Book Notes: Character of the President

I thought chapter 14 of this weeks reading was very interesting.  In it, Mr. Folsom chronicles many of the lies FDR told to the public and to members of his own party while in office.

FDR was guilty of using the same lies that we hear politicians use today.  For example, in 1932, Roosevelt promised to balance the budget.  He even made balancing the budget the centerpiece of a speech two weeks before the election.  Roosevelt said, “I shall approach the problem of carrying out the plain percept of our Party, which is to reduce the cost of current Federal Government operations by 25 percent.”  One could even believe these promises were on the minds of voters as they headed to the both.

However, once in office, FDR didn’t even attempt to pass a balanced budget. Instead he launched on his “First 100 days” and the New Deal.  These programs were almost impossible to implement under a balanced budget.  However, the lies wouldn’t stop with his election.  Folsom spends much of chapter 14 chronicling the list of lies that FDR told his staff and supporters. They are too numerous to recount here.  I would encourage you to spend a few minutes reading chapter 14 if you haven’t already.

What’s incredible about FDR’s lies is how well it’s been covered up since day one of his administration.  In FDR’s time, the press would hide everything from his disability, his affairs with other women (numerous women), and his lies to the press themselves.  In today’s world, FDR’s lying is rarely ever mentioned.  I know neither it nor the extra marital affairs where in any text book I read in school.  Because Roosevelt was widely known to lie to the press and to his own administration, he may have changed the very nature of the office of the presidency in one other role:  it’s need for men of character.  Folsom closes this chapter with the following passage:

In the 1790’s, George Washington had argued that morality, especially among leaders, was indispensable to the survival of the American republic.  Even before Roosevelt, of course, some presidents had fallen short of Washington’s high standard.  But during the 1930’s, the increased role of government made Washington’s pledge of morality seem antiquated.  Roosevelt, by centralizing power in the executive, by providing subsidies for votes, and by his charismatic radio addresses, took attention away form his character and focused it on his intentions in his dramatic New Deal.  After Roosevelt, fewer presidents would be bound by public promises, by constitutional restraints, or by providing exemplary conduct in their personal lives.

Perhaps the lack of  character in politicians is FDR’s true legacy.

For Next Week:  I plan on covering Chapters 15 and 16.  Have a great Memorial Day.