Why Joe Biden Does Not Remind Me of FDR

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The jury is still out on whether President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will turn out to be underpowered, or not. My guess is that it will be; the Obama Alumni Association, for all its protestations, has form. Further, looking at the plan, you notice headlines with goals like “Rebuild clean drinking water infrastructure,” to be achieved by eliminating all lead pipes and service lines. That’s good, but not the same thing as providing a clean drinking water infrastructure as such; that would require cleaning ground water polluted by nutrients, for example. (I also attempted to penetrate the wildly prolix and entirely evidence-free “Fact Sheet,” but it’s even worse.) Of course, the real test, I would suppose, is not whether the Jobs Plan fulfills whatever promises it has made, if any, but whether the funding doled out to the local “gentry” — in this instance, the contractors — has a sufficiently sweetening effect, and whether enough jobs are created or well in sight, all by the mid-terms in 2020. The Democrats better get cracking!

One of the most prominent features of the Jobs Plan rollout was the continued comparison of Biden to FDR. (Now that the rollout is over with, those comparisons have vanished, as if a switch had been thrown; now we are arguing about what “infrastructure” really means, because what could be more attractive to symbol manipulators than semantics?) In any case, here’s small sample of the headlines, the New York Times being lead hagiographer:

  1. Can Biden Be Our F.D.R.?” (New York Times)
  2. F.D.R. Took Down Giants. Biden Can, Too” (New York Times)
  3. What Biden and F.D.R. May End Up Having in Common” (New York Times)
  4. Opinion: Can Biden achieve an FDR-style presidency? A historian sees surprising parallels” (WaPo)
  5. Opinion: Joe Biden’s new New Deal” (WaPo)
  6. Biden’s early win on COVID-19 relief could be hard to repeat. Or he could be FDR” (Los Angeles Times)
  7. Will Joe Biden take his place alongside FDR and LBJ?” (CNN)
  8. Biden is using FDR as his role model. He’s made the no-drama Obama era look wild” (USA Today)
  9. Biden’s New Deal: Re-engineering America, quickly” (Axios)
  10. Biden’s stimulus looks bigger than the New Deal, economics professor says” (Business Insider)
  11. Biden’s FDR moment? President in New Deal-like push that could cement his legacy” (Guardian)
  12. Joe Biden tries on FDR’s and LBJ’s shoes for size” (Chicago Sun-Times)
  13. FDR had the Great Depression, but Biden has Big Data” (Star-Tribune)
  14. With nods to FDR, JFK and LBJ, Biden goes big on infrastructure plan” (Yahoo News)
  15. Uncle Joe channels FDR” (Toledo Blade)
  16. FDR to LBJ to Joe Biden” (Daily Courier)
  17. Evoking FDR, Biden spending push is a tightrope walk” (Clayton News-Daily)
  18. The Most Vital 100 Days Since FDR” (New Statesman)
  19. The Most Vital 100 Days Since FDR” (Foreign Policy)
  20. Descendants of FDR and His Cabinet Urge Biden to Embrace ‘New Deal-Scale’ Public Jobs Program” (Common Dreams)
  21. FDR’s German Shepherd, Major, Had A History Of ‘Biting Incidents,’ Too” (HuffPo)
  22. Biden Touted As Modern-Day FDR After Getting Hand Job From Cousin In Upstate New York” (The Onion)

These pieces compare Biden’s American Rescue Plan and American Jobs Plan to the New Deal, based on their putative scale (which as we have seen is equivocal, and in any case the test of a plan isn’t whether it’s “big” or “bold,” but whether it’s equal to the times). I would like to compare Biden to FDR based on three characteristics of FDR’s administration which the Biden administration does not emulate: Fireside chats, relentless experimentation, and the class diversity of his advisors.

