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Fatwah / January 28, 2011
By Mark Ames


This article was first published in Vice.

If President Obama’s SOTU address left you feeling vaguely suicidal but you’re not sure why, a quick comparison to the previous Great Depression president’s SOTU address might clear it up and help you to your logical conclusion. Here is an excerpt from FDR’s 1935 State of the Union speech:

Let us for a moment strip from our simple purpose the confusion that results from a multiplicity of detail and from millions of written and spoken words.

We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed by past sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk we have not weeded out the overpriviledged and we have not effectively lifted up the underpriviledged. Both of these manifestations of injustice have retarded happiness. No wise man has any intention of destroying what is known as the “profit motive”, because by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and our families.

We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well. In building toward this end we do not destroy ambition, nor do we seek to divide our wealth into equal shares on stated occasions. We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power.

I recall to your attention my message to the Congress last June in which I said, “Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women, and children of the Nation first.” That remains our first and continuing task: and in a very real sense every major legislative enactment of this Congress should be a component part of it.

In defining immediate factors which enter into our quest, I have spoken to the Congress and the people of three great divisions: ‘

First. The security of a livelihood through the better use of the national resources of the land in which we live.

Second. The security against the major hazards and vicissitudes of life.

Third. The security of decent homes.

With 20-20 hindsight, the lesson is clear: FDR failed to win the future.

Here’s what FDR should have done in 1935 if he wanted to be as courageous and audacious as Obama. Rather than drone on and on about the Depression and inequality, FDR should have pretended he’d solved all that and moved on to a Higher Purpose. He could have done that by focusing on the Russian invention of the caterpillar tractor in 1877 by Fyodor Blinov as a defining moment in US history.


The Blinov Caterpillar Tractor

It’s so obvious. In fact, you almost have to wonder if FDR regretted his failure to invoke the Blinov Tractor Moment when he lay on his death bed in 1945:

“Oh Eleanor, if only I’d dropped all the malarkey about unemployment-this and greed-and-inequality- that, and instead called on Americans to think of greater, bigger things—things that don’t upset rich people. If only I hadn’t been swept up in all that trendy class war stuff and told America, ‘This Is Our Blinov Tractor Moment’–if only I’d had the courage and bold audacity to come up with something like that, maybe things would have turned out better, don’t you think, Eleanor? But no, I blew it. I blew my chance, Eleanor.”

“But Mr. President, you ended the Depression and you’ve defeated fascism. You created a social safety net and empowered workers and gave rise to a new middle class.”

“Yeah, whoop-tee-doo. I guess I should just pat myself on the back for that, right Eleanor? What naive liberals like you still don’t get is that it’s easy to go around giving hand-outs to bums whenever they give you a song and dance about, ‘Oh, help me, oh, I’m a starving parasite and I want to loot Mr. Morgan Jr., because oh, oo, I’m too lazy to have been born into a rich family and too much of a bum to have inherited an investment bank. Oh, oo, oh, I’d rather starve on the streets than make millions manipulating the stock market, because I’m a shirker, oh, pity me, oo, I feel sorry for myself rather than pulling myself up by my bootstraps and wriggling into a rich woman’s uterus while she sleps so that I can be born rich, oo, oh no I’m too lazy to do that, oo!’ You see what I’m talking about, Eleanor? No, clearly you don’t. It takes courage to watch poor unemployed people starving in the streets the way that the free-markets intended them to starve. Actually, you don’t watch them starve in the streets, but you do read the statistics reports on all the death and suffering, and you figure out how to profit from it–and that takes courage. Courage–something I clearly lacked. But why am I wasting my time talking about courage to a liberal like you? You don’t have a clue about the meaning of the word! None of you do! And then… there’s love, Eleanor. Yes, you heard me: love. While bleeding-hearts like you take the easy path of, ‘Oh, oo, I feel so sorry for all these millions of suffering poor, oo, we should help them, oo,’ you’re forgetting to love the ones with millions who make the poor suffer. What about all the bankers and right-wing Republicans who don’t love me? Huh, Eleanor? Have you ever stopped to think about them? They’re people too you know–well okay, they’re not people, they’re hagfish, but that’s besides the point. You have to look beyond the slime-glands and the two pairs of serrated, comb-shaped teeth–what’s that look on your face, Eleanor? Oh I get it: You’re prejudiced against hagfish now, is that what you’re telling me? Typical liberal hypocrisy, Eleanor. This is exactly what I’m talking about, but try telling this to a liberal, you might as well talk to the wall. Love, Eleanor–that’s what I’m trying to talk to you about. You see… what I never told you is that… throughout my entire presidency, I was pained by the right-wing millionaires’ refusal to love me and praise me and slap my back and say, ‘You know, Franklin’s a swell guy!’ How did I let that slip away? I’m so lonely, Eleanor. If only I’d told Americans, ‘This is your Blinov Tractor Moment’  maybe then things would have turned out better. For the bankers, I mean. The rest would have figured out something for themselves on their own, they’re a hearty people. Are you grasping this, Eleanor? No, of course not, because your naive, feeble liberal mind can’t grasp the pain of unrequited love that a man—a president–feels for corrupt multimillionaire bankers who don’t reciprocate that love. My presidency! My presidency for a banker! Hey, whoa…wait a minute, Eleanor, what are you doing with that pillow? Why are you holding that pillow over my face? Eleanor? Eleanor, I prefer to have my pillow under my neck, not clasped tightly to my face. Eleanor, this is not your Blinov Tractor Moment, do you hear me? It’s my Blinov Tractor Moment, not yours…Eleanor…rrrrr…rrr… ”

