The Roosevelt Myth

Article excerpt

The Roosevelt Myth

by John T. Flynn

Fox & Wilkes 1998 . 437 pages $24.95 cloth;

$14.95 paperback

Reviewed by Lawrence W Reed

For every thousand books written, perhaps one may come to enjoy the appellation "classic." That label is reserved for a book that through the force of its originality and thoroughness, shifts paradigms and serves as a timeless, indispensable source of insight.

Such a book is The Roosevelt Myth by John T. Flynn. First published in 1948, Flynn's definitive analysis of America's 32nd president was reissued last year in a 50th anniversary edition by Fox & Wilkes, with a new foreword by Ralph Raico. It is the best and most thoroughly documented chronicle of the person and politics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

John T. Flynn was a successful and influential journalist with a reputation for candor and first-rate research. He was neither a shill for Big Government nor a puppet of Big Business. He railed against both when they conspired to undermine the Constitution, erode our freedoms, or suck the nation into foreign entanglements. He saw right through the public relations job depicting FDR as a valiant crusader for noble causes.

Was FDR a man of principles, a man guided in his thinking by a fixed set of lofty and noncontradictory ideas? Far from it, Flynn proves, in what is an important theme of the book. FDR's thinking and behavior show him to be a real-life exemplar of an old Groucho Marx wisecrack: "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others!"

Running against Herbert Hoover in 1932, Roosevelt campaigned as an advocate of limited government, even (correctly) accusing Hoover of "reckless and extravagant spending" and of thinking "that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible." After being elected, however, FDR promptly championed reckless and extravagant spending and tried to centralize just about everything in Washington. He did so not because he had become a scholarly statist intellectual, but simply because he was an opportunist capitalizing on the public's demand for "action."

Yet the depression that FDR inherited was still very much with us after two terms in the White House. …