First, FDR’s fireside chats. The National Archives describes them well in “FDR’s Fireside Chat on the Recovery Program.” First, for background, the first 100 days of the New Deal:

The New Deal focused on three general goals: relief for the needy, economic recovery, and financial reform. During the One Hundred Days, Congress enacted 15 major pieces of legislation establishing New Deal agencies and programs. Among these was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was established to protect depositors from losing their savings in the event of bank failure. Another program was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which put thousands of men to work on projects in national forests, parks, and public lands. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) was created to ease the desperate plight of the farmer during the Depression by establishing a program of production limits and federal subsidies. To address the problems of industry and workers, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in June 1933. The NIRA established codes of fair practice for individual industries in order to promote industrial growth. It also created the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The NRA was perhaps one of the most sweeping and controversial of the early New Deal programs. Its purposes were twofold: first, to stabilize business with codes of “fair” competitive practice and, second, to generate more purchasing power by providing jobs, defining labor standards, and raising wages. The NRA also reflected trade union hopes for protection of basic hour and wage standards and liberal hopes for comprehensive planning.

(It’s been 83 days since Biden’s inaugural, so he has 17 days to go to make his 100 days, but to me it seems so ridiculous as to approach bad faith to compare the scope of the FDR administration’s New Deal with Biden’s Plans.) FDR used his “fireside chats” to address the American people directly:

While developing programs to help America emerge from the Great Depression, Roosevelt also needed to calm the fears and restore the confidence of Americans and to gain their support for the programs of the New Deal, including the NRA. One of the ways FDR chose to accomplish this was through the radio, the most direct means of access to the American people. During the 1930s almost every home had a radio, and families typically spent several hours a day gathered together, listening to their favorite programs. Roosevelt called his radio talks about issues of public concern “Fireside Chats.” Informal and relaxed, the talks made Americans feel as if President Roosevelt was talking directly to them. Roosevelt continued to use fireside chats throughout his presidency to address the fears and concerns of the American people as well as to inform them of the positions and actions taken by the U.S. government.

Here is an extract from FDR’s first fireside chat. Unfortunately, he adopts the loanable funds fallacy and opposes fiat currency, but that is not my focus; FDR is dealing with a bank run and the banking crisis. His peroration:

We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people’s funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government’s job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible — and the job is being performed.

I do not promise you that every bank will be reopened or that individual losses will not be suffered, but there will be no losses that possibly could be avoided; and there would have been more and greater losses had we continued to drift. I can even promise you salvation for some at least of the sorely pressed banks. We shall be engaged not merely in reopening sound banks but in the creation of sound banks through reorganization. It has been wonderful to me to catch the note of confidence from all over the country. I can never be sufficiently grateful to the people

After all there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.

It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

(Certainly a touch of the Hyde Park aristocrat in “You people!”) Wikipedia (sorry) describes the result:

The result, according to economic historian William L. Silber, was a “remarkable turnaround in the public’s confidence…The contemporary press confirms that the public recognized the implicit guarantee and, as a result, believed that the reopened banks would be safe, as the President explained in his first Fireside Chat.” Within two weeks people returned more than half of the cash they had been hoarding, and the first stock-trading day after the bank holiday marked the largest-ever one-day percentage price increase.

So, whatever you may think of the economics, the speech was what we call today a heavy lift. Who can imagine a President today making it? Note also the parallels to the pandemic in our own day: Not only fear, enormous fear, but “rumors and guesses.” FDR addressed the American people and their fears directly. But who can imagine Biden making the same attempt and having the effect that FDR achieved? And then going on to have Fireside Chats for the remainder of his administration? I can’t.[1]

Second, “relentless experimentation.” This whole speech is worth a read, but the underlined part is my favorite FDR quote, from his Oglethorpe University Address, May 22, 1932[2]:

Do not confuse objectives with methods. When the nation becomes substantially united in favor of planning the broad objectives of civilization, then true leadership must unite thought behind definite methods.

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.

We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!