This article was first published in Vice.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal, and the co-author with Matt Taibbi of The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (Grove).


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Add your own

  • 1. Karel  |  January 28th, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I hope your use of irony is not lost on your readers

  • 2. Duarte Guerreiro  |  January 28th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    So awesome.

  • 3. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko  |  January 28th, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Bravo, bravo, Mr. Ames.

  • 4. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko  |  January 28th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    It comes down to this stark choice: Davos or Cairo. Quo vadis?

  • 5. Ozinator  |  January 28th, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Been enjoying your words the last few months (yours, not the nerd nerd’s)

    Good article except I’d point out that FDR was speaking to a very pissed off and much more focused (if not better educated) populace. The signs were there that “we” were going to burn the fucking thing down and ride the rich through the streets like pot bellied pigs at a children’s zoo. FDR was no friend of the common man and was merely saving Capitalism from itself by co-opting more populist movements like those of Huey Long and actual communists. Of course this was met with distaste from much of the gilded but the cancer wasn’t removed and of course allowed to come back stronger than ever.

  • 6. Eddie  |  January 28th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Obama is a modern politician. He will say whatever he thinks will work. Yes he campaigned on hope and change, but non of the changes he promised where even remotely revolutionary.

    He never promised to change the workings of the political system. He never once promised to punish the looters on Wall Street, or even mentioned enforcing current legislation against fraud. He certainly never mentioned ending any of the wars. In fact he proposed to expand the war in Afghanistan and increase the size and funding of the military. This is one promise he has actually delivered upon.

    At heart I think we have here 2 big misunderstandings.

    #1. The American people want change beyond the mere cosmetic.
    #2. The American people will accept change beyond the mere cosmetic.

    For proof of the above just look at what the American people are actually able to organize themselves to protest for or against.

    Exhibit A: The Tea party.
    A movement based on the idea that global warming is a hoax and that things would improve significantly if only the federal government would get out the way of private enterprise(regulate less) , reduce spending(lower taxes) and balance the budget.

    Exhibit B: Anti War movement.
    A movement strangely quiet once the war actually broke out. Yes there where large protests against the war(as many as 500,000). But these have largely subsided once the war got started.

    Exhibit C: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
    A movement about nothing in particular. There might have been a political message in here somewhere but it was far to obscure for me to notice.

    For any real change to take place you need the recognition that the system is broken, a vision to fix it and a set of realistic concrete policies to make the happen. Barring that you can follow the Soviet example and let the whole rotten edifice collapse into a large heap of shit.

