Monday, March 09, 2009

Weekend at Franklin's

"But first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror - which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Franklin D. Roosevelt
1st Inaugural Address

March 4, 1933
Dan O'Brien is one of my oldest friends in the world. Born on August 4, 1958 he is twelve days older than I and (he believes) at least seven and a half months wiser. Although politically he leans slightly right-of-center (let's cut the man some slack - he's spent the last quarter century in Florida and Wisconsin) he is still enough of a free-thinker that, were he to run for president as a Republican candidate, he would not win a single primary south of the Delaware water gap. Recently, Dan decided to take a little Northward Ho sabbatical and pay a two-week visit to Goshen, NY where we both grew up. I moved back to Goshen in 1992. Dan has not been here since the Christmas holiday season of 1988 when he stopped by my parents' home to pay a visit to my father who was then dying of brain cancer.

One of the best things about the part of the country in which I live is the fact that I am a mere forty miles from Hyde Park, NY, where is located the life-long home and final resting place of the Rolls Royce of chiefs-executive, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From where my van is now parked, I drive one mile through the village of Goshen to Route 17. Heading west, I travel four miles to exit twenty-one. There I get on Route 84 and travel twenty-one miles. At exit ten I make a decided (although not extreme) left turn at the bottom of the ramp and journey fifteen miles up Route 9W to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. Once I cross the Hudson River into Poughkeepsie, it is a scant four miles up Rte 9 to the Roosevelt Library and Museum. 

Since I will normally resort to any excuse to drop by the joint, Dan's visit to New York State was all the reason I needed. And so off we went - on two consecutive days. As I wrote on this site almost a year-and-a-half ago on, visiting the FDR Library is (for me anyway) therapeutic. No matter how crazy things might get, I always walk away from the place feeling a little better about the United States. The last eight years have been enough of a train wreck to try the soul of any clear thinking man or woman. Not surprisingly, I have found myself making more frequent pilgrimages to the FDR Library. After two solid days (which included two tours of the mansion, expertly given by Ranger John Fox) I am more hopeful about this brilliant but troubled country than I have been for a very, very long time.

From The Rant, September 21, 2007:

"It was said of him at the time of his death on April 12, 1945, 'Although he never regained the use of his legs - much as he wanted to, much as he tried - he taught a crippled nation how to walk again.' He was the pampered son of privilege from Hyde Park, NY whose battle with polio, begun in the summer of 1921, ingrained into his soul a deep and abiding empathy for the suffering of others that had previously been somewhat lacking in him. Through the development of a series of radical, revolutionary programs - unparalleled in history - which his administration brought into the main stream of American social engineering, he was able to usher millions of regular people into the ranks of a middle class that had not even existed before he took the oath of office on March 4, 1933. It is now almost a cliche but it is as true as the rising sun: He saved capitalism by 'tempering its excesses'. The people would elect him to an unprecedented four terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was - beyond a doubt - the greatest president in American history."

On entering the grounds of the FDR Library, a person with a decent sense of historical perspective is overcome by the aura of Roosevelt - or, as I like to call it "the Frankie vibe". A new exhibit which was added almost a year ago is called "The First Hundred Days". It is a grim reminder of what life was like for too many people in this country seventy-six years ago. It might also be a disturbing precursor to what may yet come to pass. We shall see.

It is not by accident that FDR has been the most talked about former president in recent months. The similarities (and there are a number of them) between the economic calamities of 1933 and 2009 are close enough that one should be forgiven for breaking out in a cold sweat. The situation is not - at this writing anyway - at the point of no return - or at least I don't think it is. But while walking through the corridors of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum with my old pal Danny O'Brien, it is next-to-impossible to avoid asking the musical question: Why? Why did the American people essentially reject the tried and true philosophy of the New Deal almost three decades ago and replace it with the "trickle down" insanity of the Reagan/Bush era? After twenty-nine years of consistently voting against their economic interests, the middle class has awaken to find themselves teetering on the edge of the precipice. Did you have a nice little nappy time, kiddies?

After having spent the better part of Friday afternoon touring the library, taking in the exhibits and pausing for a quiet meditation in the rose garden where Franklin and Eleanor today lie side by side, we made our way home to Goshen where we watched the four-hour documentary on Roosevelt's life that appeared on PBS's American Experience over ten years ago. The following morning, Dan was still possessed enough of the Frankie vibe that he insisted on going back for another look. When you purchase a ticket for a guided tour of the Roosevelt homestead, it is valid for two days. We decided to take advantage of this nifty little deal. Saturday morning, after a quick breakfast at our friend Pete's Smith's diner, Elsie's, on West Main Street (How's that for a shameless plug?), we were on our way back to Hyde Park.

