Wednesday, July 7, 2004

A Response to Larry Kramer

"It is remarkable that two of the so-called 'greatest presidents' have also allowed the greatest perpetrations and perpetuations of mass murder. Franklin D. Roosevelt was shamefully inept in dealing with 'the Jewish question,' (see my play The Normal Heart), most ironically since so many Jews were his most loyal supporters, the Jerry Zipkins of their day. No one really writes about this. Roosevelt is one of history’s great gods. Just as no one really writes about Reagan and 'the gay question.' These two major murderers so far have gotten away with helping to cause the two major holocausts of modern history. Just as Jews are asked to never forget their Holocaust, I implore all gay people never to forget our holocaust and who caused it and why."
- Larry Kramer, in a 2004 article for the Advocate.

I've heard Kramer make his charge against FDR since the 1990s, when he compared Bill Clinton's treatment of gays to FDR's treatment of the Jews: Say the right things, then stab them in the back. More recently he's "demoted" his opinion of FDR to compare it with Reagan's lack of response to the early AIDS crisis (which was criminal) - as if Kramer's opinion on American history carries any weight. Remember, Kramer is the guy who claims that nearly all the Founding Fathers were gay. He has also claimed for the past two decades to have been writing an American history book to that effect.

Kramer needs to be reminded that in 1940, when FDR was running for a 3rd term, isolationist Republicans and others like Charles Lindbergh (who was regaded as an American hero) were charging that Roosevelt was a tool of the Jewish conspiracy to take over the United States. Many claimed that Roosevelt himself was secretly Jewish - buying the Nazi propaganda that his family name was actually Rosenfeldt.

A popular slogan at the time had FDR telling Eleanor:
"You kiss the N!ggers, I'll kiss the Jews, and we'll stay in the White House as long as we choose."
FDR had an unprecedented number of Jews in his administration, and he spoke out against anti-Semitism. He also addressed the 1936 National Conference of Christian and Jews - which was unusual for a president of any party at the time.

FDR didn't dictate Immigration policy - he had to move in relation to Congress and public opinion. FDR was no more able to stop the Holocaust as any leader at the time - and there were many who knew more about what was going on in Europe who didn't lift a finger.  In fact, FDR did more than any other world leader to help the Jews of Europe, creating the War Refugee Board, which saved the lives of as many as 200,000 Jews.

Kramer fails to see the events of the time in the context of the era. Sure, FDR might have been more forceful on the "Jewish Question" - and he would have been voted out of office. Does Kramer think the people of the world (Jew and non-Jew) would have been better off with Wendell Wilkie or Tom Dewey in the White House?

As for comparing FDR's handling of any issue with Reagan's response to AIDS: Let's not forget also that under FDR, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (then called Venereal Diseases) were, for the first time in America, treated as a public health problem, not as a moral problem. Does anyone in his right mind believe that FDR would have joked about the Holocaust the way Reagan's advisors joked about AIDS?

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