Okay, let’s look at one of FDR’s Four Freedoms. Along with the Norman Rockwell paintings, essays were commissioned by the Saturday Evening Post. Freedom from Want is one of two negatives of the four, along with freedom from fear.* The essay for Freedom from Want was written by Philippine immigrant Carlos Bulosan.
The essay gives the perspective of American immigrant workers of the 1943 era. They were a hard working underclass, doing their best to contribute, earn their pay, and leave a better life to their children. Proud and optimistic Americans! Below are two passages worth sharing:
Our march toward security and peace is the march of freedom—the freedom that we should like to become a living part of. It is the dignity of the individual to live in a society of free men, where the spirit of understanding and belief exists; of understanding that all men, whatever their color, race, religion or estate, should be given equal opportunity to serve themselves and each other according to their needs and abilities.
But we are not really free unless we use what we produce. So long as the fruit of our labor is denied us, so long will want manifest itself in a world of slaves.
It is only when we have plenty to eat—plenty of everything— that we begin to understand what freedom means. To us, freedom is not an intangible thing. When we have enough to eat, then we are healthy enough to enjoy what we eat. Then we have the time and ability to read and think and discuss things. Then we are not merely living but also becoming a creative part of life. It is only then that we become a growing part of democracy.
And a few paragraphs later…
What do we want? We want complete security and peace. We want to share the promise and fruits of American life. We want to be free from fear and hunger.
So freedom from want is about poverty, and implies that with certain basic necessities, good people can produce, join society, andmcontr4ibute to the advancement of society.
Of course, this underclass – dominated by immigrants – still exists. At the risk of over-generalizing, these are largely hard working people with the kinds of values that redeem us all. And for many of these people, poverty knocks on their door.
It is by anecdote that the right spreads disinformation about such people. They must go case by case because they are exceptions to the rule, just barely enough to be a visible corpus. They regularly cite examples of hard working poor who do not receive any benefits. The right also makes a case that poverty is different than it was in 1943. A family may not have enough for groceries, but the cable TV, cell phone and car work fine. We must admit this new characterization, and consider, how true is it? Another modern issue is complacency and sloth. To what extent have we created a group of dependents in our world?
Welfare reforms of the 1990s are documented to be by-and-large a success. Numbers show increased portions of people eventually working, and seeing the fruit of their labor. That is the American Dream as I see it. Whatever spirit of reform and clarity that drove legislators to make those changes must continue. Any program that stifles the human desire to achieve is flawed.
On the other hand, any person living in our wealthy, abundant country unlucky enough to have their dreams beyond hope, deserves that kind of freedom from want.
* Freedom to Worship God as they choose is a qualified freedom, isn’t it? Just ask an atheist, pagan or polytheist….