  • 7. Dark Markets  |  January 28th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    @5, well said, Ozinator. As much as I’m a fan of FDR & the New Deal genuinely “liberal” programs (that Mark defines – “ended Depression… defeated fascism… created a social safety net, empowered workers & gave rise to a new middle class.”) the facts are that Roosevelt was DRIVEN to adopt those programs by PUBLIC DEMAND.
    Don’t forget Roosevelt’s “BANKING HOLIDY” 1933 – one of my own family members found their lifetime savings VANISHED when the banks reopened after “the holiday.”
    And don’t forget who wuz FDR’s so-called “liberal” Treasury Secretary during both the “bank HOLIDAY” AND Gold CONFISCATION ACT –
    … and why is Wiki so shy at giving Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau the CREDIT he deserves?!,_Jr.
    Indeed, just as today, anyone left of Attila the Hun is LABELED “RADICAL”, so even back in early 1934, FDR nomination of Morgenthau for Treasury Sec.,
    “enraged conservatives” – EVEN THOUGH “Morgenthau was an orthodox economist who OPPOSED Keynesian economics and DISAPROVED of some elements of Roosevelt’s New Deal” !!!,_Jr.
    This is the OLD DICHOTOMY, what gives “Conservatives” an axe to grind about hating “liberals” – there is/was NOTHING “liberal” about PROHIBITING Americans from owning gold (and one of the few otherwise RELIABLE means to shelter one’s fortune from the raging tides of the Fed engineered market collapse/ GREAT DEPRESSION), but simply because Roosevelt/Morgenthau pushed that criminalization through, it is considered “liberal” economics!

  • 8. az  |  January 28th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    So basically improvements in capitalism only occur as a result of more or less intense opposition to capitalism? Hmm…

  • 9. Zhu Bajie  |  January 28th, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    “follow the Soviet example and let the whole rotten edifice collapse into a large heap of shit.”

    Probably this is happening. Check-out Dmitri Orlov’s essays,

  • 10. Strahlungsamt  |  January 28th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Hey Mark, War Nerd, Dolan,

    When are we going to get a War Nerd article about the upcoming Armageddon in Egypt/Jordan/Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Lebanon/Syria that the Israelis are shitting their kosher undies about right about now?

    This has been the best entertainment since Hezbollah kidnapped Gilad Shalit.

    Why are you guys so silent on it????

  • 11. paul cripps  |  January 28th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    usa was completely self sufficient in energy and food, had a manufacturing base ready to go and a much better educated population than we have today.hoover and fdr were spenders that made the depression more miserable and made it last a lot longer than it should have.oh yea and fdr gave those pesky little japs some good shoves in the direction of pearl instead of shitty little cuba, phillipines,and purto rico, we got a real world empire to rape and its our turn to be arsefucked without lube or a condom.

  • 12. Systemless  |  January 28th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Peter Sellers could have read the hell out of this rant.

  • 13. peter  |  January 28th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    That wasn’t coherent.

  • 14. my talkative ringpiece  |  January 28th, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Ozinator you nailed it.

  • 15. Skeeve  |  January 29th, 2011 at 1:06 am

    To be shortly followed by our “Storming the Bastille” Moment.

    Heads on pikes, laddie. That’s the ticket. Heads on pikes.

  • 16. John Drinkwater  |  January 29th, 2011 at 3:11 am

    If Americans get the revolution they deserve, they might look back and thank Obama’s stunning unwillingness to reform and…to insist on routinely sticking his head up his ass. Go Obama! You dumb fuck.

  • 17. egoist  |  January 29th, 2011 at 6:26 am

    I think Obama’s ideas about spending more on science and technology are in fact kinda great, if only he could carry out his promises. But dumbshit Republicans, who cannot understand basic arithmetics, not to speak of biotech stuff or something will probably torpedo his budget.
    If he does succeed to pass his proposals somehow, will it really create millions of jobs?
    probably not. Technological development within capitalism can in fact result in a net loss of jobs, as unqualified workplaces are wiped out by better machinery.
    But it will create jobs for highly educated, high-tech people, and as I myself am a biochemist, that’s all I care about.

  • 18. Qwert  |  January 29th, 2011 at 2:57 pm


    You are a republican, who do you think you are fooling

    First you are against technology then you want everyone to live back int eh stone age because any technological advancement is bad, then you think you can win people over by scaring them that evil technology will take away their jobs

  • 19. Flatulissimo  |  January 29th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    More spending on hard science and technology is kind of beside the point if you can’t get people to understand basic economics. We don’t need more people who can do fractal analysis, we need more people who can read the writing on the fucking wall and understand that they are never going to be rich, and act accordingly…

    @Eddie pretty much nails it: “For any real change to take place you need the recognition that the system is broken, a vision to fix it and a set of realistic concrete policies to make that happen.”

