The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “F*D*R: A Biography” by Ted Morgan from the Epilogue on page 771 and I quote: “Roosevelt’s commitment to public service was formed by the example of his distant cousin and the sermons of his headmaster. The strong sense of who he was and what he represented, which often stifles ambition among the privileged, in his case nurtured it. History to him was a living force that shaped the present. The past was filled with heroes whose lessons could be learned. America had no Caesar, no Charlemagne, no Napoleon, but America had Washington, who, like the barons at Runnymede, had acted not only for a class but for a people. America had Jefferson, who had established the young republic as a real democracy based on universal suffrage. America had Jackson, who had prepared the nation for its westward expansion. America had Lincoln, who had saved the Union. At each crisis, the right man was waiting to emerge, not designated by birth, but from behind any door of any hamlet or city—any man who was big enough to do the job.
As a young man, Roosevelt was not big enough. There was something constricted and self-limiting in his nature. He was unpopular among his fellow state senators, and as assistant secretary of the Navy he chafed at being in a subordinate position and had an exalted opinion of himself. His comeuppance came when it was revealed that he had commanded a secret unit that employed young sailors to entrap homosexuals in Newport.
It was then that he contracted polio and went through the transformation that made him big enough. The stricken prince, “seeing through a glass darkly,” suffered the trauma of near defeat. He learned the hard lesson that man’s first duty is not to give in.
His illness made it possible for him to identify with the humiliations and defeats of depression America. It was a suffering land, but it had the capacity to change and to grow, as he did. Indeed, this capacity for growth became the core of his character.
A man who could not walk became president of a country that had lost hope. With a simple set of beliefs—a belief that things could be improved, a belief in the democratic process—he transmitted his own confidence to the nation. “Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor,” Macaulay had written in 1857, to which Roosevelt replied: “Mine is a different anchor. . . . My anchor is democracy—and more democracy.”
The country we are living in today is to a great extent of his making. He transformed America. The New Deal lives on in a hundred way, from social Security to the TVA, from subsidies to tobacco farmers to the alliance of labor with the Democratic party. Instead of a government run by big business, we have the competing forces of big government, big labor, and big business—government by pressure point, the most intricate in the world.
The Democratic party as we know it, a coalition of labor, the urban and ethnic vote, the black vote, and the less and less solid South, which no longer nominated candidates by a two-thirds vote, is his making. Roosevelt truly believed that the Democratic party was the party of the people, while the Republicans represented business elites. The Republican principle, as he saw it, had come down from Alexander Hamilton in a straight line, holding that the common people were not capable of wise government. This meant gigantic combinations of wealth, protected by favorable legislation.
Roosevelt had “instinctive wisdom,” said Francis Biddle, “Rooted in his own physical suffering.” There was a kind of fusion between his personal condition and the process of government. Sometimes, in the emergencies of the Hundred Days and the war, you could get things done in a hurry, but usually it required the same kind of patience that he demonstrated in such small daily tasks as getting from place to place. The patience necessary in the democratic process was built into his own condition. One of the mistakes of his peacetime administration, the packing of the Supreme Court, took place because he had lost patience.
Those who worked closely with him attested to the brilliance of his mind and the breadth of his knowledge. Noting human was alien to him, said Adolf Berle. He could tell you about naval construction, constitutional law, the history of coins, the ability of white men to live in the tropics—he could tell you about anything. Recent studies that measure managerial skills seem to be describing Roosevelt when they stress “multidimensional thinking” and such other desirable attributes as “getting groups to collaborate well,” “being able to spot hidden patterns in an array of facts,” “using forms of influence to build alliances,” “the ability to acquire information without being overwhelmed.” On “socialized power,” as it is called today, Roosevelt wrote the book.
The other side of that political intelligence was a lack of frankness, a passion for manipulation, a mental and emotional shallowness, and a streak of vindictiveness. He liked to keep the strings in his hand by using confidential agents, sometimes with disastrous results, as in the demise of Sumner Welles. Although the president of an open society he often operated in secrecy.
Roosevelt had an amazing serenity of being, a self-control he had learned during his illness. Usually he was unruffled an cheerful, and one has to look very hard to find any neurotic tendency, such as the sleepwalking of his youth. Robert Sherwood, while admitting that he had never understood the president’s “heavily forested interior,” found him “spiritually the healthiest man I have ever known. He was gloriously and happily free of the various forms of psychic maladjustment which are called by such names as inhibition, complex, phobia.” In contrast to the other leaders of his time, he was never posturing or vainglorious like Mussolini, never enraged like Hitler, never haughty and aloof like de Gaulle, never brutal and ruthless like Stalin, never hectoring like Churchill. He seemed to draw on an inexhaustible reservoir of goodwill, and to act on the admonition in the Reverend Peabody’s favorite prayer: “Let unconquerable gladness dwell.”
