The Defining Moment

This book covered the first 100 days of FDRs government, as well as the period leading up to and through his election. Like seemingly everyone, I’ve always considered FDR something of a folk hero for his success in turning the depression and leading us up to and through the challenges of the 2nd World War. After reading this book, I have renewed appreciation for this great man, but I’m also a little alarmed at some of the mechanisms he had to use to get it done!

In many ways FDR was terrifyingly like George W Bush in his approaches! Yes, GWB. How so? Well, FDR spent a great deal of his time misleading those he was “working with” into a position where he would get his way — a good example is the way he handled the transition to power and the bank crisis with Hoover: he pretended to have not received letters, pretended to have sent a reply that “got lost”, etc… all to ensure the clock would run out on Hoover and FDR would be able to sweep in and “fix” the problem on his own. No direct parallel in GWB world, but the “feigning ignorance” while the clock runs and sending conflicting/misleading messages suited to the purposes of obfuscation is a Bush tactic we’ve seen time and time again in the past few years. And there’s no doubt it works, it’s just a bit underhanded.

Also, the more obvious example was the way FDR essentially set himself up as a dictator during his presidency — adding more power to the executive, removing power from others, trying to stack the supreme court, stripping/violating citizen civil liberties, etc. A whole honeybucket of unpleasant and inappropriate actions that are not looked on very favorably by history. Not too far off from many of the things the GWB administration has done (no oversight from congress, wiretapping, torture/habeas corpus, classified leaks, etc… I could go on and on)

Now, the good news is that FDR was also quite a bit like Bill Clinton (or Ronald Reagan if you prefer) in that he was able to get the public to back just about any good (or bad) thing he could come up with. He was a real salesman, and an effective spokesman for our country for many years. And he was effective both internationally, and — perhaps more importantly given the depression — domestically. He was able to get people “back to work” (and more importantly, the American public BELIEVED they were getting back to work, even if it was not as broad as it seemed in advertising.

Plus, one could argue, even with the questionable things he did — FDR did more good than harm. That alone puts him closer to the Clinton legacy than the GW Bush legacy.

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