Roosevelt Legacy Attacked amid Tributes

Article excerpt

FIFTY YEARS AFTER his death plunged America into deep mourning, the kind reserved for a beloved king, the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt is under siege as never before.

As ceremonies and tree plantings across the country begin today to mark the half-century that has passed since the death of America's 32nd president, argument rages over the welfare state he created.

Deep doubt also exists about the future of the Democratic Party he not only led but made dominant for decades.

Roosevelt forged a coalition that united blacks and white Southerners, Harvard intellectuals and unemployed factory workers, among others. That now-spent coalition kept working for years after his death.

But now a dispirited Democratic Party, led by an unpopular president, is asking whether it can survive the latest Republican onslaught.

This time, the attacks are inspired by conservative House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Gingrich has called Roosevelt a great leader and role model even as he has fashioned a 100-day legislative program designed to dismantle much of Roosevelt's New Deal legacy.

All Gingrich's 100-day Contract with America has in common with Roosevelt's famed first 100 days in office is duration.

Roosevelt, coming to power as president in the first of an unprecedented four terms, assured a nation in the grip of the worst depression in its history that it "had nothing to fear but fear itself" and set in motion activist, optimistic programs that brought government into every corner of American life. …