    American society is basically divided in two groups: those who still benefit from the current system, and those who don’t. Most people over 50 still benefit from the old setup, and just want to limp things along while they collect Social Security. They won’t admit that the system is broken and will fight any attempts to change it. For their whole lives, it was taken for granted that with hard work you could pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and blah blah blah, and they’ll never see that it’s not true anymore.

    Gen X is divided between those who already managed to benefit, and thus don’t want to change anything, and those who haven’t. If you are in your 30s-40s and haven’t joined the country club yet, you never will, and can look around and see that you are being screwed. Those your age who have done okay will chalk it all up to their superior intelligence/work ethic, and blame their peers for being failures, not accepting that the system is broken.

    Everybody else Gen X or younger will never benefit from the current system, and stands to lose nothing by changing/reforming/overthrowing it.

    So, we’ve got another couple of decades before the demographics tip the scale in favor of those who are actually willing to change things. The propaganda machine is going to have to work overtime to convince these people that it is still “morning in America” rather than to believe their own lyin’ eyes.

  • 20. mydick  |  January 30th, 2011 at 1:19 am

    Please make your in-character bizarre ranting in paragraph form in the future.

    @haters: FDR was the fucking messiah, you guys can all eat shit and die.

  • 21. Another  |  January 30th, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Peter’s an idiot – because only an idiot would read this hilarious article and think “the article makes barely any sense at all” because to idiots the only things that make sense are what billionaires tell them, or what billionaire tools like Hayek and the rest tell them to think. Like most of Ame’s recent writing, this is sheer genius. Exiled really needs to get some capable readers to comment on this.

  • 22. Gazpromjunkie  |  January 30th, 2011 at 3:12 am

    @ egoist

    The problem there (unless you were being sarcastic) is that those “unqualified” workplaces might well be filled with people that can’t run a metal press or a bottling plant better than a machine. Why you should care however is that those people might be better at crawling under the barbed wire of residential golf estates and cutting off heads than biochemists are at preventing them.

  • 23. tristes_tigres  |  January 30th, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Mark, check this out, you’re gonna love that

  • 24. my talkative ringpiece  |  January 30th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Flatulissimo I bow in admiration within your cloud of noxious gas.

    We need permaculturists and down-home farm mechanics, more than we need DNA-splicers right now. We need kids to learn how to build bicycles, from frame-tubing up. We need a lot of hands-on skills, then the higher skills can “float” on top of that.

    Remember Edison and the Wright Brothers didn’t go to college, they just got to work.

  • 25. Marxist-Blinovist  |  January 31st, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Unbreakable union of tractor components,
    Move forward forever upon those great rails.
    Long live the creation of Fyodor Abramovich,
    The barn-storming, ball-busting great Tractor-Tank!

  • 26. super  |  January 31st, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Top notch

  • 27. Samothes  |  February 1st, 2011 at 1:11 am

    my talkative ringpiece, this isn’t the 19th Century: the days of self-taught gentlemen-scientists making scientific leaps and bounds through tinkering in their basement is over.

    Science these days requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and years of university study.

    Well, outside conspiracy theorist snake-oil merchants peddling crazy schemes of univeral-cancer cures and perpetual energy.

  • 28. egoist  |  February 1st, 2011 at 4:28 am

    my point was simply that Obama vowed to increase spending on biomedical research and that’s good news for me as I work in this field. On the other hand, I’m not sure that spending on high tech (biotech, IT) will necessarily benefit the general population as well. It can even have negative effects on some, especially unskilled workers.

    Oh yeah, I know, the collapse is coming and we’ll all have to become smithies or whatever.
    I have my doubts. IMHO Collapsitarianism is just another form of big business pandering to the desires of gullible and badly screwed people, just to rip them off:

  • 29. brian  |  February 1st, 2011 at 8:58 am

    more to the point

    “There must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, 1933

  • 30. josef johann  |  February 2nd, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    The War Nerd needs to post an article on Egypt. Please do this!

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