Monday, May 01, 2006
Look To FDR
One of my core political beliefs is that the Democratic Party could stay in power for decades and decades as long as they follow the steps of Franklin Roosevelt.

It's possible that someone other than FDR could have saved the United States from economic collapse and facism at the same time, but it's pretty unlikely. The man was a hero to the world, he inspired millions of people every week with his radio addresses, he delivered speeches that will still make you cry, and he was elected President FOUR times in a row. This wasn't just a guy who was in the right place at the right time; he connected with people in a way that almost no one has done before or since.

And he can still lead the Democrats to victory. For example, when FDR took office in 1932 the country was teetering on the verge of complete economic collapse. People were running on the banks and pulling out all their money, banks were being ruined in a single day (you saw this scene in Mary Poppins). So one of the first things FDR did was declare a mandatory week-long Bank Holiday, he also asked Congress to give him more control over the country's financial institutions. This was a huge request, and a lesser President might have looked like a dictator or a fool.

But FDR went on the radio and explained in clear, yet intelligent language what exactly he was doing and why he needed to do it. You can read it here.
The speech is amazing; it's easy to understand, it's complex, and it doesn't shy away from the severity of the situation. This is the speech that was the model for Jimmy Stewart's speech to the anxious people in the bank at the end of It's A Wonderful Life. You have to remember that at this point no one really knew how bank's worked, and most people didn't trust them.

FDR literally defused the situation in a single night, and then slowly rebuilt the country.

If the Dems want to take the lead on stem-cell research, the importance for renewable fuels, a new strategy for Iraq, or anything at all--they can look to this speech as a guide.

But I just came across a new reason to have even more faith in FDR, and therefore in the Democratic party. Evidently back in 1932 nobody liked him.

Jonathan Alter has just written a new book on FDR, and has an essay on Huffington Post, that gets in to more detail.

FDR was considered so weak that the party didn't want him and his campaign manager couldn't even get a seat in the New York delegation to the 1932 Dem Convention (even though FDR was the Governor of New York!). He was a flip flopper who was neither for nor against prohibition, and wasn't even considered all that smart. Democrats despaired and booed when he got the nomination.

Proof that you can't write anyone off. Proof that just because one candidate doesn't do it for you doesn't mean that he or she won't change the world. Does this mean that Tom Vilsack or Evan Bayh or Janet Napolitano could be the next FDR? Maybe. But it definitely means that leadership can literally come out of nowhere, and that things are never as bad as they seem, something the Democrats need to understand.

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