Roosevelt: Political Leader and Campaigner

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146 .

BE1WEEN

THE WARS: AMERICA,

1919-1941

vention, and a masterful political leader and campaigner.
Roosevelt's personality and character were to be important in the life of the nation. He was a man who stood out in any collection of people. He had in abundance the personal qualities necessary for political success in the United States: magnetic charm, intelligence, physical and spiritual toughness, a superb speaking voice, and a Hair for the dramatic. Perhaps the outstanding aspect of his personality was self-confidence, which his admirers found warming and his detractors found irritating. In his youth he had had the assurance that comes from secure social position and superior education. As a young man he had demonstrated to himself as well as to others that he was a capable government administrator. The bout with polio had established that he had the inner resources necessary to take personal tragedy in his stride. His career after 1928 had assured him that he had the qualities necessary to operate successfully at top levels of government and politics. And in March 1933, surely, confidence both in one's self and in the future of the nation was a quality sorely needed in the White House.

7
Franklin D. Roosevelt
and the New Deal

ALTIIOUGHHENEWDEALand Franklin D. Roosevelt were realities
T
so recently that many living Americans' knowledge of them is based upon personal memory of the 1930's rather than upon written historical accounts, the political and economic history of the decade has quickly become one of the most myth-laden aspects of the nation's past. Indeed, myths about FDR became so widespread even before he died in office in 1945 that they constituted political forces to be reckoned with, and misinterpretations of the New Deal were prevalent well before it passed from the scene. Most of the myths about Roosevelt and the New Deal arose

from political partisanship. He was both the best loved and the most hated president of the twentieth century, and it is easy for people to believe about him what they want to believe rather than what is objectively true. Many of his admirers regard him as a knight in gleaming armor, an American St. George who slayed the dragon of economic royalism, rescued the nation from economic disaster, restored control of the country to its people, and then alerted them to the danger of fascism and saved them from Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini. From the oratory at AFL-CIO picnics one would gather that it was Roosevelt himself who created modern 147

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THE WARS: AMERICA, 1919-1941

labor unions. Negroes regard him as the best white friend of their race in their long and troubled history, with the single exception of Abraham Lincoln. Most American voters who think of themselves as liberals look back upon the New Deal as the high point of their political lives and consciously or unconsciously measure contemporary presidents and would-be presidents by an FDR

yardstick.
On the other side of the political fence is the legend that Roosevelt was primarily responsible for all that is distasteful and wrong in contemporary America. It was he, one hears in the locker
rooms of elite country clubs, who started the nation along the road to "socialism," destroyed initiative, and created what some people call a "welfare state." There are still some people who can not bring themselves to say Roosevelt's name and refer to him as "that man." In the late 1940's there was even a Chicagoan who tried to start a movement among consumers to refuse to accept dimes that bore FDR's image. The Roosevelt haters also measure contemporary presidents and would-be presidents of the Democratic party by an FDR yardstick. Those who are moderate in their domestic policies are 'better than FDR"; those who speak in a militant rhetoric are "as bad."

Aside from the facts that the contemporary American economy
is clearly capitalistic rather than socialistic and that the federal and...
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