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Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

August 23, 2008

Imagine the scene:

With seemingly out of control inflation and unemployment figures; facing bleak real estate and stock markets; saddled by war debt and a tarnished global reputation, the newly-elected president, a Harvard graduate, former attorney who served as a Democratic State Senator steps up to the podium to give his inaugural address:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Of course by now you realize I’m not talking about a potential future speech by Barack Obama, I’m talking about the January 1933 speech given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His first of four, a feat no President has or ever will repeat.

He certainly had his detractors – called both a warmonger and a fascist. It has been said that his economic policies actually prolonged The Great Depression by infringing upon Adam Smith’s notion of The Invisible Hand. And ok, sure, today his numerous calls to the divine and asking for the “blessing of God” later in the speech would have the ACLU filing a separation of church and state lawsuit faster than you can say Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But despite his political and philisophical shortcomings, I see in FDR’s speech a call for critical thinking:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.

And he channels Thomas Paine with

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

So what action am I alluding to? Thinking critically in the face of fear. Do you have friends who are afraid to have their children vaccinated? Show them articles like this.  We all have a relative who doesn’t trust doctors and seeks out so-called alternative medicine.  What can it hurt, right?  Think pseudoscience does no harm? Take a look here.

Of course you can’t just preach at them.

While talking to Dr G tonight about what I hope to do with this blog, she told me about a valuable lesson she learned while running for office. Her strategy to win started with discussing solutions to issues at hand in the same way she always had – with her closest friends.  Initial polling showed of course, that she already had their votes. The eureka moment came when she realized that she had to convince the remaining 99.9% of her constituents to support her.  And while her personal circle adored her (as do I, Doc), to win the election she had to reach the masses on their own terms with their own language.

We cannot change the way people think overnight, we must be patient yet diligent, persuasive, yet gentle. A century and a half before FDR, even Thomas Paine knew he had to speak the language of his audience.

Thanks to The Bad Astronomer, WhatsTheHarm.net and orDover for writing what they write, fighting what they fight and inspiring so much in me. And of course, to Dr G.

She did win her High School Student Council Election, BTW.

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3 comments

  1. Just wanted to say hello and pass along my email address. Still haven’t started a blog of my own, but now is the time. As you might guess, I need to get a few things off my chest.

    Great talking to you at Dragon*Con!


  2. Actually, the US has v. good reason to fear DEBT. There is so much of it in the US – and it’s piling up all the time. Americans have been living beyond their means for too long now – basically by paying for imports (esp from China) by issuing debts. But debts have to be repaid eventually, and it’s not going to be pretty. cheers…


  3. Excellent post! I enjoyed the historical perspective.

    Ginger Campbell, MD
    Brain Science Podcast



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