Monday, February 04, 2013

Presidential Biography: Count your Blessings

I continue trudge through my pile of Presidential biographies.   Right now, I'm well on my way through Jean Edward Smith's bio of Franklin Delano Roosevelt which is good by most standards but a bit of a letdown after his first-rate bio of Eisenhower (then again, the Ike book was weaker on the civilian years than they were on the military).

Before FDR, I read David McCullough's bio of Harry S. Truman and I guess I remarked on how Truman had to contend with an opposition noise machine every bit as bellicose and paranoid as today's, just as devoted to assembling all the antique furniture of state in the front hall and setting it on fire.  We forget.

And so now I'm back in the 30s with FDR and I'm--well, looky here, Father Charles Coughlin of Royal Oaks, MI, possibly the first great yahoo mischief-maker to discover the power of radio, with a poisonous brew of national (heh!) socialism (ha!) that flirted perilously close to the German-Italian variety.  And Gerald LK Smith--does anyone remember Smith, a pipsqueak barnstorrmer who tried to outflank FDR on the left in 1936?  And of course Huey Long, far the most able--therefore far the most dangerous--of the outliers until he was murdered in 1935.  Indeed of the whole rogue's gallery from that day to this, I wonder if Huey alive didn't have the greatest potential for serious evil.
I suppose one important difference between that time and later is that we had in Roosevelt a politician who was an absolute master at outflanking all enemies who were trying to outflank him (until the Court fight of 1937 when he wasn't s master any more, but by then perhaps the worst of the volatile instability had passed away.   Absolutely no doubt that Truman's heart was in the right placement but in this respect, at least, he just wasn't a virtuoso performer.   And the current incumbent?  Ah well, maybe we'll have to wait another 50 years to make a judgment.  But which time, I will be homing in on 130.

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