As with any tribute, there were glowing interpretations of Roosevelt’s presidency – some even true. The somewhat geriatric Rooseveltian liberal audience were in full delight, often interrupting Vaughn’s reading with hearty applause – especially when his attack on Republicans could be construed as having relevancy for their contemporary animosity toward George Bush, modern-day Republicans and evergreen conservative issues. The audience was salted with government workers thanks to a generous donation of 500 tickets to a cadre of teachers and professors (Yes Virginia, teachers ARE government workers). What could be more appropriate, since taxpayer payrollees were the greatest benefactors of Roosevelt’s big government policies and programs? The sentimental journey into the past even came with street vendors hawking the Communist Party newspaper outside the theater.
The audience made no expression when the history modestly exposed Roosevelt’s less noble actions. For the most part, the real Roosevelt was no more evident in the tribute oratory than the real Abraham Lincoln could be divined from the old Raymond Massey classic movie. It was public relations puffery, as tributes are intended to be.
While the audience applauded vigorously at every mention of civil rights contained in Roosevelt’s public remarks, it was largely unnoted that he never proposed or supported any significant civil rights initiative. He even refused to support anti-lynching legislation opposed by his southern Democrat congressional colleagues. Throughout his long tenure as America’s Chief Executive, Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, segregation, lynchings, and the reign of terror of the Klu Klux Klan were unchallenged by the White House. In fact, they reached new heights of virulence on Roosevelt’s watch.
Roosevelt’s executive order that cast Japanese citizens into U.S. concentration camps without due process was minimized. For the those forcibly removed from the homes and relocated to harsh remote camps, he was an American Hitler. No action committed by the Bush administration, so reviled by current day liberals, comes close to the racial insensitivity and contempt for individual rights of Roosevelt, himself. His confinement of innocent Japanese Americans was among the lowest points in American history. There was an irony watching the liberal audience applauding the fiction and turning deaf ears to the awful reality.
David Brody seemed to bring out a collect audience squirm when he fearlessly noted that Roosevelt’s policies had done nothing to end the depression or to avoid war. He united the people by charismatic rhetoric. His only indisputable accomplishment, however, was the establishment of the welfare state. He took a nation of fiercely independent citizens and turned them into subservients of government.
In the tribute, there was no reference to the oft stated belief that Roosevelt was an in satiable power monger, and the closet thing this nation has ever had to a dictator. Fortunately the democracy was stronger than his lust for power. Despite his control of Congress, he was not able to pack the Supreme Court by adding more members. His third and fourth elections violated tradition established by George Washington. However, a man willing to trash the Constitution would have no difficulty violating tradition. His abuse of power, over so many years, lead the Democrat Congress to constitutionally establish the two term limit. This country was not about to suffer another Roosevelt.
It is true that Roosevelt created a new majority in American politics. He pandered to fear to create the welfare state that now threatens the foundation of the American democracy. Like street drugs, welfare at first provided a sense of well being, but prolonged use exposed the destructive nature of the beast. As he seemingly ended one national crisis, Roosevelt planted the seeds of the nest. Ronald Reagan came to power on the promise to end the 50-year Rooseveltian culture – and he did. Of course, there was no mention of the man who dismantled much of the Hyde Parker’s big government legacy.
In terms of war, Roosevelt was determined to bring the significantly pacifistic United States into the global war. He believed that it was better to fight the enemies of America on their soil, rather than ours. The liberal audience did not applaud this particular similarity to current events.
As for his induction to the Radio Hall of Fame, nothing could be more appropriate. For whatever one thinks of Roosevelt, it is indisputable that he used the new technology to remarkable advantages, and proved is skill as a charismatic communicator. Radio was critical to the establishment of the Roosevelt mystique that his “fireside chats” are immortalized in his national monument. He was to radio what John Kennedy was to television.
Much has been written about Roosevelt, and his manifest shortcomings and failures are in the record. But for many, much of the record remains sealed from public expression. Like all dictators – Mao, Stalin – there is a charade that keeps the rapt attention of a decreasing number of zealots. In China and in Russia there are still elements of the old guard who gather together to celebrate, uncritically, the fictional lives of their heroes, offering tributes from their own inexplicably fond memories. Such was the occasion I attended.