What’s the deal? Comparing Obama and FDR and their first two years as president


Monday, 14 June 2010 13:58

In a year and half, President Obama has gone from being an historic icon to a beleaguered president. What has happened? There are surely personal reasons that one can cite: His laidback style, his Wall Street oriented advisers, his remarkable ability to forget how to communicate with the people, the ugly persistence of unemployment, and the totally unexpected collapse of the oil industry’s expertise in the Gulf of Mexico. Why can’t he give us hope again, why can’t he solve these problems right away?

It is interesting to compare his first two years with those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who also inherited a massively collapsed economic system, a corrupted Wall Street, and a banking system on the very edge of ruin. FDR put the banks back in business in a very short period of time, and began a series of financial reforms that stayed with the nation until Clinton and Bush repealed them, and the nation paid the price for repealing the New Deal. Obama deserves credit for saving the banking system, and he too rejected the idea of nationalizing them as did FDR. He should be given credit for resurrecting GM and Chrysler, and saving much of the nation’s industrial capacity, just as FDR did with the National Recovery Act. Obama provided millions of temporary jobs with TARP money, as did FDR with his temporary jobs programs such as CCC, WPA, and the like. But neither of them has been able to turn those temporary gains into permanent jobs; in fact in 1937 the unemployment rate was near what it was in 1932. Both presidents ended up opting for Keynesian economics, where the government primes the pump to keep things going. But for FDR, the war brought a major change in the economic fortunes of the USA and led to recovery; Obama is already fighting two wars which are draining the nation of money that could be used for permanent projects.

Both presidents are seen as wide eyed liberals, but both were and are terribly worried about the mounting debts incurred by the expansive welfare state. Both presidents should be seen as saviors of capitalism, but as soon as Wall Street got its bailouts the captains of industry and the market attacked viciously the presidents.

Both are branded as socialists — as soon as the Wall Street-capitalist monies flowed. It was all right to rescue American industries, agriculture and banks, but wrong to extend welfare benefits to the poor, the unemployed, or those who need medical coverage.

Both presidents have been and are attacked as being somehow disrespectful of the Constitution. FDR faced the Republican legal establishment, which controlled the Courts and the bar associations, because he took a liberal view of the powers of the federal government to use the commerce clause to regulate such things as wages and hours of women and children. His opponents, including some Democrats from the South, joined with the rich and formed the Liberty League to raise the issue of him being a totalitarian dictator like those growing up in Europe. He had to deal with radio demagogues including Father Coughlin, Dr. Townsend, and Senator Huey Long of Louisiana.

They were the Fox newscasters of their day.

It was hard to argue that FDR was not born here, since everyone knew he came from one of the oldest and most distinguished New York Dutch families in American history. Obama is an easier target since he had a Kenyan father (black), Islamic relatives, and is disputed to have been born outside the United States. His Hawaiian birth certificate does not satisfy a good porting of the Republican right. But even FDR had to face later on charges that his Dutch family was really Jewish! That was a slight that especially pointed in a world where anti-Semitism was even stronger than it is now. Both charges are meant to somehow discredit a president’s legitimacy.

FDR had his Liberty League , and Obama has his Tea party partisans. They both represent people who benefit from the Federal government’s largesse, but dislike others getting anything. The right wing commentators and the right wing judges will suddenly find that the Constitution is being flouted by a strong president trying to ameliorate the conditions of the working people.

America has in many ways not changed in sixty years in terms of its politics and its paranoid style. FDR would have indeed understood Rush Limbough, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Palin. He probably would have understood too how a national hero like John McCain can become so unreliable like Charles Lindbergh.

Several years ago, I wrote about an elderly lady who asked to visit the gravesite of FDR so she could pray for his soul because of Social Security; in time her descendents will pray over the gravesite of Barak Obama for his work on universal medical care.

Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy — New Jersey.

