, smart progressives work at Think Progress and CAP. They don’t work there because they like this kind of horseshit; they don’t work there because they want to produce memes for the likes of Fox News. That’s not CAP’s mission, either—at least, it shouldn’t be.

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