Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele’s “The Betrayal of the American Dream”

On September 5, 2012 Jonathan Fanton delivered an address introducing Donald L. Barlett’s and James B. Steele’s The Betrayal of the American Dream, which discusses the fate of the American middle class over the course of the twentieth century. The talk was a part of Roosevelt House’s “Road to November: Exploring America’s Challenges On the Way to Election 2012” series.

Barlett & Steele – Betrayal of the American Dream

September 5, 2012

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my pleasure to welcome you to a discussion of The Betrayal of the American Dream by Donald Barlett and James Steele, two of America’s most distinguished journalists. Our moderator, Richard Tofel, will introduce them in a moment.

I am also pleased to welcome you to the historic homes of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. I say “homes” because Sara began to build two adjoining townhouses in 1907 and gave one to Eleanor and Franklin in 1908. The story of the Roosevelt family in these houses will be told through a documentary “Treasures of New York, Roosevelt House” to be aired on October 11 on Channel 13 at 8:30 pm and screened here at Roosevelt House on October 11.

The houses came to Hunter in 1942 when Sara died and Eleanor and Franklin helped Hunter purchase them from the estate to be used as an interfaith student center. After a vigorous life as a student center, the houses closed in disrepair in 1992 and were boarded up until Hunter President Jennifer Raab rescued them in 2008. After careful renovation they reopened in 2010 as the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, offering undergraduate programs in public policy and human rights. The Institute supports faculty research and offers programs for the general public.

In this election season, Roosevelt House is sponsoring a series called “The Road to November,” an in-depth look at issues that are – or should be – central to the campaign. The future of the American middle class is on the line in this election. The next administration will face hard choices about how to stimulate growth and address the deficit, including the future of Social Security and Medicare, so important to middle class America.

The Betrayal of the American Dream is a must read as we prepare to cast our votes this November. It examines inequities in the tax code, calls for investment in infrastructure that helps businesses and creates jobs, and focuses on what it will take to increase the growth in the manufacturing sector of our economy. “Who says that bipartisanship is dead in Washington?” the authors ask. “It’s worked to perfection in trade policy with devastating consequences.” I doubt trade policy will be a central issue in this election, but it should be. The Betrayal of the American Dream educated me about flaws and policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations.

When I began reading this book I literally could not put it down. It mixes heroic personal stories of middle class suffering with a well documented analysis of the forces which are assaulting the middle class.

It is poignant that we talk about The Betrayal of the American Dream under the watchful gaze of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. This is where Franklin Roosevelt assembled his administration and crafted the New Deal that advanced the American Dream. Upstairs in his study, he recruited Frances Perkins to be Secretary of Labor and made the commitment to Social Security. As Franklin himself noted in 1933: “I have said that we cannot attain [a lasting prosperity] in a nation half boom and half broke. If all of our people have work and fair wages and fair profits, they can buy the products of their neighbors and business is good. … It doesn’t help much if the fortunate half is very prosperous… The best way is for everybody to be reasonably prosperous.”

The Betrayal of the American Dream is a story of the assault on that vision.

To lead our conversation tonight, I am pleased to introduce Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica. ProPublica is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 and headquartered here in New York that produces hard-hitting, independent investigative journalism on many of the important issues of the day. In 2010, ProPublica became the first online news source to win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center. It has partnered with over 90 different news organizations including 60 Minutes, CNN and The New York Times. Before coming to ProPublica, Richard was the assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal, president of the International Freedom Center, and Vice President and Legal Counsel for the Rockefeller Foundation. He holds a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard and is author of four books, most recently Reckless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Richard Tofel, Donald Barlett and James Steele.



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