Here again, we see FDR doing things I cannot imagine Biden doing. It’s hard to imagine Biden delivering such a commencement address in the first place (the whole thing is worth a read). It’s also hard to imagine Biden saying anything like “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.”[3] FDR said it, and did it. From The Nation in 2008, when some liberal goodthinkers thought Obama was the next FDR:

Historian Richard Hofstadter once characterized the New Deal as “a chaos of experimentation.” Fresh ideas were constantly tossed on the wall to see what stuck. They didn’t always work, but this spirit of experimentation was an attempt to address the central problems plaguing Americans at the time.

The National Industrial Recovery Act led to higher prices and ultimately overstretched the bounds of federal authority, but it set a minimum wage and forced big businesses to collaborate with one another to get out of the Depression. The WPA didn’t cure unemployment, but it was an ambitious experiment that allowed 3.3 million people to put food on their tables. Contrast this effort with our recent Congressional debates over whether we should extend unemployment insurance an additional thirteen weeks (a proven solution) or pass any kind of stimulus package “quickly.”

As in 2008, so in 2020. Fundmentally, nothing will change. But not in 1932!

Third, the class diversity of his advisors. FDR’s advisors were called the Brain Trust. The membership of the Brain Trust changed over administrations. Here is the collective list, with the university of each member, in alphabetical order:

Harvard, then as now, dominates. But we also have two advisors — Howe, a newspaper man, and Taussig, in the family molasses business — who don’t even have undergraduate degrees. It’s impossible to imagine that — prove me wrong! — for Presidential advisors in any Democrat administration since Clinton. Further, the dominance of the Ivy League axis is far reduced, compared to our own day. We have Packard Business College, City College of New York, and Grinnell, and even — gasp! — Columbia. Now, it is true that the Brain Trust has a paucity of ascriptive identity-based diversity. But reading the biographies of each member, the Brain Trust did have a diversity of class background and life experience. Not a Rhodes Scholar among them! We can contrast this with recent Democrat administrations, where “looks like America” means that the non-millionaire is an exception, and while there’s a diversity of ascriptive identity, everybody’s gone through the identical degree-granting meat-grinder and credentialed in the same plastic wrap.

* * *

Dammit, now I have to find and read a book about FDR[4]. The Google results were just horrid, implying that no research has been done on the man, which can’t possibly be true.


[1] Amazingly, there’s still a “Weekly address of the President of the United States,” but few radio stations carry it. Biden has revived the brand, but not the practice, since he speaks with handpicked citizens not the whole country.

[2] FDR’s view of the university: “I hope that you, who have spent four years in an institution whose fundamental purpose, I take it, is to train us to pursue truths relentlessly and to look at them courageously, will face the unfortunate state of the world about you with greater clarity of vision than many of your elders.”

[3] I’m wrong, but not wrong. From NPR, “Fauci On The Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Strategy

So what I’m saying right now is when the president – in this case, Biden – sat down with us literally a few minutes before I got on the podium in the White House press room and reiterated something he had already told us. He said, right now everything we do is going to be based on science and truth, and if things go wrong and we make mistakes, we admit them, and we try and fix them.

So, here’s how far Fauci’s quote got:

That’s it. Those are the three hits. If this had been a message the Biden administration wished to propagate, it would have propagated.

[4] Yes, redlining and the Southern Democrats. It’s quite telling that’s the only material on FDR that’s gotten any traction at all in the last twenty years or so.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. dcblogger

    The modern equivalent of the fireside chat is YouTube, and you know who uses that to explain congress and the government to the people? Bernie. Just the way AOC uses Instantgram and Twitter to explain congress to her constituents.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Those are still platforms. They do not speak to the American people universally, though granted both Bernie and AOC are smarter about media than the average bear (particularly AOC’s use of streaming).

  2. Clyde

    While millions of words have been written about FDR those words are mostly about what he did, what his administration accomplished or failed to accomplish, the Depression, the Second World War, and family remembrances. The man himself remains elusive and the definitive biography has yet to be written

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The man himself remains elusive and the definitive biography has yet to be written

      You’re kidding. Though I have to say, when the Google searches turned up such crap — Khan Academy and Prager U were the best “academic” [barf] sources — I did start to feel that systematic erasure was going on.

