JULY 21, 1951
HYDE PARK, Friday—Though I do not vote in New York City, sometimes I get a chance to hear something of the political organization of a great city on the district level, and it is impressed upon me that more people should be interested in the organization of their party from the smallest unit on up.
I had a letter the other day from someone who said that the people of this country were losing their faith in government, particularly in their central government in Washington. The writer said the complaints were not against any particular administration or party, but just against government generally. He pointed out that this was a serious situation, which perhaps pointed to the need of changes in our Constitution.
I wonder if that is the need, or do we fail because as citizens in a democracy we are not willing to give enough of ourselves to build good organizations in the smallest groups. We should be as careful in choosing district leaders, let us say in New York City, or county leaders in the rural areas, as we are in scrutinizing people nominated for Congress or other high offices. Your party at the top is no better than the leadership you provide in all the smaller groups. It is from the small unit that flows the strength that will demand at each step of the way that the leaders above be honest men, men of good intentions, who intend to serve their party and their constituents. These men must do their jobs honestly and to use their own best judgment. They must be above bribery and above being browbeaten into standing for things they do not believe in, no matter who approaches them.
A rather fantastic statement was made not long ago that our government was "a cesspool of corruption" because we have had to conduct a clean-up crusade on higher levels. The weaknesses of men in high places would never have been possible if there had not been weaknesses below them. If there was active participation on the part of every citizen in the choice of party leaders and a follow-up done by the citizens so that they knew, from top to bottom, what their leaders were doing, this whole situation would never have come about.
We, as citizens of a democracy, shirk the responsibility which is ours. Then we are surprised that our representatives do not fully live up to their responsibilities. We are critical of conditions that have come about and we despair of honest government when the root of honest government lies in the hands of the individual citizen who is willing to do his job.
In this time in our history when we have become the leaders of democracy in the world, it seems to me increasingly important that we give a real demonstration of what we mean by individual responsibility and the full participation of the individual citizen in a democracy.