FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

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

3
Administering Democracy:
Personnel Management in the
Federal Civil Service, 1933-1953

Margaret C. Rung

To many who suffered during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal illustrated the president's desire to address the needs of the dispossessed. He seemed to champion the "forgotten" people and turn his back on the upper crust. Ironically, Roosevelt himself was a member of the elite. Early in his career, one of his supporters noted that Roosevelt's greatest political handicap was his patrician background.1 By 1933, however, he seemed to have overcome the handicap. Indeed, Roosevelt's leadership talents rested upon his ability to convince people that he could be as forceful and dignified as a monarch while still respecting ordinary citizens and democratic rule.

" Roosevelt's all-embracing strategy was to appear as the patron of the average American, commanding attention not merely because he was the nation's leader, blessed with a benignly superior, cultivated background, but also by suggesting that he could help define the true average."2 This tension between liberal democratic principles, on the one hand, and aristocratic rule, on the other, caused significant conflict within the federal government during the 1930s and 1940s. Yet it represented just one set of a series of oppositional ideologies that undergirded the debate over authority. Over time, totalitarianism, on the one hand, and individualism, on the other, also

-37-

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