Hedrick Smith, “Who Stole The American Dream?”

On June 24, Jonathan provided introductory remarks for a presentation by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Hedrick Smith, on his new book about the erosion of the American Dream entitled, Who Stole The American Dream? The video can be viewed here.   


Hedrick Smith Introduction

June 24, 2013

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 Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith, one of America’s most distinguished journalists. Roosevelt House Board member, William vanden Heuvel, will introduce him in a moment.

We are pleased to co-sponsor this event with Common Cause which mobilizes citizens across America to fight to improve our democratic practices and curb the pernicious influence of money in politics. We celebrate a recent Common Cause victory in the Supreme Court. Last Monday the Court ruled 7-2 to uphold the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, striking down Arizona’s 2004 requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship—one that prevented many eligible citizens from practicing their right to vote.

Before going on we should have a moment of silence in remembrance of Common Cause’s President, Bob Edgar, who died recently.


We cherish the memory of his nearly 40 years of public service. Bob’s strong moral compass and his commitment to fairness are traits we can all admire. If you attended our conversation with Bob last year here at Roosevelt House, you got a taste of the vision, energy, compassion and commitment that animated his fight to make the American Dream a reality.

No doubt many of us share Bob Edgar’s concern about the current state of our democracy. As President Obama seeks to shape his legacy in a fiercely partisan Washington and our city struggles to select a new mayor equal to its challenges, it is useful for us to look at the context of both the national and local debate. In his introduction to Who Stole the American Dream?, Hedrick Smith proposes to “provide a reporter’s CAT scan of the two Americas today, examining the interplay of economics and politics to disclose how the shift of power and of wealth have led to the unraveling of the American Dream for the middle class.” He also offers a compelling narrative of “how we evolved into such an unequal democracy—how we lost the moderate political middle and how todays’ polarized politics reinforce economic inequality and a pervasive sense of economic insecurity.”

These are topics we very much need to understand, to discuss and debate and to do something about.

It is appropriate that we talk about Who Stole the American Dream? under the watchful gaze of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In this house, FDR assembled his administration and crafted the New Deal that advanced the American Dream. Upstairs in his second floor study, he recruited Frances Perkins to be Secretary of Labor and made the commitment to Social Security. FDR was clear about who stole the American Dream in his time. Hear his words when he accepted renomination in 1936:

“…For too many of us, the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives. For too many of us, life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness…”

He was determined to protect and advance the American Dream. And he knew eternal vigilance was required. He would have appreciated Hedrick Smith’s call to action.

To introduce our speaker tonight, I am pleased to present Ambassador William vanden Heuvel.

A lawyer by training, Ambassador vanden Heuvel has had a distinguished career in private practice and public service. As special assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy he played a key role in implementing the Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating schools in the South. He served as Special Counsel to Governor Averell Harriman, Vice President of the New York State Constitutional Convention, Chair of the New York City Board of Corrections. And then in 1977 he became Ambassador to the U.N.’s European Office and in 1979, U.S. deputy representative to the U.N.  His civic activities have included chairing the U.N. Association and the International Refugee Committee.

More than anyone I know he has helped all of us appreciate the legacy of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. He has been President of the Franklin and Eleanor Institute since its creation in 1987 and is the driving force behind the creation of the beautiful Roosevelt Memorial and Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. It is one of the most moving, meaningful and beautiful public spaces in our city and country. When you are there you can feel the inspiration of Franklin and Eleanor. Bill, we will be forever grateful for your leadership in all places and institutions Roosevelt.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome William vanden Heuvel.

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