Explainer in Chief: What Obama Can Learn from FDR

Explainer in Chief: What Obama Can Learn from FDR

Nicolaus Mills: Obama’s Jobs Speech

As President Obama gets set to speak to the nation this Thursday, he is receiving advice from all quarters on what he should say. The big question is, who will he listen to? But there is no doubt which president provides Obama with the best example of how to conduct a reelection campaign. It is Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1936 ran as the president Republicans loved to hate.

At the end of his first term, Roosevelt had a record he could point to with pride. Since 1932, national income had risen by more than 50 percent while unemployment had dropped by over a third. After four years the New Deal, nonetheless, had a long way to go, and FDR did not hesitate to say so. At the same time, Roosevelt was adamant that the Republican Party had no useful solutions to offer America in the midst of the Great Depression. Over and over during the 1936 campaign, Roosevelt took on the role of Explainer in Chief in order to emphasize the differences between himself and his opponents.

It is a role that no president in recent years has been more suited to than Barack Obama, and for that reason FDR?s 1936 campaign is especially relevant today. FDR?s words are not ones that Obama can use unchanged seventy-five years later, but his sentiments are.

As the following sampler from Roosevelt?s 1936 campaign shows, the defense that FDR made of his administration and its policies bears a striking resemblance to the one Obama will have to make to win reelection in 2012.

Commission and Omission in Government

?Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

?Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.?

Tax Equity

?You cannot promise tax relief for those who can afford to pay, and, at the same time, promise more of the taxpayers? money for those who are in need. You simply cannot make good on both promises at the same time.?

What Republicans Really Want

?Make no mistake about this: the Republican leadership is not against the way we have done the job. The Republican leadership is against the job being done.?

Good Government

?Starting in 1911, a Democratic leadership came into power, and with it a new philosophy of government….We did not look on government as something apart from the people. We thought of it as something to be used by the people for their own good.?

Political Amnesia

?Do I need to recall the powerful leaders of industry and banking who came to me in Washington in those early days of 1933 pleading to be saved??


?In the summer of 1933, a nice old gentleman wearing a silk hat fell off the end of a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran down the pier, dived overboard, and pulled him out; but the silk hat floated off with the tide. After the old gentleman had been revived, he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving his life. Today, three years later, the old gentleman is berating his friend because the silk hat was lost.?

Being Hated

?We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace?business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

?They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

?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.?

Government and Religion

?I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless?that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief?to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed should be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

?You and I will continue to refuse to accept this estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.?

Roosevelt won the 1936 campaign in a landslide victory over Alf Landon of Kansas, winning the popular vote 27,751,612 to 16,681,913 and carrying all but two states. But Roosevelt had to work hard for those votes. Obama, who has often felt besieged from the left and the right, can take heart in the fact that 80 percent of the nation?s newspapers endorsed Landon, as did most businessmen and most of Wall Street.

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