Guns, Politics, and Freedom
May 6, 1997

FDR’s legacy: Lost liberties

By F. Paul Valone


The following column appeared in The Charlotte Observer on Tuesday, May 6, 1997.



He undermined constitutional protections and paved the way for abuse of power.


Another Franklin Delano Roosevelt legacy came to roost last week.  Nestled among headlines celebrating the rosy, if improbable plan to erase the federal budget deficit (created, of course, by FDR-inspired entitlements), a story described the new FDR monument - a $48 million, 7.5 acre monolith built by the monolithic federal government which was, in turn, contrived by FDR himself.  There’s a certain symmetry in that.


Roosevelt is revered for combating the collapsed economy of the Great Depression with “New Deal” federal programs like the Works Progress Administration, Agricultural Adjustments Acts, and Tennessee Valley Authority..


Before we get all warm and fuzzy about FDR, however, we should recall that by creating an alphabet soup of interventionist bureaucracies, he ended 150 years of limited government.  His legacy was to remake our federal government into an all-devouring national government which is relatively free to usurp power and stomp the liberties of citizens. 


The U.S. Constitution was written by former English subjects who, having witnessed  abuse by unchecked governmental power, gave us a system of government with limited central powers and semi-sovereign states.


As stipulated in the Tenth Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  In other words, the federal government can do only that which is specifically allowed;  all else is forbidden.


Not only did FDR change all that, he did so in ways foreseen by a group involved in drafting our Constitution who became known as the “anti-federalists.”  Credited with giving us a Bill of Rights and including figures like Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, they argued  against adopting the Constitution, predicting the proposed federation would eventually digress to a strong national government capable of trampling the freedoms of states and citizens alike.  Among their concerns, they feared the Supreme Court might interpret the Constitution to “mould the government, into almost any shape they please.” 


Unfortunately, the anti-federalists were right.  In 1937, angered by a Supreme Court which declared some New Deal programs unconstitutional, FDR proposed legislation to “pack” the  Court with activist judges who would rout the Constitution and fulfill his political goals.  Although Congress rejected Roosevelt’s plan, he succeeded in clearing a path for judicial activists who today reinterpret the Constitution for the convenience of liberal doctrine.


Moreover, Roosevelt’s system of federal entitlements like welfare and social security have become the primary engine for redistribution of wealth.  As evidenced by Democrats’ success in scaring the social security vote in the 1996 elections, a large portion of the electorate now devotes its ballot to emptying someone else’s pocket.


With the expansion of central rule came a plague of agencies whose names have become synonymous with abuse of power.  When the I.R.S. refuses to divulge secret criteria for selecting audit victims, when the B.A.T.F. entraps citizens and lies about it to Congress, when the D.E.A. seizes private property without bothering to charge owners with crimes, or when the E.P.A. declares the mud puddle in your backyard a "wetland,” you can thank FDR.


Regardless, fans of big government and even a few alleged conservatives like Newt Gingrich continue to revere him.  Our current President seems to think he is Roosevelt reincarnated (although Roosevelt hid his polio for the sake of leadership, while Clinton used a wheelchair as a prop to milk the public for sympathy).


Whether or not you ascribe altruism to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s motives in empowering the federal government, understand that he undermined our constitutional protections and paved the way for abuse of power.  Consider, for example, how organizations opposed to Clinton policies mysteriously end up on the receiving end of I.R.S. audits, or how the administration accidentally ended up in possession of  400 or so F.B.I. files on political opponents.


Said anti-federalist William Lenoir of North Carolina, “It is natural for men to aspire to power - it is the nature of mankind to be tyrannical…”  Remember that the next time you’re asked to add yet another stone to President Roosevelt’s federal monolith.