      The commencement speech is extraordinary. So many parallels to the present day, and yet I cannot imagine (I keep using that word) any politician today making it, not even Bernie.

  3. michael hudson

    OK, Lambert. Your big point is that FDR took a systemic approach to the problems he faced. Biden cannot be systemic, but only “marginal,” meaning centrist. that means ACCEPTING the inherently polarizing economic and social tendencies, but trying to postpone the immediate effects by kicking them down the road — e.g., fixing lead piping, not banning fracking that may make water more valuable than oil in some districts.
    So your contrast is systemic change vs marginalize in a consensus politics with the forces that are responsible for polarizing the economy.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author


      One could certainly use this post to make that point. But I think everyone is aware that with Biden “Fundamentally, nothing will change.”

      I was more stunned by FDR’s actual words — “messaging,” I suppose we would call it, as if we were all Democratic strategists — because I cannot imagine them being spoken today, even in an updated version.

      I now realize that I must understand much more about FDR, the man and the historical figure, than I do, before West Wing brain dissolves the history into mush, as it does everything else.

    2. pebird

      I assume when we speak of “Biden”, we are talking about the Administration in general, whereas FDR was in fact a leader.

  4. Tom Stone

    Both were old white men when they ascended the throne and both were cripples.
    FDR physically, Biden morally and probably intellectually as well.

    1. Carla

      Well, FDR was 51 when he became president. He had all his marbles, and some extra (in the form of Eleanor if nothing else). Physical disability was absolutely no barrier to his service as president for as long as he lived.

      The situation of Biden, elected at 78 and as anyone can see, a shadow even of his former highly morally and ethically compromised self, really bears no resemblance.

    2. km

      From NC:

      “I think Biden’s presidency will be more like Woodrow Wilson’s, post-stroke. A deluded, addled old man, he’s already surrounded himself with the most mendacious, dull-witted and power-hungry people in his PAC-party, and topped it all off with a politically-tone deaf second wife acting as his gatekeeper. Perhaps the only difference between Wilson and Biden are that Biden has never had any natural brilliance whatsoever. (Although in fairness, there were plenty of contemporary commentators who doubted Wilson’s intelligence as well.)

      The most dangerous element of Wilson’s collapse was that there was no central figure around to keep the criminals in his administration (McAdoo, Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover, etc.) from running amok all over other civil liberties of people in this country. Add to this a total lack of concern for the circumstances of average Americans, and a willingness to run roughshod over other nations of the world, and we have the makings of continued disaster the next 4 years.

      “Nothing will fundamentally change”, indeed.”


  5. freebird

    If there is a story in all this, it is in the bald-faced unmitigated gall of our ‘press’, fed this PR spin by the DNC, daring to mention Biden in the same paragraph as FDR. Mr. R was ‘hated by monied interests, and welcomed their hatred’. The only similarities between these two is they were both born male bipeds.

  6. The Rev Kev

    Biden being lauded with the mantle of FDR is remarkable in two ways. Being compared to that great man is like that time when Obama was foolishly given a Nobel Peace Prize before he even did anything. And when Obama received his Prize he essentially gave a war speech as his acceptance speech. Biden too is being given all these accolades but all he has done is to make war preparations against China, Russia and maybe Iran with a few tweaks on a local level. Nothing is changing.

    The second thing is this. In past comments I have mentioned how the subject of FDR has been deep-sixed by the American political establishment. Historically he was persona non grata as far as the Democrats were concerned though his admin should be a standard study in US politics. Now suddenly FDR’s name is everywhere. I smell a rat. Is this partly so that when old Joe fails miserably, that the party can taint FDR’s legacy and say that yeah, FDR was just as bad as Biden so you may as well forget him?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I didn’t expect FDR when I voted for Joemala in the election. I expected a “stop the meter” on the Republicans’ fast-forward destruction of the Agencies, Bureaus and Departments ( the ” Deconstruction of the Administrative State”). And as far as I can tell we have “stopped the meter” on that fast-forward burn-down of the Administrative State. The Joemala Admin is even beginning to re-inject some mission-supporting people into those organs of the Administrative State. And we have gotten a few other things like “cancel the Keystone Pipeline”.

