ROOSEVELT’S OR REAGAN’S AMERICA? A TIME FOR CHOOSING

by John Marini

On January 11, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent the text of his Annual Message to Congress. Under normal conditions, he would have delivered the message in person that evening at the Capitol. But he was recovering from the flu, and his doctor advised him not to leave the White House. So he delivered it as a fireside chat to the American people. It has been called the greatest speech of the century by Cass Sunstein, a prominent liberal law professor at the University of Chicago. It is an important speech because it is probably the most far-reaching attempt by an American president to legitimize the administrative or welfare state, based on the idea that government must guarantee social and economic security for all.
Thirty-seven years later, in his First Inaugural Address on January 20, 1981, President Ronald Reagan would deny that government could provide such a broad guarantee of security in a manner consistent with the protection of American liberty. Indeed, he would insist that bureaucratic government had become a danger to the survival of our freedom. In looking at the differences between the views of Roosevelt and Reagan, we can discern the distinction between a constitutional regime—in which the power of government is limited so as to enable the people to rule—and an administrative state, which presupposes the rule of a bureaucratic or intellectual elite.

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