The FDR Library Revisited
"Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it, these forces met their master."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the 1936 campaign
I've written before on this electronic trash bin of Left Wing propaganda about the occasional pilgrimages I make to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. I find the place therapeutic. Whenever I get to feeling depressed about this country (which is only when I am not sound asleep and not intoxicated) I tell myself that I need to visit there. Fortunately I live slightly less than forty miles from the place so getting there is not as time-consuming a prospect for me as it might be for you. I took yet another of many trips there on Saturday the eleventh of February. This time I brought along my friend Lori DeGeorge. It had the desired effect. When the time came to leave I was feeling much better about America than I was feeling when I walked in.
Here are two brief paragraphs from a piece I wrote in 2007:
"It was said of him at the time of his death on April 12, 1945, 'Although he never regained the use of his legs - much as he wanted to; much as he tried - he taught a crippled nation how to walk again.'
He was the pampered son of privilege from Hyde Park, NY whose battle with polio, begun in the summer of 1921, ingrained into his soul a deep and abiding empathy for the suffering of others that had previously been somewhat lacking in him. Through the development of a series of radical, revolutionary programs - unparalleled in history - which his administration brought into the main stream of American social engineering, he was able to usher millions of regular people into the ranks of a middle class that had not even existed before he took the oath of office on March 4, 1933. It is now almost a cliche but it is as true as the rising sun: He saved capitalism by 'tempering its excesses.' The people would elect him to an unprecedented four terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was - beyond a doubt - the greatest president in American history."
My opinions of the man and his presidency have not altered a molecule since I wrote those words five years ago. If anything they have only been strengthened. He was as good as they get. When he died someone remarked that a century into the future, people would get down on their knees and thank God for Franklin D. Roosevelt. I can't speak for the people of 2045, but sixty-seven years after his passing - two thirds of a century - this person is very grateful indeed. And take into consideration that I didn't even live through that era. When I was born he had been dead for thirteen years.
And he has been gone for a very long time. My mother will be eighty-one on August fifth. On the day Franklin Roosevelt died she was not yet in high school. Maybe that is related to the reason why the legacy of the New Deal is on life support these days. There aren't many people alive today who remember what life was like in the United States before FDR - and those who do remember were mere toddlers when the stock market crashed in October of 1929. It has been said that those who refuse to remember their history are doomed to repeat it. It's so true. Just look out your window onto America's economic landscape. It was never supposed to get like this again. Why did it? What happened?
The people of this country forgot about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That's what happened. Show most Americans a photograph of his smiling face and they will not even be able to identify him. That's gratitude for you! And if the spin doctors for the plutocracy have their way, his name (and good works) will be eradicated from America's consciousness forever.
They've already started with their onslaught of lies and misinformation. Since there are few left who remember and loved the living, breathing FDR, and who can attest to what he meant to the working people of the United States, now is the perfect time for the far right to commence with the assassination of his character - to demean everything he ever stood for; in other words: progressive policies. It is now a common right wing tactical talking point to preface the term "New Deal" by using words such as "the failure of" or "the disastrous". It's starting to work, too. There are people out there who see President Roosevelt, not as being the architect of a new American social structure, but rather as a contemporary of John Dillinger.
Another curious point of emphasis the conservatives love to scream about is the fact that Franklin Roosevelt didn't quite champion the cause of African Americans during the years he lived in the White House - as if Herbert Hoover ever did! While it can't be denied that Roosevelt was fairly passive publicly on the issue of civil rights, privately it was another matter. What should not be forgotten is all of the good work his wife did for the cause of racial understanding during those twelve years. It can be said without a hint of exaggeration that up to that time, Eleanor Roosevelt did more for the rights of black people in this country than any and every president since Abraham Lincoln. And she did it all with her husband's blessings. They each had differing and well-defined roles to play. He was the pragmatic politician. She was America's heart and conscience. Each played their respective role masterfully - if not always to perfection.
Of course, had I been elected president in 1932, I would not have been as passive as Roosevelt was with regard to the equal rights of all Americans. I would have been out in the national spotlight demanding an end to racial segregation everywhere. The only problem is that I would have been a one term president (that's assuming I wouldn't have been impeached - or lynched). Back in those days the Democratic party was chock-full of racist Dixiecrats. A generation later they would flee - like diseased rats - into the loving arms of the GOP.
