Hillary Rodham Roosevelt

By James MacGregor Burns & Susan Dunn | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Hillary Rodham Roosevelt


James MacGregor Burns & Susan Dunn, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


"Do you wish to win for yourself the undesirable title of the 4- P's Candidate: Pusillanimously-Pussyfooting-Pious-Platitudinous Roosevelt?" wrote a Harvard friend to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, imploring him to forthrightly address the crucial issues of the day.

But Roosevelt had chosen a different -- and safer -- game plan. From the very beginning of his quest for the presidency in 1931, he purposefully sought to be elusive, vague and to appear to be all things to all people.

Seventy-five years later, a chorus of political commentators -- and fellow Democrat presidential candidates -- are lashing out at Hillary Rodham Clinton, accusing her of the very same tactic of evasion. She straddles, practices "systematic caution" and plays "dodge ball," they charge. Her critics demand that she be more candid and genuine.

That is a sensible and astute formula -- for losing elections.

Roosevelt, the only American president to win four terms in office, campaigned as a supreme waffler in 1932 -- and by doing so he beat incumbent Herbert Hoover and set the stage for the transformation of American society and government.

FDR saw the Democratic Party for what it was: an amorphous association representing a wide variety of competing interests. To win the presidential nomination, he needed to keep on board an improbable mix of Eastern liberals, Western reformers, labor leaders, internationalists, Wall Street financiers and Southern states' rights conservatives and white supremacists.

So evasive was he that one columnist dubbed him "the corkscrew candidate."

After securing the nomination, his strategy in the general election remained the same: to appeal to as wide and inclusive a swath of the American public as possible, to Democrats, progressives, independents and moderate Republicans.

Both Roosevelt and Hoover confronted a numbed, stricken nation, where millions of battered Americans -- 25 percent of the country -- were out of work, standing morosely in long bread lines, sleeping under frayed newspapers on streets lined with empty storefronts.

Hoover rejected government action to help the jobless and needy. Instead, he passively passed the buck to the people, expressing confidence in their ability to "work out the cure" to the nation's economic hardships. …

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