Let me say from the get go, I think FDR was a great president.
I have let that sentence stand alone, to underline my bird’s eye view, the luxury of looking back. The luxury of looking at a president’s sum total, all these many years later. And, I might add, that FDR had 12 years to establish his legacy. Obama is mid way through his third year.
Many here think that sizing up FDR from the rear view mirror is equivalent to sizing up Obama from the front windshield. Many here would either be very surprised by how many compromises FDR made on his way to greatness, or they’re willfully manipulative of facts. Please follow me under the fold to check out whether your FDR comparisons are on the level.
So, a few facts about FDR that would surely see those who judge Obama harshly in comparison, off FDR’s boat in a heartbeat, if they were there then.
Let’s start with the issue of Japanese internment in WWII:
“Japanese-American internment was the relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese who lived along the Pacific coast of the United States to camps called "War Relocation Camps," in the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, while in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the territory's population, 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62% were American citizens. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps.”
Now, let’s move on to the compromises FDR made with the then southern democrat party of racists.
“Roosevelt's attitudes to race were tested by the issue of Black (or "Negro") service in the armed forces. The Democratic Party at this time was dominated by Southerners who were opposed to any concession to demands for racial equality. During the New Deal years, there had been a series of conflicts over whether African-Americans should be segregated in the various new government benefits and programs. Whenever a move was made to integrate the races Southern governors or congressmen would complain to Roosevelt, who would intervene to uphold segregation for the sake of keeping his party together. The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, for example, segregated their work forces by race at Roosevelt's insistence after Southern governors protested at unemployed whites being required to work alongside blacks. Roosevelt's personal racial attitudes were conventional for his time and class. Some historians argue that he nevertheless played a major role in advancing the rights of blacks, and others say it was due to prodding from Eleanor Roosevelt and liberals such as Ickes, Perkins, Hopkins, Mary McLeod Bethune, Aubrey Williams and Claude Pepper.
BUT, let’s go on to give credit where credit is due:
"In June 1941 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). It was the most important federal move in support of the rights of African-Americans between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The President's order stated that the federal government would not hire any person based on their race, color, creed, or national origin. The FEPC enforced the order to ban discriminatory hiring within the federal government and in corporations that received federal contracts. Millions of blacks and women achieved better jobs and better pay as a result."
Geepers, what do you know? A BINARY record on civil rights from the great one, the one that Obama must live up to with a purity not asked for from those here who accept FDR as a hero, without being willing to accept all heros have flaws, even illustrious presidents. And, ALL presidents compromise.
And now, one of the hardest things to perceive about FDR. What was his attitude about saving the Jews in the run up and execution of WII? Here, history has many different things to say. Google it and you’ll find those who say FDR could have cared less about the Jewish problem, and those who say this is not true. But, much of what you read will show you that the persecution of the Jews was hardly FDR’s first concern. When you think about it, it’s much like Lincoln and the Civil War. History greatly sides on the fact that Lincoln’s number one concern was to hold the union together, that Lincoln did not go to war over slavery, something his country had long accepted, a country he comfortably presided over, slavery and all, until the south wanted to secede.
And then there’s the whole deal regarding FDR’s pull back from what he originally fought for. In 1937, probably to stay afloat and assure his re-election, he went along with that day’s version of the austerity crowd, and caused a second dip in the economy.
Now, let’s look at the false equivalency of majorities meme when it comes to FDR and Obama. Let’s look at FDR’s most revered legacy---Social Security.
Social Security was passed with the help of 81 republicans in the house and 16 republicans in the senate. 15 house democrats voted against it and 1 democratic senator voted no.
Compare and contrast this with Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act where ALL 176 republicans in the house voted no, ALONG WITH 39 democrats, AND ALL Republicans in the senate voted no.
It’s clear that Obama faced an entirely different landscape in the house and senate than FDR did, even though both had majorities.
And finally, some quotes from FDR's day from an interesting, informative and balanced article on FDR.
“At neither end of the ideological spectrum did respect for civility of discourse restrain the Roosevelt-haters. The Communist leader Earl Browder said that FDR was "carrying out more thoroughly and brutally than even Hoover the capitalist attack against the masses," and the domestic fascist William Dudley Pelley called the President the "lowest form of human worm - according to Gentile standards."
"Roosevelt, his critics maintained, had shown himself to be a man without principles. Herbert Hoover called him a "chameleon on plaid," while H. L. Mencken said, "If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he so sorely needs, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House backyard come Wednesday."
"Left writers have chided him for offering a "profoundly conservative" response to a situation that had the potential for revolutionary change, while commentators of no particular persuasion have criticized him for failing to bring the country out of the Depression short of war, for maneuvering America into World War II (or for not taking the nation to war soon enough, for refusing to advocate civil rights legislation, for permitting Jews to perish in Hitler's death camps, and for sanctioning the internment of Japanese-Americans. Even a historian who thought well of him, Allan Nevins, wrote that "his mind, compared with that of Woodrow Wilson, sometimes appears superficial, and...he possessed no such intellectual versatility as Thomas Jefferson - to say nothing of Winston Churchill." Nevins added: "In respect to character, similarly, he had traits of an admirable kind; but...even in combination they fell short of a truly Roman weight of virtue."
It sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? SHAZAM---"Left writers have chided him for offering a 'profoundly conservative' response to a situation that had the potential for revolutionary change." Nevertheless, this review of FDR includes many reasons why in retrospect, FDR’s strengths beat out his weaknesses, in the final analysis, in the way I hope is some day true of Obama. But, keep in mind, this is the long view of 12 years of a presidency. Years that democrats fought to give FDR the chance to prove their vote right in the end.
All in all, there’s A LOT of “false equivalencies” going on here, within our own party, between FDR and Obama, despite our supposed disdain for false equivalencies. I repeat, I think FDR was a great president. But I also think he would have pissed off many here to no end, ironically, those same ones who lament if only Obama was another FDR.
Who can say with our faces slapped up against the present like a slab of ham on glass that we have more powers of perspective than those from the left and right who chastised FDR with equal vehemence? And hey, they did it in equal measure without a blog to go to!
In the end, maybe Obama will live up to FDR’s strengths, maybe he won’t. But one thing’s for sure, that won’t be decided by Drew Westen’s cherry picking analogies to FDR, or any other like cherry picking analogies on this site.
If you want to talk about and respect FDR here, then don’t rob him of the true realities of his accomplishments, as if he’s some kind of mythical progressive icon rather than a human and a president who struggled with his own imperfections under the microscope of the hardest job in the world. Don’t rob him of the fact that as imperfect as he was, as many policies he supported that would make the blood of progressives here turn cold, he triumphed in the end. That as much as he erred, he succeeded more. He is great because of that.
We are in the process with Obama. Obama is in the process. At LEAST recognize that, and with some humility, rather than the need to be right, except that we are all trapped in the now and can and will be so easily proved wrong by the long eye of history.