Magazine article The Spectator

'Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Life', by Robert Dallek - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Life', by Robert Dallek - Review

Article excerpt

What America needs is another Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt isn't as popular as he once was. When Barack Obama won the 2008 election, he let it be known that he was reading a book about FDR, and tumbleweed blew through the newsrooms. Which is odd because for many decades FDR was every bit the model liberal as Ronald Reagan was the model conservative. Roosevelt was credited with ending the Great Depression, laying the foundations of a welfare state and leading America through the second world war -- achievements for which he was rewarded with not one, not two but four election victories. And he did all of this despite being an elitist East Coaster with a wife who was very probably a lesbian. So cool was the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor, so European, that when Eleanor was asked what she thought of one of her husband's election victories, she replied: 'What difference does it make to me?'

Robert Dallek's superb book explores how they got away with it. Roosevelt was helped somewhat by the era he lived in. Journalists were more willing to pretend he hadn't been left crippled by a paralytic illness -- and the public had no need to know that Eleanor didn't always spend Christmas with her husband. But the idea that the 1930s was a more genteel age in which it was far easier to govern is bull. Congress was divided not only by party but by region and ideology -- and both sides liked to throw around labels like 'communist' or 'fascist'. General Douglas MacArthur applauded a Republican congressman who said that Roosevelt was a proto-monarch, determined to 'destroy the rights of the common people'. In 1938, a citizen from Atlanta wrote to FDR: 'Try dipping your head in a pail of water three times and just bring it out twice. Then the country will really recover.'

Roosevelt made mistakes. To overcome constitutional resistance, he tried and failed to pack the Supreme Court. He was too slow to help Germany's Jews. His neutrality in the Spanish Civil War probably helped Franco's fascists win. He was obviously too distracted by ill-health to negotiate with Stalin. And he shared the common mistaken belief that the American South could be left alone to evolve towards black civil rights. From the present perspective -- when liberalism has become so much about identity politics, particularly race -- that looks not only naive but a serious blemish on any record. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.