FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

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

7
FDR's Party Leadership:
Origins and Legacy

Sean J. Savage

The thesis of this chapter is that Franklin D. Roosevelt had always been committed to making the Democratic Party a distinctly liberal majority party in national politics. This chapter favorably judges Roosevelt's party leadership according to how well he was able to unite, expand, and liberalize the Democratic Party, in light of the fact that he had to operate within the inherently factious, decentralized political system of American federalism. Roosevelt was confident that by identifying the Democratic Party with the New Deal's ideology and policy agenda espousing federal intervention to reform the economy and broaden the distribution of wealth, he could not only unite the previously conflicting Northern and Southern wings of the party but also attract liberally inclined Republicans, independents, and third party members into the Democratic Party.

Since its publication in 1956, James MacGregor Burns's classic work on Roosevelt and the New Deal, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, has been widely accepted as an authoritative text on the party politics of the New Deal era. According to Burns, Roosevelt, unlike Jefferson and Jackson, initially did not try to redefine the Democratic Party in terms of new voting blocs and interest groups adhering to a new, distinct political philosophy and policy agenda.1 Burns suggests that Roosevelt relied too much on his personal popularity with the voters for his political success, and failed to

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