FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson | Go to book overview

executives, he determines, " Franklin Roosevelt was not a man for all seasons."45

For proponents of classical prudence, however, as times change, the governing universal ideal changes as well. During the Great Depression, for example, Roosevelt proposed certain reforms to relieve the hardships of the American people. Sixty years later these innovations have achieved entitlement status. Were he alive today, Roosevelt surely would reconsider their relevance. The same man who was troubled in 1932 by destitute people selling apples on street corners would be similarly troubled by such contemporary phenomena as welfare dependency and the savings and loan scandal.

Proponents of classical prudence are not superhuman. They just seek to do the very best they can under the circumstances. "I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat," Roosevelt confessed. "What I seek is the highest possible batting average not only for myself but for the team."46 Roosevelt also liked to compare himself to a football quarterback.47 The universal ideal constituted his pregame plan. He would initiate a policy or call a play in the huddle based on that plan, he said, and then feel free to change the policy or call an audible at the line of scrimmage based on the specific defensive formation he encountered.

For moral idealists, nevertheless, a .300 batting average or an occasional incomplete pass in politics is unacceptable. It is not enough that Roosevelt demonstrated his concern for the interests of all Americans. Not enough that he sought to replace an obsolete laissez-faire public philosophy in the United States with a vital new middle way encompassing both capitalism and socialism, individualism and collectivism. Not enough that he helped to defeat a sinister totalitarian movement bent on world domination. Not enough that he opposed colonialism and set into motion the organization of the United Nations. Not enough that the presidential leadership he exercised was based on a classic Western prudential vision unequaled by any other public figure in the twentieth century.


NOTES
1.
Francis Canavan, "Edmund Burke's Conception of the Role of Reason in Politics", Journal of Politics 21 ( 1959): 79.
2.
Walter Lippmann, The Public Philosophy ( New York: New American Library, 1955), 32.
3.
Ibid., 35.
4.
Aristotle, The Politics, trans. by Ernest Barker ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), 250.

-163-

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