FDR must have foreseen today's fuss back in 1941. That year he told his friend, the Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, that after his death he wanted the simplest of memorials, "no larger than a desk". And that monument duly stands, a plain stone plaque outside the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, bearing only the inscription, "In Memory Of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1882-1945."
But in a city addicted to monuments, that modest reminder of America's greatest 20th century president was never going to be enough. On the Tidal Basin south of the White House, midway between the Jefferson Memorial and the new Korean War memorial, a 7.5-acre Roosevelt memorial is due to open next year, complete with sculptures and statues, fountains and a museum, all to be explained in handsome brochures from the National Park Service. One unresolved controversy, however, obsesses Washington. Should at least one of these images display the great man in a wheelchair: in other words, should he be shown as he really was?
FDR's myriad accomplishments include what is probably the longest successful deception in the history of the US presidency. At his insistence, a docile and sympathetic press never told the American public that for the last 24 years of his life he was a paraplegic who could not stand unaided for more than a few moments. Shots of Roosevelt in a wheelchair or even leg braces are rare as gold dust - just two or three among 35,000 official photos during his 12 years in the White House.
But now this premature lapse into political correctness may be put right. So, at least, thinks Michael Deland, chairman of the National Organisation on Disability, for whom a memorial without FDR in a wheelchair would be a "misuse of history". But others, among them the prominent columnist Charles Krauthammer (himself wheelchair-bound) vehemently disagree. Let Roosevelt be seen as he wished to be seen, in the manner that so inspired his country. "You do not memorialise a man by imposing on him an identity that he himself rejected," Mr Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post. "Better no memorial at all."
If Roosevelt were in the White House today, of course, the argument would have never arisen. In this confessional era, when every human shortcoming, self-inflicted or otherwise, is to be admitted and positively wallowed in on prime-time television, each of his bodily functions would have been placed under the microscope. Today a public figure is allowed no secrets. …