I imagine that most people, at some point in their lives, have wished that they had a crystal ball to see into the future. There are many moments where a little prescience would be useful, but it seems that it would come in especially handy when faced with a tough choice. It wouldn’t surprise me if my grandfather, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, longed for a sneak peek into the months and years ahead as he crafted the New Deal to pull America out of the Great Depression. Nor would it surprise me if the representatives and senators on Capitol Hill at that time lay awake at night wondering how it would all turn out. Would this plan create jobs? Would this new infrastructure lead to growth? Only history, not a crystal ball, would show that the New Deal would lead to the greatest expansion of opportunity and growth in the history of the world.
At the time it was impossible to know that, and legislators had to decide how to vote in an atmosphere that was filled with resistance to Roosevelt’s proposal. Naysayers were vocal and visible. Boldfaced names like Charles Lindbergh and William Randolph Hearst came out against the New Deal, and were joined by the heads of corporate giants such as General Motors, Sun Oil Company, and DuPont. They criticized my grandfather for overreaching and overspending. Even by the time of the Second New Deal, the opposition remained ardent. The Republican Party platform of 1936 said that the New Deal was “guilty of frightful waste and extravagance.”
And yet, the New Deal came to pass, and relief, recovery, and reform followed. Legislators, many of whom may have been skeptical at first, and almost all of whom undoubtedly faced extreme pressure to reject this “extravagance,” joined the president in investing in America. They embraced their responsibility, not just to their current constituents who were so desperate for opportunity, but also to the generations to come who would benefit from their foresight and sacrifice.
Legislators on Beacon Hill might also be longing for a sneak peek into the months and years ahead as they wrestle with Governor Patrick’s 2014 budget. They have been asked to make a sizeable investment in education, transportation, and innovation in Massachusetts, while countless critics are making the case that the investments are too generous and the amount of revenue required too jarring.
The legislators may not have a crystal ball to tell them how a yea or nay vote will impact their districts, but they do have a rearview mirror. In it they will see that throughout our nation’s and our Commonwealth’s history, investments in education, transportation, and innovation have led to growth and opportunity. The New Deal is just one example of that. A glance into the past will also show that history favors those with an eye to the future. We celebrate President Eisenhower for his advancement of the highway system and President Kennedy for propelling us into space. Sustainably funding the MBTA may not be the moon landing, but it is a vital contribution to the economic future of the generations to come.
The governor is looking to fund early education, extend the school day in gateway cities, and make college more affordable for our young people so that Massachusetts will continue to have the brain power that has been our secret weapon for so long. He is calling for us to restore our roads and infrastructure, and expand mass transit to forgotten corners of the Commonwealth. A recent study released by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable makes the critical link between investments in transportation and the state’s economic competitiveness. This is about quality of life and economic growth.
President Roosevelt and his colleagues in government made a choice to give Americans the resources they needed to succeed, both in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression and for generations to come. With no crystal ball in their arsenal, some may call what they did taking a leap of faith. I call it leadership. Whatever you call it, the Massachusetts Legislature shouldn’t let this opportunity to make history pass by.
James Roosevelt Jr., the grandson of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is CEO of Tufts Health Plan.