      We are getting a breathing space for people to try doing all kinds of things at the State and group-of-States level and at smaller levels. People should perhaps use that breathing space/ intermission to organize and anchor-in various counter-Trump and counter-Republican power-centers and obstruction-centers for if the Trump Show comes back to town in 2024.

      But of course people who hoped for some “New Deal” will be disappointed. The MSM are probably calling the Joemala actions by the name ” New Deal” and referring to Biden as today’s “FDR” as a kind of gas-lighting and cultural-historical lobotomization, designed to keep the MSM’s fanbase from learning anything about what “FDR” and “New Deal” were. That way, the fanbase won’t ask for any. Or so the MSM hopes.

      If we can somehow force a Newish Dealish Administration into power, they can do more with a viable Administrative State than without one.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > If we can somehow force a Newish Dealish Administration into power, they can do more with a viable Administrative State than without one.

        Well, if Sanders had been elected in 2020, he would have faced exactly the same professional services strike from the PMC and backstabbing and sabotage from the intelligence community as Trump did.

        The Administrative State…. is people. (I am guessing that FDR’s New Deal was much more “a career open to talent” than a Biden New Deal, which would probably be infested by NGO types.)

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Yes, the Administrative State is the people who make it up and work in it. So if the Joemala Administration can purge and burn the most radioactive and gangrenous Trumpies and Republicans out of the Administrative State and replace them with non-saboteur Administrators, then any Newish Dealish Administration which might conquer power in future will have a non-radioactive non-sewagenic Administrative State to work through.

          And that is the limit of my hope for Biden. Of course if Draculamala Harris is the next candidate after Biden, she and her Wall Street Democrat backer-owners could throw it all away and get Trump re-elected all over again.

      2. km

        Considering that the administrative state is run increasingly for the benefit of private interests and political beefs, I welcome its destruction.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Are you sure you want to vote for that? Because the Republicans will give you another chance to vote for that in 2024.

          ” its destruction” means its non-presence and non-existence any more thenceforward. In the event of “its destruction”, here are a few things that would disappear. The National Park Service. That means private business would be free to clearcut all the trees in the National Parks and strip mine them for coal and heap-leach mine them for gold. It means no FDA which means private business will be free to sell bottles of arsenic pills with aspirin on the label. No EPA means business set free to fill the air with cancer gas and fill the water with cancer juice and cover the food with cancer gravy.

          If that is what you want, then you will have a chance to vote for it in 2024. If that really IS what you want . . . . .

  7. ChrisAtRU



    LOL … well worth reading past the strike-through!

    To read Margaret Kimberly’s take on FDR from her book “Prejudential”, one might be conclude that appearing sympathetic to African Americans while being anything but is another similarity Biden can claim.

      1. aleph_0

        >I momentarily forgot that this is a family blog. Deepest apologies.

        and what’s more family than a little bit of incest? :)

        anyway, thanks for the article. Seeing this Biden as FDR messaging thrown around drives me nuts, and I’m happy to see it called out.

  8. vegeholic

    Agree that FDR set a high standard, but still rooting for Joe. By the way, shouldn’t you include Henry Wallace (Iowa State, 1910), Secretary of Agriculture and eventual VP, as part of the brain trust. Whether formally included or not, he was a one man brain trust.

  9. Michael Ismoe

    I think we are living through an alternate history where we find out what the Great Depression would have looked like if Al Smith had won the presidency in 1932. Biden isn’t FDR, he’s our Al Smith.

  10. Noone from Nowheresville

    I still find it interesting that Marco Rubio mentioned FDR and his “missteps” during his podium time before the CARES Act vote. stacking the Supreme Court & losing the mid-terms were mentioned I believe.

    Sorry too lazy tonight to track down the video and Rubio’s window in it from that Senate show.

