The Exemplary Presidency: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition

By Philip Abbott | Go to book overview
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2
The Story Teller and the Theorist

The general philosophical base of the New Deal was established in the 1932 campaign. Much attention has been given to 1936 and the "second" New Deal (a point I shall discuss shortly) and FDR's leftward movement. But the doors opened and the foundations laid in the first campaign were never fully discarded. As far as electoral politics permits, 1932 actually did offer a choice between philosophies of government as Hoover had insisted in Madison Square Garden in October. But even Hoover did not draw this conclusion until late in the campaign. He had preferred to use the scholar's tricks, castigating FDR for his inconsistencies, pointing with alarm to the governor's generalities, "educating" his opponent on the origins of the depression and the measures of his administration already in place. Roosevelt, according to Hoover, was a novice and a dilettante. The campaign involved a choice between the characters and experiences of two men.

Roosevelt for his part suffered from his share of vacillation. The Hoover administration was accused of being the "greatest spending Administration in peace times in all of our history." It had "piled bureau on bureau, commission on commission . . ." At the same time Hoover was condemned for the modesty of his relief efforts. FDR never did manage to develop a consistent position on tariffs. Finally he simply told advisers of two opposed positions to write a speech that would "weave together" the views. In Pittsburgh, Roosevelt parenthetically reminded the audience that "if starvation and dire need on the part of any of our citizens make necessary the appropriation of additional funds" he would "authorize the expenditure."1 This speech was delivered, to state the obvious, at a moment when 13 million people were unemployed. Teachers and students were fainting in classrooms. Unemployed men, women, and children scavenged city dumps for garbage to eat. Hoover, on the other hand, could

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