I assume a lot of us spent a lot of the evenings of last week watching Ken Burns’ latest American saga, “The Roosevelts.”
By linking Teddy Roosevelt with his relatives Eleanor and FDR, “The Roosevelts” tells a story of our country covering more than a century— a lot more, if you think of us as still comparing each new democratic president with a high water mark of FDR.
And about that large chunk of American and world history it tells a moving and progressive story about what government can achieve in some of the hardest times the country has faced in behalf of the people. About—lest we forget– government that knows itself to be nothing more or less than we the people in a more effective form.
Ken Burns styles himself, convincingly as an American, “The Roosevelts” as an American story like his stories of the Civil War, baseball, the national parks. It is “the” story of that period of our history (of the need to break up capitalist trusts, of the need for unions, of the need for strong government to fight economic depression.
They even feature conservative George Will, who as far as I know despises what FDR stood for, as one of the commentators, somehow subsumed in this progressive story.
Burns may see it that way, but surely there are many conservatives (including Wills, one would think) who would tell it differently. Is there a conservative Ken Burns to tell another version of this story?
Are the Koch brothers even as we speak paying someone to come up with an conservative answer to Burns’ America? Imagine: The virtues of child labor, the 16 hour workday, the working conditions that produced the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy, companies shooting strikers in the street, or other business-as-usual of the time; a film celebrating a government that did not come to the rescue of its people during the Depression, did not provide the jobs that got so many through the period (and in the process got so many damns and bridges and roads built), did not provide graduated income tax or the social security that, while inadequate, is still so vital today.
It would take quite a storyteller. Maybe Wills would like to have a crack at it.