Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Word From Izzy (Part 1)

After all my years in publishing, and all the books I've been associated with, I still get excited when a new baby arrives on my doorstep, brought not by the stork but by the postal service in a weighty brown paper package.

Today's arrival is one I'm especially proud of. My friend Peter Osnos asked me to edit a selection of articles by the great I. F. Stone, and here it is--The Best of I. F. Stone, coming soon to a bookstore near you from Public Affairs (click here to order your copy).

There is so much I could say about the importance of Izzy Stone and the qualities that made him an exemplary journalist--his wit, his immense learning (so lightly worn), his doggedness in pursuit of a story, and, above all, the passion for truth and justice that drove him to seek out and expose hypocrisy, lies, and treachery wherever he found them (but especially in our nation's seats of power). However, rather than talk about him, I will quote him. Here is the first installment in "A Word From Izzy," a series of brief excerpts from The Best of I. F. Stone, chosen for their special relevance to today's political and social scene.

This is from "Farewell to F.D.R.," an essay Stone published nine days after the death of Roosevelt--a president whom Stone had often criticized but whom he also deeply admired. The following two paragraphs sum up the horrific shocks America lived through in the 1930s and 40s, while also evoking the spirit of confidence with which Roosevelt infused the nation.

The Roosevelt era, for folk who scare easily, was a series of scares. Just before [F.D.R.] took office, when the bonus marchers were driven out of Washington, revolution seemed to be around the corner. There was the banking crisis. The NRA [National Recovery Administration] was suspected of being the beginning of fascism; one of my friends in New York cautiously erased his name from the volumes of Marx and Lenin he owned; he felt the men with the bludgeons might be in his apartment any day. The Supreme Court knocked one piece of reform legislation after another on the head, and Mr. Roosevelt, when he set out to fight back, showed a deplorable disrespect for the constitutional amenities [a reference to the infamous "court-packing" scheme, of course]. There were the Chicago massacre and the Little Steel strike. There was Hitler. France fell when our armed forces were in good shape for a war with Nicaragua. The Japs sank most of the fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was a lush era for Cassandras.

Somehow we pulled through before, and somehow we'll pull through again. In part it was luck. In part it was Mr. Roosevelt's leadership. In part it was the quality of the country and its people. I don't know about the rest of the four freedoms, but one thing Mr. Roosevelt gave the United States in one crisis after another, and that was freedom from fear. Perhaps his most important contribution was the example, the superlative example, of his personal courage. Perhaps some of us will feel less gloomy if we remember it. Perhaps some of us will be more effective politically if we also learn from Mr. Roosevelt's robust realism, his ability to keep his eye on the main issue and not worry too much about the minor details.
Contrast Stone's eulogy for F.D.R. to the spectacle of the current administration, led by a man so insecure and yet so narcissistically desperate to preserve and enlarge his own power that he cravenly exacerbates the nation's fears whenever he can.

That's the difference between a great leader and a pathetic pipsqueak. Thanks for the reminder, Izzy.

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