FDR's Hyde Park desk

In this 1938 photo, President Franklin D. Roosevelt works on a speech in the office of his estate in Hyde Park, New York. Also on hand are, from left, secretaries Marguerite Lehand, Marvin McIntyre and Grace Tully.

Associated Press archives

Each Christmas Eve in the 1930s and 1940s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would deliver a radio address to the people of the United States.

For the 32nd president, it was an opportunity to mark the holiday. But Roosevelt also used these addresses to speak about the advance of economic and social justice. This, he argued, was cause for celebration, and for a renewed commitment to do even more in the year to come.

Roosevelt often read to his listeners from the Bible and newspaper columns and, invariably, “A Christmas Carol.” In the social commentary of Charles Dickens on the London of a century earlier, the president found a call to contemporary action.

“A Christmas rite for me is always to reread that immortal little story by Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Reading between the lines and thinking as I always do of Bob Cratchit’s humble home as a counterpart of millions of our own American homes, the story takes on a stirring significance to me,” Roosevelt recalled in his 1939 address. “Old Scrooge found that Christmas wasn’t a humbug. He took to himself the spirit of neighborliness. But today neighborliness no longer can be confined to one’s little neighborhood. Life has become too complex for that. In our country neighborliness has gradually spread its boundaries — from town, to county, to state and now at last to the whole nation.”

“For instance,” Roosevelt marveled, as he spoke just days before the first Social Security checks would be dispatched, “who a generation ago would have thought that a week from tomorrow — January 1, 1940 — tens of thousands of elderly men and women in every state and every county and every city of the nation would begin to receive checks every month for old age retirement insurance — and not only that but that there would be also insurance benefits for the wife, the widow, the orphan children and even dependent parents? Who would have thought a generation ago that people who lost their jobs would, for an appreciable period, receive unemployment insurance — that the needy, the blind and the crippled children would receive some measure of protection which will reach down to the millions of Bob Cratchits, the Marthas and the Tiny Tims of our own ‘four-room homes’?”

Now that measure of protection is threatened. Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are desperate to find money to fund tax breaks for the wealthy, and these modern-day Scrooges are more than willing to shred the safety net in order to achieve their ends. Greed's errand boys now walk the corridors of power.

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But their day will pass. The Gallup Poll has Trump’s approval rating at 34 percent. Democrats lead Republicans in generic polls of congressional races 51-40. The latest Harvard CAPS-Harris survey finds that 64 percent of respondents oppose the tax bill.

As we celebrate this holiday, let us remember that this is a good and generous nation that once embraced FDR’s promise of “a neighborliness that spreads its boundaries — from town, to county, to state and now at last to the whole nation.” We will do so again — and soon.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times