    1. Darius

      Rubio is just picking up a line Obama gave him. Obama was embarrassed by the “liberal” FDR. He was happiest when he could do the Republicans’ work for them.

  11. a fax machine

    All good points. But – and please stick with me here – he still has a chance with the coming covid recession. When the eviction moratoriums inevitably end, markets will correct and we’ll see all the gains from the last recession be wiped out. With near zero interest rates, Biden has few options other than a Full New Deal. He would have to pick up precisely where FDR left off.

    At least, that’s what the optimist in me says. If he wavers, or fails to take action, or otherwise does not push for a basic human right to dignified work, then we will see a Republican crush him and get something much worse than Trump. A lot can change in 12 months, it was only 16 months ago where the government wouldn’t even admit Covid was a serious problem. A year from now, the numbers will be so sideways the entire market will be exposed for the sham it is.

    1. Buddy Smith

      Your trying way too hard. Eviction moratoriums have already been partially ended…………with not much happening. The amount of money the US put into the private money supply will take years to process. Don’t expect a decline in the near future. Private leverage as a result is going to take time to releverage and leverage is everything. Before Covid, subprime consumer debt was just getting into the danger zone, now, not so much.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the scenario you envision happens as described, there is a good chance that Biden would be swept aside by events and be remembered as the Democrats’ hapless Hoobert Heever. Let’s hope Biden would do better than that.

  12. Darius

    Jean Edward Smith’s biography FDR is pretty good. Drives home that the idea that FDR was average intelligence but extraordinarily driven misses the mark. He portrays FDR as practically gifted and talented. Multilingual for one. Had Einstein to the White House for dinner and conducted the whole evening in fluent German.

    In 12 years, FDR gave 34 fireside chats. Two or three a year.

    1. Robert Gray

      > Had Einstein to the White House for dinner and conducted the whole evening in fluent German.

      Thanks. Never knew that. Interesting tidbit.

    2. Harold

      I don’t know what criteria people use when they insist that FDR had only “average” intelligence. He had many interests since childhood, from stamp collecting to sailing and serious collecting of maritime prints, for example. He had passed the bar exam & was a lawyer. And he had developed extensive executive skills from having been State Senator, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Governor of NY (where he and Frances Perkins had experimented with innovative social policies). He was curious, read widely, and had amassed a huge library. He also had superior social skills and knew how to enjoy himself and make others comfortable.

      It seems to me that being able to draw on a wide range of disparate facts garnered from education, first class education, experience, hobbies, reading for pleasure, and conversations with experts, and to quickly absorb and synthesize is a mark of superior, not average intelligence.

      1. Swamp Yankee

        I think it comes from his visit with the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes shortly after being inaugurated. Holmes was old, in his 90s by this point (wounded in the neck at Antietam Creek), but still very much with it, and a real intellectual. He wanted to talk about Plato or something with Roosevelt, but the latter wasn’t really having it, leading Holmes to remark that “that man has a third-rate intellect and a first-rate temperament.” That’s possibly apocryphal, too.

  13. Buddy Smith

    Trying to compare Biden to FDR is lolz by people that try. Biden is a transitional figure post globalist con man Donald Trump(who’s whole family business is working services to foreign countries and rich individuals, yes its all true, con men con). Nobody knows whats coming in terms of politics 2024. But I bet there are going to be some real surprises because neither party has a up and comer. Its a free for all. FDR’s biggest legacy was the post-capitalist collapse social welfare system and making the Democrats strong in Apps. Sorta hard to expand on that when you don’t have support. By 1933 people were desperate. 2020? Not so much. Don’t even start me on Covid.

  14. John k

    I just watched John Oliver’s latest. I like him, a progressive that tackles many important but often ignored topics.
    This time he castigated Biden for promising to overturn trumps rules on refugees, but so far has done nothing.
    I appreciate our invasions have created a large number of refugees. However, I see our country has an army of homeless, and in many cases these people might be in worse shape than refugees… no food, no roof, not even a tent to keep the rain off. They cover themselves in newspapers that jerks think are amusing to light. They seek cover under our falling apart bridges until the locals roust them out and push them on to find somebody else’s crumbling bridge.
    And a bigger army of homeless waits in the wings, dreading the day when moratoriums and handouts end. They all need jobs… how else can they pay the rent?
    Shouldn’t we first take care of our own? I suspect that’s what fdr would have done.