Again, from The Rant, 9/21/07:

"His smiling, jolly disposition which was always on display for the press and newsreel photographers, belied the hidden reality of a deeply complex man - many layered, indefinable, even tormented. His closest confidantes would testify years after his passing that they always had the feeling that they never really knew him. Emotionally he would keep even his loved ones at bay - so difficult was it for him to reach out on an intimate level to another human being. Throughout his life he would project to the world and to those around him, a cheerful - albeit guarded - amiability. That he could be devious at times there is no doubt. He enjoyed setting members of his own cabinet against one another in order to play for time in pursuit of the desired solution to whatever pending political problem that might have been manifesting itself at any given moment. But his all-too-obvious human frailties should not distract us from the larger picture: We are a better nation because of Franklin Roosevelt - and far too many Americans are abysmally ignorant of this fact."

For my money, the most interesting part of the museum is the Eleanor Roosevelt Wing. God blessed America by uniting this extraordinary man with so extraordinary a woman. We now know that theirs was a difficult, troubled union. Eleanor's discovery in 1918 of Franklin's love affair with her secretary, Lucy Paige Mercer, forever ended the intimacies of their marriage. But the political partnership between these two remarkable human beings - which slowly evolved in the years after he was stricken with infantile paralysis in 1921 - would change the way the American people viewed their relationship with government. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were guided by the peculiar notion that our government is the servant of the people. According to them the purpose of representation in Washington involved a whole lot more than making war and passing bad laws. For their effort and collective vision, the sociological face of America would be permanently altered - or at least until 1981.

(HISTORICAL NOTE: Lucy Mercer was a distant cousin of mine. We are both direct descendants of the Carroll family of Maryland, America's first Catholic dynasty; one of whom, Charles Carroll, signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. As I told our guide, Ranger Fox, "I come from a long line of home wreckers").

In 1939, the African American contralto, Marian Anderson, was denied the chance to sing in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution for no other reason than the fact that her skin was dark. When Eleanor Roosevelt got word of this incredibly stupid development, she resigned her membership in that organization and arranged for Ms. Anderson to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. On that day, Easter Sunday 1939, she performed in front of an unprecedented audience of 75,000 people, black and white. As Marian Anderson sang My Country 'Tis of Thee and Schubert's Ave Maria under the statue of the great emancipator, who among the multitude gathered there at that historic moment would have dared to realize that they were witnessing the birth of the modern Civil Rights Movement? The real, tangible legacy of that day is the administration of President Barack Obama.

Hooray for Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt!

Walking away from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, one is reminded that what once worked so well for the American people can indeed be made to work again. That is not meant to imply that we are the same country we were in 1933 - we're not. But the basic premise of President Roosevelt's legacy - that government can be a tool to provide for the comfort and happiness of all people - is an idea that is far from dead. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

As we ended our final visit on late Saturday afternoon, I turned to my old friend of three-and-a-half decades and asked him, "Do you understand why I love this man so much"? Dan O'Brien understood. He's still decidedly Conservative but I'm working on him. That's what friends are for, right?

Now if you'll please forgive me, I've got to get ready for the big day ahead. Me 'n' Dan are on our way to the town of New Paltz, NY to view the world's largest privately held collection of vintage French postcards. Va va voom!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


No Ordinary Time:
Life in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's Washington
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin


In the photographs at the top of this piece, I am shown on the south lawn of the mansion which overlooks the Hudson River. In the photo just below, Dan O'Brien is shown at the grave site of President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

For more recent postings on this hideous blog, please go to the following link:


Celebrate the First Amendment!


At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, You shouldn't feel bad about that little tart of a cousin coming between your hero and his wife. I think their lack of a close relationship had more to do with the big E's sexual preference.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...not that there's anything wrong with that...

At 12:46 AM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Wow! What I would have given to be there! I have wanted to see Hyde Park for such a long time.

My parents who were both raised during the Depression pretty much hold FDR and ER up as the greatest thing to happen to this country. So many of my father's friends and my dad himself have said, "I am what I am today beacuse of Franklin Roosevelt!" Great men with great careers who started out in small ways - learning a trade or having enough money for an education after high school.

The "Greatest Generation" would not have been that without these two remarkable people.

You've outdone yourself with this blog...fascinating...and insightful. Thank you.

I will get there someday! Hyde Park! Oh - and someday - want to see Campobello, too!


At 8:27 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Dearest friend....

Yes. Come to Hyde Park. I'll give you the guided tour of the mansion and the museum. 'Twould be an honor and a joy!

Love and Peace,

Tom Degan

At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those interested in names, I thought you might be interested to know that while at the Museum of Natural History just a few days ago I saw a small display about Roosevelt on the north end of the first floor gallery just off Central Park West, near the Butterfly exhibit.

The display explained among other things that the Dutch family name Roosevelt, ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was originally Rosenveldt, as in, Field of Roses.

The Dutch friends I was with pointed this out to me.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Prairie Waif said...