Comments (3)
3 Saturday, 06 November 2010 20:18
L. Michelle Odom
Thank you Michael P. Riccards, for this thoughtful and useful comparison, that shows some of the intractability of America’s economic problems and selfishness of its most moneyed classes. I’ve been re-reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” recently, and another comparison which occurs to me is how the interests of the intense labor rebellions going on in FDR’s era were channeled into elections, and ultimately quieted by the ways in which FDR addressed the economic crisis. There was quite a move for change, spawned by the Bush era, which Obama effectively channeled into political participation, but instead of this leading to satisfaction, it has spawned a new wave of activism among a different sector.

Also, I just want to copy here, for all to reflect upon, these words from Zinn:

“When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact. The rich still controlled the nation’s wealth, as well as its laws, courts, police, newspapers, churches, colleges. Enough help had been given to enough people to make Roosevelt a hero to millions, but the same system that had brought depression and crisis – the system of waste, of inequality, of concern for profit over human need – remained.

“For black people, the New Deal was psychologically encouraging…but most blacks were ignored by the New Deal programs…” (Pp 403-404).

2 Tuesday, 15 June 2010 09:49
Michael RIccards
I am afraid that all our problems will not be solved by forgetting there are two long standing political parties that both presidents had to deal with in their time. The purpose of my essay was to show how after a year or so in office even the very great and able FDR had to deal with many of the same problems and many of the same overtones as Obama. Both presidents have battled established interests, and that ain’t beanball
1 Monday, 14 June 2010 15:07
1/20/2013 End of a Hoax
How dare you compare FDR to “Hoax” Obama.?
There is a great movie called Warm Springs. Which details the life of FDR from his polio to his presidency. You see the FDR grow&transforms from a whiney arrogant blue blood with an IQ but on the same par of sober “W”Bush on his arrogance & entitlebility index to great leader he became. His fuel was the empathy for others and perceived affront to his ego for his disability.

The great problem affecting the country is that the political duopoly (Dem&GOP) are in essence the representatives of the left&right hand of the same monster that has many names (Corporatism/Crony Capitalism/Big Business&Big Government/Corporate Fascism/Medical-Military-Financial-Industrial Complex/etc) . The political duopoly no longer represents the citizens of the United States of America, but the owners of the United Corporate States. The political duopoly is essentially anti-american citizen.

By you comparing Obama to FDR, you ignore that FDR took on these vested interest even at the risk of a coup d’etat in 1937. Obama in the mean time has comforted these interest. In fact as bad as “W” Bush was, at least people went to jail with Enron, so far nothing from Obie-do-nothing, but he has managed to make sure the big business have full access to the taxpayer’s money.

His healthcare reform turn out to be a great way to subsidize the Medical-Healthcare Industrial Complex. Let’s not talk about the Financial Industrial Complex, they own Obie-full-of-it in total. About the wars – forget about a solution, but at least has he tackled the “war profiteering” – hell no…, and I’ll will not even talk about BP & the Gulf. If anything Hoax Obama is the anti-FDR, the continuation of the Clinton corporate party mentality.

The country is DYING a slow and painful death because both parties care about themselves and its masters with their stupid free-market “we can deal with a communist dictatorship&transfer to them our manufacturing abilities & knowledge, but don’t worry it’s not treasonable even if we fought hot & cold wars over decades against this ideology because our corporation will be able to make lots of money by exploiting their slave labor wages and police state enforcement system, and we won’t become like them, even if Nietzsche’s old saying of ‘he who deals with the darkness has to take care, because if you look into the abyss long enough, the abyss will look back’ is very appropriate for the present situation.

Both the Dem & GOP parties need to die and be replaced by other parties pronto, my analogy is to the head vampire – once dead, everyone he bit becomes normal again. At this point all we are doing is like Nicaragua or Paraguay, where both ruling parties trade offices every election but is the same as ever was of comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

Talking about vampires, has anybody seen the old Nesferatu Lautenberg around, have they put a stake on him yet…..



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