Rendezvous With Destiny: 1932-1956
Few Americans willingly gave Herbert Hoover credit for anything in the dark autumn of 1932, but he deserved acknowledgement for a flash of prescience. "This election is not a mere shift from the ins to the outs," he warned of his impending defeat. "It means deciding the direction our nation will take over a century to come."1 Franklin Roosevelt soon set the country on an erratic course that changed the American conception of government and its powers. It confirmed the worst fears of Hoover, whose engineering background fed his love of consistency and precision. Roosevelt's experience was in politics. "Take a method and try it," he told the men and women implementing his New Deal. "If it fails, try another. But above all, try something."2
Roosevelt restored public confidence. He also elevated the Democratic party to dominance. It won five of the seven Presidential elections in the period of 1932-1956. That equaled the total of Democratic victories between 1856 and 1928. Republican orators tried vainly to arouse discontent. Alfred Landon warned in 1936, "He threatens to destroy the one classless nation in the world."3 Wendell Willkie broadcast a dire message four years later, "If you return this administration to office, you will be serving under an American totalitarian government before the long third term is up."4 The New Deal withstood the verbal assaults. Roosevelt won a record four elections.
The President showed a gift for occasional prophecy comparable to Hoover's. He declared in 1936, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."5 The elections from 1932 to 1956 were conducted in a turbulent time, as the country confronted successively the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Government met the challenges with unprecedented expansion. An isolationist nation was transformed into the world's policeman. The atomic bomb's debut in 1945 guaranteed that Warren Harding's beloved "normalcy" would never return.