It's sad to say, but the world Franklin Roosevelt inhabited was not the same one that President Lyndon Johnson encountered thirty years later. The Voting and Civil Rights Acts could not have been passed in the thirties and forties - and it is sheer folly for anyone to suggest (as some have) that he could have done so. He couldn't even get a federal anti-lynching law passed. The proposed bill was killed in the senate. But While Franklin might have appeared passive, with his quiet encouragement Eleanor was helping pave the road to equality in this country. It's a road that still has more-than-a-few miles of paving left to go.
The Civil Rights Movement in America was born on April 9, 1939 - Easter Sunday. That was the day that Mrs. Roosevelt made the arrangements for African American contralto Marian Anderson to perform a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin. Eleanor Roosevelt, a life-long member of the DAR, resigned in disgust at that moment. I hate to do this to you again but I need to quote something else I wrote a few years ago. Here goes:
"Almost everyone is under the impression that the modern civil rights movement began on that December afternoon in 1955 when an exhausted Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. They're off by almost seventeen years. December 1, 1955 merely marked the day the child went out into the world for the very first time. April 9, 1939 was the moment she breathed her first breath."
Damn! Best paragraph I ever wrote! Wasn't that a humdinger?
On that sacred Easter Sunday of 1939 under the statue of the great emancipator, as Marian Anderson sang Schubert's Ave Maria before an integrated audience of seventy-five thousand people - and millions more across the land via the new medium of radio - who among the multitudes gathered would have dared to dream that they were bearing witness to the beginning of a long chain of events that would lead to the inauguration of the first African American president seventy years later?
The next time one of these "spokespersons" for the extreme right tries to convince you that Franklin D. Roosevelt hated black people, recognize it for what it is: a bald-faced lie. In the years Roosevelt was president there was a massive political migration of African Americans who bolted the "party of Lincoln" for the Democrats. That is no mere coincidence.
The most obvious stain on the legacy of President Roosevelt is the incarceration of Japanese citizens during the second world war. He didn't instigate what happened but it happened all the same. He could have put a stop to it and yet he caved in. But Roosevelt was just as guilty as the people he led. There was no mass outrage over the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in 1942. That outrage would only make itself known after a half century of historical hindsight.
Still, after all is debated, we're a better country because eighty years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought and won the office of the presidency. As I stated earlier, very few people are alive today who have a conscious memory of what life was like in America for ordinary people before the New Deal ushered in a great new society for this country. Because of FDR, people began to see their government as a partner. It's been one of my missions to make sure that my generation understands this. They've pretty much forgotten that it was Roosevelt's liberal policies that saved America. Today many see the government as their enemy - and in some cases that's the truth. It doesn't have to be that way. We should strive for the perfection of government - not its abolition.
While we were visiting, Lori and I took a tour of the mansion where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on the night of January 29, 1882, the place that he called "home" for all of his his sixty-three years. I could definitely feel the "Frankie vibe" as I call it. It is a beautiful old house and it is exactly as it was on the last night he ever slept there - including a glass of milk and a half-eaten tuna sandwich that he left on the dining room table. On our way out, we paused for a moment of reflective meditation in the Rose Garden where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt today sleep side-by-side. It's one of the most peaceful places on earth; the perfect spot to reflect upon where America has been, where it is, and where it may be heading. I just might pass this way again. In fact, I'm planning on it.
By the way, I was just kidding about the glass of milk and tuna sandwich. That wouldn't be quite sanitary. It's a very clean place.
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
The photograph of the author at the top of this nasty, piece of commie diatribe was taken by Lori DeGeorge. The photograph of Lori and that same America-bashing, French-loving "elitist" writer was taken on the South lawn of the Roosevelt mansion overlooking the Hudson River. The photographer was a very polite tourist from Ireland named Chris. Thank you, Chris.
No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin
A compelling look at life inside the White House when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt lived there.
Here are some links to three additional pieces I've written through the years on the subject of Franklin Roosevelt:
"So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...."
Aw, hell, you know the rest of it.