FDR in 1933: Adam Cohen on a Model for President Obama

159420196x01_mzzzzzzz_ Yesterday, I posted about president-elect Obama's reading habits, particularly the two previous presidents, Lincoln and FDR, whose responses to moments of national crisis he seems to many to be taking as models, as many are recommending he does. Today, we've asked a historian of one of those moments to what he thinks President Obama could learn from it. Adam Cohen is the Assistant Editorial Page Editor of the New York Times, and is also the author of a very well-timed book (he couldn't have imagined just how directly the historical parallels would be at this point!), Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America, which will publish during Obama's inaugural month in January. (I wouldn't be surprised if members of his team have already acquired advance copies.) And for him the parallels between the two moments are obvious and useful. Here's the short essay he wrote for us about how Obama might use FDR's first hundred days as a model for his own:

FDR in 1933: A Model for President Obama

It seems that everywhere you look these days, the comparison is being made: Barack Obama in 2009 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933.

It’s not hard to see why. Like Obama, FDR was a charismatic young Democrat running for office in troubled economic times. The banks were in crisis, unemployment was striking fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans, and many people were wondering if the economic system could be set right.

Like Obama, FDR campaigned on a platform of change, and rode the hopes of the nation to a landslide victory, ending years of Republican dominance in Washington. Also like Obama, he swept a heavily Democratic Senate and House of Representatives into office with him.

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Comments (13)

So, seriously, what brilliant ideas could YOU guys have come up with that would have been better? I don't know about you, but I'm gonna be throwing a "Bush is gone" party, and thank the GODS that McLame didn't get in. FDR helped a lot of people that would have died of starvation otherwise. Not that YOU care, I'm sure!

Posted by: Andrew | Sunday December 28, 2008 at 4:02 PM

When FDR took over, there was 30% unemployment. By the time the war started, there was 5% unemployment. How did he do this? He put 25% of all Americans to work in a giant bureaucratic government.

Thanks to FDR, 25% of all working Americans STILL work as government employees. Are we supposed to be grateful to him for this fiasco?

Posted by: Kevin | Friday November 28, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Interesting yes - smart no. What FDR and his buddies did was more akin to political blitzkrieg and the USA has never really recovered. Why has it ended up in today’s mess? FDR governed by emotion (Maternalism), and not by rationalism (Paternalism) therefore he looked to make band-aid type short term fix-ups, rather than any vision for the long term at all. If the new administration apes the policies of the FDR era, they may appear to be helpful, but under the bright clean new bandage, the turmoil and ferment of the infection still goes on. The idea that Mother (state)knows best has been proven wrong. The author is not clear thinking logical, or rational enough to see that his argument has turned in on its self. The author says that "the idea of an activist federal government that" meddles with the well-being of its citizens lives has "built the foundation for modern America,"
So the foundations, so go the building. If this ‘modern America’that FDR laid the foundations for is so wonderful, one has to wonder what all the call for change is about. That the President elect is of the same emotional ilk is plain to see, by the number of women who voted for him. They recognise the maternalistic emotional ideology of the man and are drawn to it - as one of their own kind - without realising why it is. America now takes another giant stride down this road of emotive ideological rhetoric, believing in change to ????
FDR was not "confident and unafraid" his was the confidence of the uninformed.To say that he arrived in Washington with 'fixed' ideas is correct, lets face it he arrived in Washington with NO ideas.FDR may have chosen the best ideas, - but they were unplanned, not costed,and nobody had had the rational to think through these ideas to see where they might lead, and what their consequences may be. America needed today a leadership of strong clear-sighted rational thinkers, but maybe after 75 years they have been relegated to the sidelines and all she could hope for is more of the same. If this is an historical moment and they have gone back to the wrong recipe, then maybe it will be an historical tipping point from which there maybe no way back for a long, long time.

Posted by: le-drummer | Thursday November 27, 2008 at 5:45 AM

FDR had a resume. O has???

Posted by: jef | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 8:22 AM

FDR had a resume. O has???

Posted by: jef | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 8:22 AM

FDR had a resume. O has???

Posted by: jef | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 8:21 AM

I certainly hope that Obama's presidency doesn't turn out like FDR's. FDR's price and wage controls undoubtably extended (and worsened) the Great Depression. FDR greatly expanded the Executive Office, often by-passing Congress. After the Supreme Court struck down many of FDR's policies, he responded by packing the Supreme Court and, for the first time in US history, politicized what was once a non-political branch of the government. Finally, FDR was so enamored with Stalin that he willing approved a Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe thereby proscribing millions of Europeans to a tyranny worse than the Nazis. Let us all pray that Obama picks another former president as his role model.

Posted by: David | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 6:42 AM

Does this guy think we have no other sources than the NY Times?

First, the Democrats already controlled BOTH houses of Congress since the 2006 elections. This election certainly increased the Democrats advantage, but this statement "he swept a heavily Democratic Senate and House of Representatives into office with him." is highly misleading as it implies that the Republicans were in charge prior to the 2008 election.

Second "Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman Cabinet member, who was an extraordinary advocate for workers and the unemployed;". She must have been one hell of an "advocate" to make sure labor prices stayed artificially high so 20%-25% of the workforce remained out of work of a decade. What a great advocate!!

Results, not intentions, are what matter.

Posted by: WJ | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 6:37 AM

So, with this advice, I guess we can expect to get right out of this depression - once we have entered WWIII. FDR's policies would have us still to this day mired in depression, without the intervention of the war.

Posted by: Keven | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 6:02 AM

Unfortunately, FDR's New Deal policies also prolonged the Great Depression by 7 years:


Posted by: Kevin P. | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 5:30 AM

Trouble is, FDR prolonged the Depression significantly with his policies. Anti-competitive practices and unpredictable government meddling only made the depression far longer than it should have been. What President-Elect Obama should be learning from FDR is what NOT to do.

Posted by: J Lystad | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 5:29 AM

That is a frightening prospect.

Posted by: ESK | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 4:39 AM

Tom said...

FDR was an exemplary leader for troubled times. He was confident and unafraid--a point he made clearly in his inaugural address, with its most famous line: "the only thing we have to fear itself."

Tom, double check your quote from FDR.

Posted by: AllenS | Wednesday November 26, 2008 at 4:29 AM

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