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review 2011-10-02 00:00
The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope - Jonathan Alter “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.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Yes, never before in our history, but history tends to repeat itself when you choose to ignore it. I don't know about you, but I find that above quote a bit spooky. President Obama.....read that last line a few times over.

The only other time in history the U.S. had such a high income inequality as we have right now was 1929-ish......EEK.

In this Jonathan Alter takes a look at the life of FDR, not just the 100 days. To understand what it took for a man to have the strength to do what he did in those 100 days, background was needed.

FDR was a politician, no doubt about it. He married someone he wasn't in love with to help with his political career. He had a mistress for many years, his true love (which he couldn't get away with in today's 24hr news cycle). He used people to get ahead in his ambitions, and then discarded them. It wasn't all rainbows and ponies that fart glitter, people.

Self admittedly, he was not the smartest man in the room, but he new enough to surround himself with the smartest. As an adult he contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. In those days it was a stigma to fall ill to polio, so he forced himself to "walk" with painful braces on his legs and with the aid of a strong man to hold onto him. It was by using his upper body to sling his useless legs forward, this apparently was excruciating, yet the man was always smiling and waving his hat in those moments. He would stand at a podium to make speeches. But he really wasn't standing at all, he held himself up by bracing himself up with his arms. Ouch.

When it came right down to the nitty gritty of fixing the countries economy, he had a hard time finding people to work with him from the other side of the isle. Imagine that. So, to do what needed to be done for the American people, he became a bit of a dictator, and the people didn't mind that. He saved capitalism by mixing in a healthy dose of socialism (psst...we have socialism right now, that we quite like). He found it a crime that the elderly were dying in poverty after working hard everyday of their lives, now we have Social Security and Medicare, which has worked quite nicely.

He taxed the rich 90%. 37% doesn't sound that bad now, does it?

He (the government....OMG) created jobs with ginormous infrastructure projects, such as your cross country highway system.

Now all was going well until 1937 when he started listening to some people on the other side bitching about spending and the deficit. The recovery slowed when he responded by backing down. If he hadn't done that and been more aggressive, the recovery would have been much quicker. That, sadly, sounds familiar too.

As a result, the 50's turned out swell (if you weren't black or female, or god forbid....gay). Everything was moving right along until....Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon, 1965-1972.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
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review 2010-04-28 00:00
The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope - Jonathan Alter,Grover Gardner Those of us alive now have a difficult time understanding the degree of fear and uncertainty felt by people in 1933 when the banks were closing and they had no idea what the future held. One had to live through the time to know how it felt. Even then, some people soon forgot and started complaining about FDR’s efforts to fight the depression. They forgot that before FDR's inauguration may leading thinkers (including the respected columnist Walter Lippman) were encouraging him to assume dictatorial powers in order to save the nation. Conditions were so bad that some people speculated that the last time the world had a similar crisis it was followed by 400 years of "dark ages." And with the wrong people in leadership it could have turned into a dark age. Instead Franklin Roosevelt was able to lift the confidence of the nation.

I can remember my father telling me about Roosevelt closing all the banks in the United States on his first day of being president. He felt FDR had saved the nation. Roosevelt was able to instill the needed confidence in the banks by promising that the banks that were allowed to open again would be safe. The bank’s conditions were reviewed and only the solvent bank’s were allowed to open. Then within weeks, people who had waited in line to get their money out of the bank were now waiting in line to put their money back in. There was no deposit insurance at the time, so the fear of banks failing was real.

Ironically FDR was opposed to deposit insurance at the time. In hindsight it’s apparent that FDR, and most other people at the time, did not understand very much about economics. He sort of took action by intuition. The early New Deal program was actually operated by left over staff from the Hoover administration. Nevertheless, it is obvious that there is no way Herbert Hoover could have instilled the confidence in the banks the way the FDR did. The difference between recovery and disaster was psychological, but nevertheless it was a real difference.

It’s interesting to note that on paper Hoover was much more qualified to be president than FDR. Which indicates that the most important trait needed to be president is charisma. Experience and administrative skill are not all that important for the top person; Others can do that stuff.

The conclusion of this book is that FDR deserves credit for saving democracy, but not ending the depression. The depression was ended by World War II.
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