There are political dynasties, and then there are the Roosevelts of Hyde Park and Oyster Bay. All others are cheap imitations. The Bushes and the Roosevelts? It's like comparing apples and rotten mangoes. The Kennedy family, God bless 'em, doesn't even come close. The Roosevelts are the standard against which everyone who has come since are measured. The wannabes usually end up falling quite short.
|Chillin' with the Roosevelts|
For twenty-five years Ken Burns has been cranking out one historical series after another, and every one of them have been brilliant. He is in the process of working on several yet-to-be-released projects. One of them, a two-part documentary on Ernest Hemingway, won't be ready until the year 2020. I'm now at a point in my life where I can say, without a trace of self-consciousness, that I really do hope I live to see it. I'm definitely glad I lived to see The Roosevelts. It's the best one he's done thus far - and that's saying a lot!
I can't tell you who won the 1932 world series for the simple reason that, eighty-two years later, it doesn't make a damned bit of difference to our lives who won it. I can tell you who won the presidential election that year, though. Four score and two years after the fact that does make a difference. Think about this: On the evening of February 15, 1933, less than a month before entering the White House, a would-be assassin named Giuseppe Zangara attempted to murder Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami, Florida. The bullet, instead, hit Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak, who died nineteen days later. Had FDR been assassinated on the eve of his inauguration the presidency would have gone to his running mate, a not-too-visionary bigot from Texas named John Nance Garner. If Zangara's bullet had not missed its mark on that night, the entire history of the would - not merely the United States - would have been much different. "What if...." It makes the imagination tremble.
"I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it, these forces met their master."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
To his own kind, FDR was a traitor to his class, or, "That man in the White House". He was not merely the most liberal president in the history of the republic, he was a radical - at a perilous moment when radical change was needed; not unlike it's needed at present.
If you appreciate the millions of acres of national parkland and animal sanctuaries set aside for posterity; if you're grateful for the Social Security check that you or a loved one receives each month; if you've benefited from one the of thousands of high schools, post offices, tunnels or bridges built in the nineteen thirties; if you have ever fallen on hard times and were forced to receive much-needed cash from the feds because you became unemployed; if you were a vet and the GI Bill of Rights afforded you a college education - in short, if during the years after the Second World War, you were able to live comfortably as a member of the middle class - thank a Roosevelt. What I just rattled off for you was the (very) short list. I have neither the time nor space to mention them all. This country owes so much to this family that it's impossible to catalog the debt. Sadly, most American are oblivious to it all.
While still young men, Theodore and Franklin were dealt incapacitating, personal blows that forever changed them. For Theodore it was Valentine's Day 1884 when his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house. In Franklin's case it was in the late summer of 1921 when he was stricken with infantile paralysis, never to walk again. Both men thought that their lives were over. The trumpets were yet to summon them to greatness.
"Black care", wrote Theodore Roosevelt, "rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough."
It's fifty-two years since the last survivor breathed her last breath. We are greatly diminished as a nation because they no longer walk among us. It almost takes away the fear of dying, you know?
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
A film by Ken Burns
This excellent, seven part series is available on DVD as of today. If you're unable to catch it on PBS, for whatever reason, pick it up today. Here's a link to order it off of Amazon.com:
The Roosevlts: An Intimate History
As I mentioned before, it's the best thing that Ken Burns has ever done. There is a companion book available as well.
Here are some links to a few other pieces I've written over the years about this extraordinary family:
April 12, 1945-April 12, 2012:
Theodore Roosevelt: The People's President:
First Lady of the World:
New Deal at 80 - Nixon at 100
I've Been Consulted by Franklin D:
His Tragic Valentine:
Obama Could Learn from FDR:
The FDR Library Revisited:
|Snoozin' with the Frankster - Hyde Park, 12 February 2012|