Recalling Franklin Roosevelt

Latest. As Americans start their day, it’s increasingly clear that the House Republicans are holding out against the Republican President’s bail-out. If Bush and the majority Democrats do a deal over their heads and McCain continues to share Rep qualms, and the deal works, Bush hands the presidency on a plate to Obama. Will tonight’s debate go on? There’s plenty to talk about.

In the middle of the bailout deadlock I searched for lines on: “What would FDR do?” And sure enough up they popped. But first, where are we now? Politically in chaos, the Republicans are split over the amazing phenomenon of an “unAmerican” state takeover of a large chunk of the US financial industry by a Republican administration. Bush sucks, Paulson kneels down before Speaker Pelosi and Pelosi replies: “ I didn’t know you were a Catholic”. McCain seems to have flunked it, sitting silent at the big round table and then siding with the Republican no-dealers. Obama has waffled “for more time.” Arianna Queen of the Democratic blogs raps him to show leadership. True to form and status the New York Times sonorously bemoans The Absence of Leadership. Echoing the great phrase from Roosevelt’s first inaugural, the NYT intones: “ It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself…. Given Mr. Bush’s shockingly weak performance, the only ones who could provide that are the two men battling to succeed him. So far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is offering that leadership.”Two pieces even question whether the presidency is worth having now.

The Times’ Gerard Baker gives all sorts of reasons for calling it “The Presidency you wouldn’t want to win”, goes on to suggest that Hillary might pick up the following term and ends by hedging his bets: “….history suggests an unsettlingly binary possibility. Either the next president is destined for the cruel obscurity of one-term failure. Or he is set to join the pantheon.” (Thanks for the firm line Gerry.)

Ted Widmer of the Washington Post asks “Why on Earth would anyone want to be president right now?” But at least going on to offer an answer.

“After Lincoln’s, no presidency began under darker clouds than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. The U.S. financial system was in vastly worse shape than it is even today, totalitarianism was looming abroad, and the New York Stock Exchange had actually shut down. But Roosevelt knew that Herbert Hoover had given him, in FDR’s own words, “an easy act to follow.” On that dark inaugural day in 1933, the new president was only five sentences into his maiden speech when the sonorous attack on “fear itself” came; nothing was the same after that. Roosevelt launched a sustained attack on Hoover’s laissez-faire policies; there’s a reason he called the New Deal new.”

So what would FDR have done? He certainly didn’t go about moaning he’d be a one-term President. He projected more optimism than he had any right to feel and set a cracking pace for the legendary first 100 days and beyond. It didn’t solved much but it improved morale and started to build the magic ingredient of confidence. The Last Chance Democracy café (who they?) offers Obama sage advice, but too late. Do what FDR did in response to lame duck President Hoover ( read across Bush). ” President Herbert Hoover contacted Franklin Roosevelt, who was then the president-elect, asking him to endorse Hoover’s proposed responses to the crisis and to enter into a joint proclamation….The two men needed to show solidarity, Hoover insisted, in order to calm the panic. But FDR turned him down cold. He didn’t want to waste his political capital.”

Richard Reeves political scientist and biographer of Reagan declares: “whoever is in charge of the government looks for a bracelet with the letters “WWRD.” “What Would Roosevelt Do?” “Paulson was appointed by a president, administration and party that has spent the past 70 years attacking most of what the New Deal did or tried to do.” So the era of Big Government pursued until Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society eschewed ever after even by Clinton, is back in business. No wonder there’s deadlock. While you wasit for news browse in the extracts from J Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Great Crash: 1929.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London