The Great American Fascist
The other day a writer I greatly esteem, lauding a new biography of
In the first place, I think its always risky to say there is no room for a second opinion on matters where second opinions are common among intelligent and sensitive people. Think of all the Bush administration spokesmen who said not only that Saddam Husseins Iraq posed a danger to this country, but, more fatally, that there was no doubt of this.
Well, millions saw room for doubt. I was only one of them. It was presumptuous to assert a consensus where none existed; and anyway, todays consensus what Everybody Knows can evaporate mighty fast tomorrow.
So I think it is overreaching a bit to say that there is no question of the greatness of the man who gave the world the atomic bomb, made war on civilian populations, befriended Stalins Soviet Union, lied flagrantly to the public, vandalized the Constitution, centralized power, illegally put innocent American citizens into concentration camps, debased the currency ... you get the drift. There is in fact some question as to his greatness and always has been. Was he elected unanimously? To read the encomia, youd think he faced no rational opposition from those who remembered this countrys historical principles.
Nor does the new biography (if the review is any guide) give any evidence to warrant the verdict of greatness outweighing Roosevelts notorious crimes. It seems to offer one more mere list of crises that he, as they say, led the nation through.
What a vacuous expression! But how else can he be praised? Think of the ludicrous debates over his memorial a few years ago. Should it show his wheelchair? His cigarette holder? In the end, about all that was left of him was his famous jaunty grin. His more fatuous admirers never omit mention of that jaunty grin, which seems to have ended the Great Depression.
Put it this way: In what respect did Roosevelt leave this country, or Europe, freer than it had been before him? Of course emotional eulogies followed his death. But after 62 years, it is high time they stopped.
Monarchy is long gone, but many Americans still want to worship their allegedly great leaders. Popular polls rank John Kennedy near the top of the list, a judgment few sober historians share. The spirit of American Idol isnt confined to talentless singers. It animates American democracy.
As a mental exercise, read the most serious thinkers among the American Founders Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton and try to imagine how they would have evaluated Roosevelt and his legacy. They fell far this side of perfection, but they listened to themselves and measured their words carefully. I dont think anyone would call them childish. None of them ranked jauntiness high among the republican virtues.
I know of no indication that Roosevelt ever studied or even read The Federalist Papers. If he did, they certainly left no impression on him. He governed as if they had never been written. It is impossible to imagine him conversing intelligently with their authors. Their whole spirit was alien to him.
Consider one passage from Federalist No. 62, written by Madison: It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulg[at]ed, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is to-day can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?
Right or wrong, some real thought went into these words; and they are worth reflecting on before you set about building a utopia.
Now try to square that with the barrage of New Deal legislation, modeled on Italian fascism, which is always cited among Roosevelts great achievements. Yet his celebrants speak as if he had known, built on, and superseded the work of this republics Founders, none of which is remotely the case.
For them, his greatness is simply a given. No question.
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