Where Is Cass Sunstein When We Really Need Him?

Located somewhere in the Executive Office Building is a man whose literary credentials include The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever. Its author, Cass Sunstein, heads the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. But his talents are clearly being wasted there.

Professor Sunstein sits just steps from the Oval Office. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Sunstein clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, taught at the University of Chicago Law School and the UC Department of Political Science, and then directed the Program on Risk Regulation at Harvard's Law School. The author of more than a dozen books and a contributing editor to The New Republic and The American Prospect, Cass Sunstein is married to the Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power.

With that introduction, and the fact that the cloture vote on his confirmation was 63 to 35, you might expect that I am about to argue that Cass Sunstein should replace Tim Geithner as Secretary of Treasury. That I could not do in good conscience. It would be a humiliating step down for Cass Sunstein. And, once again, his talents only would be wasted at Treasury.

Now, if truth be known, Cass Sunstein and I have a history. Before the 2008 primaries, I secured for him an invitation to speak to the Machinists Union convention. He lept at the chance to discuss the Second Bill of Rights before a blue collar audience. But, as the Democratic contest grew more heated, political expediency prevailed. He politely revoked his acceptance.

So why am I promoting an expert on risk regulation? Simply this: President Barack Obama needs to have a long conversation with him about Franklin Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights, particularly his speech in Chicago on October 28, 1944.

Initially included in FDR's State of the Union Speech earlier that year, the Second Bill of Rights is a "must see" in these days of Depression era joblessness. Watch FDR's remarks here.

As compelling as that video clip might be, Roosevelt's speech at Soldiers Field ten months later offers a better glimpse into what could be a turning point for the Obama presidency. FDR's campaign speech begins with a humorous attack on his political opponents.

Roosevelt restates his Second Bill of Rights and then defends it clause by clause. He strokes his crucial reelection constituencies along the way -- union members, working women, African-Americans, small business owners, and the soldiers and sailors overseas.

His case revolves around a massive effort to "provide America with close to sixty million productive jobs" for the men and women who were fighting World War II. It proposes to help "private enterprise to finance the expansion of our private industrial plant... to expand its plants, to replace its obsolete or worn-out equipment with new equipment" through accelerated depreciation.

"America," Roosevelt explained, "must remain the land of high wages and efficient production. Every full-time job in America must provide enough for a decent living."

But what makes Roosevelt's speech so remarkable even today -- no, especially today -- is his insistence that "when you have problems to solve, when you have objectives to achieve, you cannot get very far by just talking about them. We have to go out and do something!"

Cass Sunstein devoted 293 pages to explaining why we need this Second Bill of Rights now more than ever. Franklin Roosevelt needed only 140 words to sum up his argument that night in Chicago:

The future of America, like its past, must be made by deeds -- not words.

America has always been a land of action -- a land of adventurous pioneering -- a land of growing and building.

America must always be such a land.

The creed of our democracy is that liberty is acquired, liberty is kept by men and women who are strong, self-reliant, and possessed of such wisdom as God gives to mankind -- men and women who are just, men and women who are understanding, and generous to others -- men and women who are capable of disciplining themselves.

For they are the rulers, and they must rule themselves.

I believe in our democratic faith. I believe in the future of our country which has given eternal strength and vitality to that faith.

Here in Chicago you know a lot about that vitality.

That Chicago vitality is what Cass Sunstein could help President Obama recreate in the White House. And his powerful arguments for a Second Bill of Rights could provide the rationale for action this day.