Be it Bam or Mac, now’s time for another New Deal


It was back in February in the snows of Wisconsin that Barack Obama fell into a minor hoo-ha of plagiarism by borrowing (from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) the following, well, words:

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words — just speeches.”

Obama was winging it, ad-libbing it, and if you’re a purist, he got F.D.R. a tiny bit wrong. The actual words spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt at his inauguration on March 4, 1933, were (according to Wikipedia): “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

In any event it was, for me, thrilling to hear those words now, coming from the lips of a daring young man on the flying trapeze who wasn’t born until 28 years after Roosevelt first spoke them.

And that was that until the day the number 504.48 jumped before not just my eyes but the eyes of every apprehensive male or female in these United States: September 15, 2008, the day the Dow Jones crashed 504.48 points…so terrifyingly a mirror image of that Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, when people had started jumping out of windows on, or because of, Wall Street, where former apple-polishing, glad-handing stockbrokers would soon be selling apples on the corners of that same street.

September 15. My father was born on a September 15, but that is another story. Except to record the fact that while working for and among people — business executives — he looked upon as human sharks, Albert F. Tallmer, assistant treasurer of the U.S. Rubber Reclaiming Corp., somehow not just survived the Great Depression but brought up his two sons and put them through schools, camps and college, God knows how.

The moviemaker Oliver Stone is considerably too much of a conspiracy theorist for my taste (though I liked his “Salvador”), but it does seem today, with the dinosaurs, the giant redwoods tottering and crashing on all sides — Watch out! There goes Bear Stearns! Here comes Merrill Lynch! Freddie Mac! Fannie Mae! Lehman Brothers! And wow, now, A.I.G.! — that Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas (as Gordon Gekko, human shark) did get it exactly right in their 1987 “Wall Street.”

Meanwhile, we have two contestants in the race for the White House who seem to prefer snarling to substance. Bad-mouthing one another, that is. But what are we going to do, gentlemen, what are we going to do?

Regulate? Deregulate? “Regulation” seems to be a bad word in these eight frozen years — you won’t, at least not until now, find it in John McCain’s dictionary, and as far as I can make out, Barack Obama has danced all around it but not with it.

When F.D.R. took over, in 1933, there ensued a phenomenon that would come to be called The First 100 Days. Three or four months (March to June) of astonishing, jolting, system-altering, regulatory, therapeutic changes, beginning with the “bank holiday,” a week of closure to cool the panic, and going on to include, among much else, the F.D.I.C., the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps (how we could use that today, setting the unemployed young to work repairing and rebuilding what’s called our infrastructure), the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the T.V.A. (flood control!) and on and on.

Let me give my mother, Ilona Lowenthal Tallmer Muller-Munk, equal time. She was fond of saying she knew nothing about politics “except two things: England will go communist and still have a king or queen. Germany will go communist and still be anti-Semitic.”

Actually, she knew a lot about politics, and a few years after the 1945 death of Franklin Roosevelt she one day grievously remarked: “They said there was no indispensable man. But there was.”

So, ladies and gentlemen and candidates, here is what I propose as we are sliding hellbent into Depression No. 2, thanks to the latter-day Bourbons who learn nothing and forget nothing:

Franklin D. Roosevelt for president.

So O.K., we can’t have him, not in this life. But we can have, at least, a First 100 Days. Ready to pick that up? Mr. McCain? Mr. Obama? Gentlemen, start your engines.