Could we accept a new FDR?
HYDE PARK, N.Y.
In this summer of President Obama's discontent and America's discontent with Obama, it is easy to wax nostalgic for the jaunty, upbeat president who lived here.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had all the qualities that these days detractors find wanting in their president: He was gregarious and optimistic, engaged and cheerful, folksy when he wanted to be and ferociously determined when he had to be.
Yet as I wandered through the Roosevelt estate, I found myself as struck by the difference in the worlds each president had (or has) to navigate as between the presidents themselves.
No visit to the Roosevelt estate is complete without a tour of Val-Kill, the cozy home a couple of miles from the main house that became Eleanor Roosevelt's primary residence. And a mile farther up the mountain is Top Cottage, the house that Franklin designed as a getaway from Eleanor, his mother, Sara, and anyone else he wanted to leave behind.
Imagine what journalists would make of this today if we were questioning Roosevelt's press secretary, Stephen Early.
Excuse me, Steve, but can you tell us at which house Mrs. Roosevelt spent last night? Can you tell us how many nights she's spent at the main house? Has she been there at all this vacation, Steve? Steve?
It was in 1918 that Eleanor discovered Franklin's love letters with another woman. Franklin and Eleanor never again lived as husband and wife.
And when Franklin came down with polio in 1921, he and his family went to extraordinary lengths to hide the seriousness of his illness. Only a handful of photographs in the library show FDR in a wheelchair. Franklin at first refused to accept that he could not beat the disease and then apparently resolved to reconquer the world without the ability to walk.
Steve, can you tell us if the candidate ever suffered from depression? When are you going to release those medical records, Steve? Steve, why can't we set up our cameras behind the podium?
We live in an era that is more accepting of disability but still dubious about vulnerability and foibles in a leader. In a world that second-guesses every politician's decisions on an almost minute-by-minute basis, would Roosevelt have made it as far as the governor's race in 1928? Would he have tried?
I put both questions to Richard Moe, author of the recently published “Roosevelt's Second Act,” an account of the president's decision to seek a third term.
Moe responded in an email: “I have no doubt that someone who had many of FDR's characteristics and abilities — to pick strong people, to see the core of an issue, to make bold decisions and to articulate them compellingly — could prevail today. In fact I think many people are hungering for his kind of leadership.
“At critical times in our history the American people have usually known it when it was offered to them and have responded to it. Despite all of the dysfunctionality of today's politics, I think they will again.”
I hope Moe is right. Fortified by his optimism, I was ready to leave Hyde Park and plunge back into our great national debate on whether Obama had allowed enough minutes to elapse between his latest press conference and his latest round of golf.
Fred Hiatt is editorial page editor of The Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates acquire pitcher Blanton from Royals for cash
- Starkey: Garoppolo baffles Steelers
- Peduto blasts Wolf’s plan to borrow $3B to shore up pensions
- Tight ends’ role in Steelers passing game continues to lessen but players remain selfless
- McCutchen, Pirates cruise to interleague victory over Twins
- Steelers notebook: LB Dupree sits out backs-on–backers drill
- Steelers’ Bell unsure why NFL reduced his suspension
- Inside the Steelers: Williams’ quickness out of backfield evident in drills
- Hempfield man serving life without parole for killing wife tells judge he’ll pay restitution when he’s released
- Extremes in weather hurt crops in Westmoreland
- 3 taken into custody after shots fired at East Park in Connellsville