Remembering Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR steered America through two very difficult times, far away from days of laissez-faire, yet eerily close to temptations of socialism. Photo: Hoover and Roosevelt - Inauguration Day 1933 - Public Domain

SAN JOSE, CA, January 31, 2013 - One of the most important leaders of the Democrat Party in the last 50 years, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR, was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. Franklin Delano Roosevelt transformed the Democrats of his day and out-progressed the major Progressives of his era, including his cousin Theodore Roosevelt. FDR also transformed the government of the United States as he presided over the nation as Chief Executive during two of the most serious crises that confronted America in the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II.

Despite becoming one of America’s most notable polio victims, and despite a serious handicap, FDR managed to charm the American public into electing him President of the United States on four separate elections. He was an incredibly persuasive individual and used his cheerful smile, his soothing voice, and his eloquent speaking ability to woo the American public claim victory over each presidential opponent he faced. He was the only president to be elected that many times, and also the last, since Congress altered the legal term limits after he passed away in the beginning of his fourth term in office.

Although his cousin Teddy had once been the favorite of the Republican Party, FDR’s side of the Roosevelt clan was primarily Democrats, so when he entered the political arena at twenty eight years of age, he ran as a Democrat and won a seat in the New York State Senate. This vaulted him into politics. Eventually, in the 1912 presidential election, being a Democrat, FDR threw his support behind Woodrow Wilson. Party proved thicker than blood as FDR did not support his fifth cousin, Teddy, in the election when the former Republican president ran as the third-party, “Bull Moose,” candidate.

The Democrats and Wilson seized upon the Progressive wave surging through the nation at the time. Teddy Roosevelt, who was probably as mush of a Progressive as Wilson, managed to come in second and ahead of Taft in the election, but had effectively split the Republican ticket and assured the Democrats of victory. State Senator Franklin D. Roosevelt also fared well. Wilson apponted him to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy within a year of the Democrats victory. The Navy position was significant as it was the same post that Teddy Roosevelt occupied just before the Spanish-American War broke out. 

Born as the only son of a wealthy railroad executive, Franklin Roosevelt never attended public school, but received the majority of his education from governesses and private tutors. His parents took him on expensive trips to Europe almost every year as he was growing up. He lived an enviable, wealthy lifestyle.

Especially during the Great Depression, Roosevelt earned the reputation of a compassionate man of wealth, which is the present day public perception of the wealthy within the Democrat Party.

That tactic, which played a major role in our most recent election, worked for the Democrats when Governor Franklin Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. The Great Depression was in its formation stages and Hoover was uncomfortably weighing numerous options to deal with the mushrooming economic crisis. The Democrats characterized Hoover as a wealthy, passionless, out-of-touch leader, unconcerned with the plight of the average American citizen. As FDR personally delivered his acceptance speech to the Democrats National Convention in Chicago in 1932, he emphatically pointed out that, “Never before in modern history have the essential differences between the two major American parties stood out in such striking contrast…”

In fact, it was political rhetoric. While the public perceived Hoover’s personality as aloof and cold, Roosevelt won the people over with his broad smile and easy disposition. In reality, FDR did not really have a developed plan of action to deal with the most devastating economic crisis in American history. He just emanated confidence and expressed that the American people deserved a “new deal.”

Roosevelt’s basic strategy was to throw projects against the proverbial wall to see what would stick; or simply put, to experiment like crazy to find out what would work and what would not. In fact, he even attempted some of the same measures as Hoover began, such as projects that provided federal aid to build public bulidings and improve highways, as well as aid in the form of loans to banks, railroads, and other financial institutions.

In the end, the New Deal (both phases) did not achieve the desired economic recovery hoped for by the Roosevelt administration. Hundreds of laws, the majority of them originating from the executive offices, were worked out in tandem with the Democrat-controlled Congress. But there was much duplication of effort and overlap of programs and services, and at the same, time grew the federal government to unequaled proportions up to that time. However, despite the conservative critics of Roosevelt’s efforts, he was able to infuse his incredible confidence into the American public. The people trusted FDR as a genuine leader.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt transformed the principles of the Democrat Party, he transformed the federal government, and with his New Deal he created, through trial and error, federal programs for economic and social justice that were more extensive than his cousin Theodore or Woodrow Wilson ever thought possible. He also redefined the office of the president. Today, he remains an icon of the Democrats. But he left in his wake, bitter political and ideological battles centered around the very concepts of liberty and freedom and the responsibility of government in America.

Many believe that FDR steered the country through incredibly difficult times, on a path left of center, as he would admit, but far and away from the days of laissez-faire and yet seemingly away from the temptation of socialism. Most historians recognize that the New Deal lost its impetus by 1938 as even members of the Democratic Party began to form an alliance with the Republicans in opposition to Roosevelt’s mandates. The people still believed in Roosevelt and sent him back the White House for his  third and fourth terms in 1940 and in 1944 in the midst of World War II. Trust in his leadership, however good or bad it may have appeared, was something that Roosevelt earned again and again as president. As Will Rogers once remarked: “Even if (Franklin Roosevelt)… burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, ‘Well, we at least got a fire started anyhow.’”

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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