WOW! I would *LOVE* to "GET A LIFE!" like Tom Degan's. I'd love to visit all of the historical places of this nation and Hyde Park and the multitude of sites in NY State alone couldn't be satiated in one life time.

I wish I could have tagged along. *sigh*

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Citizen Sane said...

The only thing we have to fear is....the slimy, ubiquitous grasp of the Fed, along with the financial puppeteers of the world and their corporate tools.

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. --Thomas Jefferson

Tom, I'd love to travel NY and see where my Dutch ancestors farmed and traded, including Manhattan and Long Island.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Citizen Sane said...

P.S. I have relatives who were able to attend college after WWII, thanks to the G.I. bill. Hat tip to FDR!

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee Anna, It think you hit right on the money, as it were; very well put. Nice quote too.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Tom, you call it "the Frankie Vibe"? :-o

Glad you took Dan back for an encore performance of Hyde Park. Perhaps if all of us "pinkocommiefagjunkies" did our part in enlightening these lost and misguided sympathizers of corporatism and predatory capitalism, we'd be on the road to civic and cultural recovery. Their complete rehabilitation, and the total eradication of the Reagan viral organism, is our only hope of a just and humane future.

By the way, last week while visiting my daughter in Arizona, I took your advice and we watched "W" as you recently recommended. I'm surprised that Oliver Stone essentially portrayed him as an unknowing patsy to the whims of the ruling neocons making up his government. Stone characterized him to be an ignorant, born-again, redneck (which he is), but he undermined my sensibilities when he asked me to go along with the prospect that Bush wasn't a major player in the development and implementation of both his domestic and foreign policies.

Yes, Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy; George W. Bush certainly wasn't.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

I think Tom Toles hits the nail on the head in this morning's Washington Post (12 March '09).

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


Thanks for the link to the Tom Toles cartoon. Perfectly put.

Tom Degan

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI Tom...

President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and President Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.

I will be your 14th post so not to jinx anyone! Enjoy!


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"After twenty-nine years of consistently voting against their economic interests, the middle class has awaken to find themselves teetering on the edge of the precipice."

Indeed, Tom, which is exactly why I can't fully understand the conservative populist stance held by so many in this country. It tells me, among other things, that economics should be required course study in American high schools and colleges.

Oh, and by the way, Anne, thanks for posting the tidbit about FDR's bout with triskaidekaphobic. I've hesitated about making this comment to Tom until after the 13th posting. Thanks for taking that spot.

Just kidding. ;-)

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"bastards and bitches" revisited.

Katie, I think Tom's acidic comments are born of frustration at the paradoxical nature of the problem we discuss ad-nauseam. The solution, of course, is (for we the people) to round up all of those that we suspect of corrupting our nation's values - and hang them all (this is probably our constitutional responsibility). Where the problem lies is in what you would have to become in order to achieve this...

Now, for many, life in America has been pretty good. Much of this goodness stems from our freedoms defined in the constitution and bill of rights. We have never experienced these in full - only a subset, and even that may be ok. What is not ok is that our subset is changing. It is getting smaller - and that is fucked up! This is because that change essentially translates into life here being good for less of the people or less good for most of the people. Morally that sucks - and for my own selfish reasons, I don't want to be one of those losing my liberties.

It is not just our liberties that are being eroded. The forces that are making this happen are also impacting the things you see, the food you eat and the air you breathe.

An example you may want to check out is if your own right to privacy is being respected at school. You could take a look at what information is being collected on you - and reported to the state. A good place to start is to ask the assistant-principal, nurse and the person who organizes standardized testing what fields are being collected, what the official rational is and also what their opinions are about this.

Several years ago, my work touched on some of those things, so I suspect you might find something of interest - and am curious to hear if that is the case...

At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom. I will never forget learning of FDR's death. We lived in Lawrence Kansas amd mother had sent me to the corner store for somthing and some of the customers were talking of it.
I have always felt that Roosevelt's CCC Camps for young men, his WPA projects, TVA dams all helped stave off the Communist threat that helped Hitler and other dictators rise to power.
Time Magazine named Einstein as the man of the century but to me Roosevelt and Winston Churchill should have been co-men-of-the century
Had Roosevelt not hatched Lend Lease enabling the Brits to keep fighting and Churchill keeping up morale with his pep talks history would be much different.

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think most of the original Dutch artifacts in Manhattan are lost due to fire and the rest to progress. Not to worry, there are still a million cool things there. One of my favorite places in the world is the Met. If you get to the city, don't miss it. They have a spectacular impressionist collection including fantastic Van Goghs.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Ah, yes, Johnny! The Metropolitan Museum of Art! Back in the roaring eighties I used to work there on maintenance every Monday - which is the day it is closed. I was working for my dad's company (Stuart-Dean Co. Inc. - Shameless plug) Four five hours once a week, between, 7AM and 12 noon, I had the entire joint to myself.

Those were the days, my friend....

Happy St. Patty's Day.

Tom Degan


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