Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm currently immersed in the book Traitor To His Class a really interesting biography on Franklin Roosevelt. Just wanted to give you a few nuggets of information of what I am learning:

1) Famous Relations:
Teddy Roosevelt was Franklin's uncle. Eleanor was Franklin's cousin? or some relative pretty close.

2) Franklin had ambitions for the presidency for a long time. He modeled his political path, especially early on after Teddy's. Teddy was governor of New York, so was FDR. Teddy was assistant secretary of the Navy during the Spanish-American war, so was FDR during Wilson's administration during WWI. Teddy volunteered to fight in that war as a "Rough Rider", FDR wanted to volunteer for WWI but was talked out of it. He was actively involved in managing the Navy convincing the government to build it up as WWI began but before the US got involved. He was going to volunteer to fight toward the end of the war, but it ended.

3) Teddy was a progressive Republican, someone John McCain tried and failed to model his own political map after. The Democratic party was an entrenched minority basically since the Civil war. Until Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat to win the presidency. Wilson only won because Teddy decided to run in the 1912 election splitting the Republican vote.

4) Woodrow Wilson lost the Congress heavily in the 1918 Congressional elections (as WWI was ending) because he tried to make the election a referendum on the war and on his League of Nations. Republicans won handily and effectively harpooned his attempts at winning a peace that could keep the peace. Wilson bet all of his political capital on the League of Nations which turned out to be a mistake. The Treaty of Versailles basically resulted in pretty harsh terms against Germany which in my humble opinion sunk Germany economically and opened the doors for Hitler and an eventual second world war.

5) Roosevelt ran as the vice presidential candidate in 1920 but the ticket lost handily, but Roosevelt's political reputation increased as a result.

6) The Republicans dominated politics through the 1920's. Ironically because of that, it was the perfect opportunity politically speaking, for Roosevelt to get polio (wikipedia believes Roosevelt actually didn't contract polio) allowing him to take partial political exile. He did continue to make a name for himself with some very inspiring speeches at the presidential conventions in 1924 and in 1928. He won governor of NY in 1928.

7) 1920s was a time of economic prosperity for the US as they profited from debts collected from Europe and a transition to industrialization. Farmers faired less well, but overall, the conditions were ripe for Republican dominance.

That's basically where I'm at in the book.

Regarding, Roosevelt's polio, this is a great quote from the book:

"Beyond improving his grasp of economics, Roosevelt's time at Warm Springs - and his overall experience of polio - made him better able to empathize with victims of misfortune generally. No one could suffer such an arbitrary blow of fate without becoming better attuned to others who suffered similarly. Capricious calamity isn't part of the American dream, which promises success to those who strive diligently toward reasonable goals. Other cultures have allowed greater scope for accident or the whims of the gods, but fatalism never caught on in America. Yet sometimes bad things do happen to people through no fault of their own. Roosevelt now understood this in a way he hadn't before.

Polio certainly helped people sympathize with him as they hadn't previously. Roosevelt's first four decades gave ordinary Americans little to identify with in him. His patrician background, mannerisms, and accent would have made him an ideal candidate for president in the age of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, when ordinary Americans expected their leaders to stand above them. But the age of deference had ended with the election of Andrew Jackson; after that candidates for president needed to display a common touch if they hoped to win the people's confidence. Though some candidates faked it, the most successful were those whose bond with the people was genuine. Comparatively few Americans had suffered the specific disabilities associated with polio, but all had suffered in some way or another. And in their suffering they now could identify with Franklin Roosevelt."

And, seemingly by an act of God, Roosevelt was prepared to lead the nation during one of its most difficult trials.

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