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The Four Freedoms, Democratic Values, and the Conservative Challenge

By Julia Parker.

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress in his State of the Union speech, historically known as the Four Freedoms Speech. The Four Freedoms defined minimum rights of all humanity, and within the speech, Roosevelt also included six qualities of a strong and healthy democracy, and activities of government supportive of that democracy. He defined challenges to the United States that are as salient today as they were then.

Roosevelt posited that the post-WWII world would be founded on four essential human freedoms:

  • Freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom of every person to worship God in his or her own way—everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom from want—which translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure for every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom from fear—which translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Roosevelt’s goal for the free world was that those essential freedoms would spread across the globe in the (then) current generation, liberating people everywhere to reach their fullest potential, especially through economic re-structuring and arms reductions that would secure a lifetime of peace and prosperity for all.

He went further to define qualities of a strong and healthy democracy that people could expect of their government. Coupled with the Four Freedoms, these qualities define the values held sacred by the Democratic Party over the last 76 years. They also define areas of greatest opportunity for us as a people governed by the people:

  • Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
  • Jobs for those who can work.
  • Security for those who need it.
  • The ending of special privilege for the few.
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all.
  • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

And, thirdly, he identified four areas of the social economy that would improve economic security for all Americans:

  • We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and employment insurance.
  • We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
  • We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
  • We should be willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve these goals (paraphrased).

Democratic Values

The tenets of Roosevelt’s speech clearly lay out the values espoused by today’s Democratic Party. We value human rights, healthcare for all, women’s rights, a living wage, the right to clean water and clean air, the right of every citizen to participate in the political process and to vote, the right to a free quality education, and the right of every citizen to gainful employment.

We Democrats have worked over the decades since WWII to make these rights available to all Americans, but we currently face challenges to our image of the world order from within and without. To quote Roosevelt’s speech again,

Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed…by either arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord…”

Conservative Challenge

This assault is being levied by those within our own government who hold a different view of America than the one we share. The conservative Republican ideal of limited government includes

  • a strong military to protect Americans within our borders
  • a strong and limited immigration policy
  • drastically lower corporate and personal income taxes
  • minimal social services
  • deregulation of financial and industrial corporation
  • minimal environmental regulation
  • “access” to healthcare, not a guaranteed right to affordable healthcare

Implementation of Republican guiding principles will benefit the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class. In the last two months since the Trump inauguration, the following bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives:

  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
  2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
  3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
  4. HR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
  5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
  6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
  7. HR 785 National Right to Work (the right of employers to terminate employees at will)
  8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
  9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
  10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran

The titles of the bills speak for themselves. This is the “deconstruction of government” advocated by Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon. Readers must ask the question, “Will these policies benefit me and my family?” If the answer is “NO,” then it is time for you to answer Roosevelt’s call to sacrifice. Turn off the TV and computer games and get involved! WE must be the ones to decide what America will be by her 250th birthday in 2026.

The future is ours to define: equanimity and justice for all, or a toxic world ruled by the very wealthy?


The author borrowed heavily and quoted from FDR’s “3-Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union,” January 6, 1941.  All credit is given to President Roosevelt.  Read the entire text of the Four Freedom speech here.  Information about the far right Republican agenda can be found in Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, Doubleday, 2016.


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