The comparisons between Barack Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt began even before our 44th president had taken the oath. In late 2008, TIME magazine portrayed president-elect Obama as FDR on its cover. The wish was father to the thought. Mr. Obama encouraged such dreams from his political father. He did not look to Bill Clinton as a model. And certainly no one would take Jimmy Carter as a mentor. No one, that is, who wanted to have a successful presidency.
Barack Obama might have wanted to offer Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson as a role model. At least, Johnson’s signing of historic Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation could be commended. But LBJ led us into the morass of Vietnam. After four bloody years in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Johnson could give no convincing reasons why the U.S. should prevail there.
“Hey! Hey, LBJ! How many kids have you killed today,” chanted anti-war protesters then. The parents of today’s Occupy Wall Streeters drove Johnson from office in defeat and disgrace. Scratch Johnson.
That leaves John F. Kennedy as the Democratic hero to whom Barack Obama might look for inspiration. Well, maybe not. JFK said “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Oops! That’s not the kind of martial music Obama’s Peace Caucus-goers could march to. And JFK took us to the Moon. President Obama’s NASA chief thinks his Mission One is to make Muslims feel good about themselves. Also, Jack Kennedy cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, arguing that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” That wouldn’t do for a socialist program of “spreading the wealth around.”
Pursuing far-left policies in office has left Obama’s partisans with no role model except FDR. Roosevelt, to be sure, was the longest-serving, most influential political figure the left has ever produced. But even here, and especially here, Mr. Obama comes up short. The Weekly Standard lampooned TIME’s worshipful treatment with a stunning caricature of the 44th president rather shrunken in the shadow of our 32nd.
We don’t need to approve of FDR’s New Deal. Many if not most aspects of that Big Government solution worsened the Great Depression. Harold Ickes, the left-wing Republican who served the Squire of Hyde Park as Interior Secretary shot back at Republican criticisms of his day: “Tax and Spend, Tax and Spend, Elect and Elect.”
Ickes was right about that much. In those heady days of liberalism, it seemed you could “prime the pump” with confiscatory taxes without the pump ever going dry.
Ronald Reagan never criticized FDR. In Reagan’s day, there were simply too many millions of voters who had voted for “that Man” four times. Reagan was one of them.
So, it’s not surprising that we get an unrecognizable FDR for today’s generation. Barack Obama’s representatives testified recently on Capitol Hill. The administration opposes the suggestion by World War II veterans to include Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer in his memorial. “Don’t dilute the FDR Memorial,” they say. Dilute? They don’t want to water down the rest of his stirring rhetoric.
Watering down? Is this administration really so anti-prayer as that? President Roosevelt’s nationally broadcast prayer spoke of “faith in our united crusade” against the evils of Nazidom. FDR addressed the American people on June 6, 1944. My friend Bill Bennett plays the D-Day prayer on his radio program every June 6th. Good for him.
Those who think a Roosevelt prayer diluting don’t know FDR. When Roosevelt first met Prime Minister Winston Churchill, seventy years ago last summer for the first summit, the president’s son Elliott made a point of telling the British leader “my father is a very religious man.”
Churchill had already learned that. He had studied the American leader and had chosen those great hymns most likely to tug at Roosevelt’s heartstrings. More than 5,000 young British and American sailors joined heartily to sing the words of “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and “Eternal Father Strong to Save.”
Here’s a compromise we can offer to avoid “diluting” the FDR Memorial:
Let’s take that statue of Roosevelt on his wheel chair and ship it off to the Bill Clinton Library. As president, Clinton made it his business to tell us all that Americans were lied to about FDR’s crippling condition of polio. Expert as he was in lying, Bill Clinton got that totally wrong.
Readers of TIME and every other journal of the 1940s read every year that the president was going to Warm Springs, Georgia, for treatment for his polio-stricken legs. The president publicly raised funds for the March of Dimes, a group then dedicated to polio research. And, Mr. Clinton, guess whose picture is on the dime?
It was President Roosevelt who requested that no pictures of him in his wheel chair be shown. That’s the real reason only two of more than 14,000 photographs of President Roosevelt show him in his chair. To claim otherwise, as Clinton does, is to delude Americans.
If we transfer the wheelchair statue that FDR would have hated, we can avoid diluting the FDR Memorial. We can stop deluding Americans. We will have plenty of room to display Roosevelt’s eloquent D-Day Prayer. Then, we can remind ourselves that we truly are One Nation Under God.
Bob Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies for the Family Research Center.