Finally, he transformed the world we live in. He sponsored and supported the manufacture and use of the atom bomb, ushering in the nuclear age. He sought a new international order, an alternative to the European balance of power. Both world wars had started in Europe, and he saw a way to reduce the mischief-making capacities of the European powers by accepting Russia’s expanded role in world affairs. He was not, as some have said, duped by the Russians. He deliberately supported a great Soviet role in the postwar world, both in Europe and the Far East. He made concessions, giving Stalin multiple votes in the United Nations and a sphere of influence in Manchuria through control of their railroads and harbors.
He did not live to see the result, which was largely in accord with his plans. Europe was neutralized, divided into Atlantic pact and Warsaw pact nations. France and England, Germany and Italy, were reduced to small-power rank. France lost Indochina and Algeria, not through trusteeships but through war, and the rest of her colonial empire England lost India and Malaya and the Middle East.
It was all pretty much as Roosevelt intended: the dismantling of the colonial empires, which never put back into a country what they took out, and a Europe that no longer had the initiative in world affairs. Germany was divided in two, whereas he had proposed further fragmentation. The Four Policemen became two, since China and England were unable to claim great-power status. The United Nations was in place, and the world was dominated by two superpowers.
Except that they were not friends as he had hoped, they were adversaries, “two scorpions in a bottle,” as Robert Oppenheimer once called them. The balance of terror replaced the balance of power, creating deterrence through the threat of potential extinction. What this led to was the elimination of war on the territory of the combatants. Instead of countries with common borders invading one another, as had been the practice in Europe for centuries, two superpowers on opposite sides of the planet now exported wars to designated battlegrounds in distant lands, preferably the Third World, where life was cheap and conventional weapons could be used.
Thus the post-Roosevelt era saw a series of proxy wars in which the superpowers confronted one another on a third country’s territory. There was never any fighting in the Soviet Union or in the United States, and no nuclear weapons were used. Sometimes, as in Vietnam, American troops were engaged, and sometimes, as in Afghanistan, Soviet troops were engaged, but American troops never fought Soviet troops.
Such was the new order that Roosevelt brought in, at the cost of the subjugation of Eastern Europe and of virtually continuous Third World wars, called by some “the Third World War.” Can we say the system is a success? All that Roosevelt wanted, as he said repeatedly, was to make a peace more lasting than Wilson’s, a peace that would last several generations, through the lifetimes of the young men who had fought in World War II.
Between the end of World War I and the start of World War II, twenty-one years elapsed. It had now been forty years since the end of World War II, and a thriving doomsday industry has told us what would happen in the event of a nuclear war, an event that has yet to occur. As Churchill predicted in one of his last speeches, “Peace may become the sturdy child of terror.””
(FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT GREW IN STATURE AS HE GREW OLDER AND HE SUMMARIZED THE GROWTH OF OUR NATION AND SUMMARIZED EACH PRESIDENT—GOOD OR BAD. YOU COULD EASY SEE, WHY, AS AN INVALID, HE WOULD WANT TO START SOMETHING LIKE SOCIAL SECURITY, WHICH IS SOMETHING I DON’T THINK TODAYS’ REPUBLICANS EVER FORGAVE HIM FOR, EVEN THOUGH THEY THEMSELVES, GET OLD. I GUESS YOU’D SAY THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE IN HUMANITY. THEY BELIEVED THAT THE RICHEST MAN, REGARDLESS OF HOW MANY PEOPLE HE PERSECUTED ALONG THE WAY, SHOULD BE THE LEADER. JUST LIKE THE MANY, MANY CORPORATIONS EXPLOITED OUR COUNTRY, WHILE IT WAS IN IT’S EARLIEST DAYS AND BEING FORMED BEFORE FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT BECAME PRESDIENT. HE KNEW THE VALUE OF UNIONS AFTER WHAT TOOK PLACE IN THE 1920s AND 1930s THE WAY MANAGEMENT WAS EXPLOITING LABOR. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY AROUND THE WORLD WITH RICH BILLIONAIRES AND PLUTOCRATS CALLING THE SHOTS. MANY TIMES CREATING CIVIL WARS BETWEEN THEIR OWN NATIONALITIES AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS. YOU MIGHT THINK THEY WOULD READ AND UNDERSTAND WHAT THE WORD HUMANITY WOULD BE. THEY HAVE ONLY ONE THING ON THEIR MIND, MORE MONEY AND TOTAL GREED. THE BILLIONAIRES SAY, ‘I WANT MY NAME ON THE TOP OF THE LIST IN THE LATEST FORBES 400 MAGAZINE, WHICH EMPHASIZES THE RICHEST PERSON IN THE WORLD.’
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members