  15. Sound of the Suburbs

    We stepped onto an old path that still leads to the same place.
    1920s/2000s – neoclassical economics, high inequality, high banker pay, low regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, robber barons (CEOs), reckless bankers, globalisation phase
    1929/2008 – Wall Street crash
    1930s/2010s – Global recession, currency wars, trade wars, austerity, rising nationalism and extremism
    1940s – World war.
    We forgot we had been down that path before.

    Everything is progressing nicely and we are approaching the final destination.
    This is what it’s supposed to be like.
    Right wing populist leaders are what we should be expecting at this stage and it keeps on getting worse.

    The US was lucky in the 1930s and they got FDR.
    The US hasn’t been so lucky this time and they got Obama.
    He did promise “hope and change”, but didn’t deliver the goods.
    The door was wide open for right wing populists, like Trump.

    America needs change, but I don’t think Biden will deliver it.
    If it doesn’t change in a good way, it will change in a bad way.

  16. nycTerrierist

    another fascinating piece on FDR in Tablet, especially relevant re: the insidious seductions of ‘access’, in this case how self-appointed Jewish community leader Howard Wise was worked like a fiddle by FDR, who convinced his pal Howard to keep mum re: the nightmare unfolding in Europe.


    “DuBois compiled an 18-page dossier titled, “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews” and delivered it to his boss, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. The report stated that State Department officials (primarily Long) “not only failed to use the Government machinery at their disposal to rescue Jews from Hitler, but have even gone so far as to use this Government machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews.”
    Secretary Morgenthau presented the report to President Roosevelt. In a face-to-face meeting, Morgenthau essentially confronted the president with a stark choice: Either establish a rescue agency yourself or deal with a major scandal, plus endure political humiliation when Congress passes its own rescue resolution.
    On Jan. 22, 1944, two days before the full Senate was scheduled to vote on the Rogers-Gillette rescue resolution, the president created the new agency by executive order and called it the War Refugee Board. The Roosevelt biographers later gave the president credit for creating the rescue agency, but the truth is that he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to finally do something decent for the Jewish victims of the Nazis.”

  17. Skip Intro

    One similarity Biden may share with FDR would be engaging the US in wars with major world powers on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides.

  18. LowellHighlander

    You might want to check out a book by FDR called The Roosevelt I Knew, by Frances Perkins:


    When I used to conduct new employee orientation on behalf of the local at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I would read a passage from this book to the new employees to give them an idea of the prestige of BLS. In this anecdote, Ms. Perkins (not yet Secretary at the time of this story) heard on the radio President Hoover’s telling the American people that there was plenty of work (i.e. jobs) out there. Ms. Perkins, working in Albany for the administration of Governor Roosevelt, quickly realized Hoover’s implication: men who were unemployed simply weren’t looking hard enough for work. Moreover, she had witnessed for herself the idling of factories in upstate New York because of the Great Crash.

    So, she called the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see whether the Bureau could produce data on unemployment (by industry, I think) for New York. When the Bureau replied affirmatively, she took the train down to DC and worked with the Bureau to produce those data. Armed with solid empirical proof of mass unemployment in New York, she went back north and called a press conference to refute President Hoover’s claim that there were ample opportunities in [upstate] New York to earn a living. She did all this without consulting Governor Roosevelt, who promptly called her up. Though she initially was dreading his response, the governor told her that, if she had bothered to consult with him first before going public with this empirical proof of mass unemployment, he would have told her not to. But, now that she had gone ahead and done it, he was glad she did: that message needed to be heard by all those families who were blaming themselves largely because of Hoover’s remarks.

    I send this story along to show that FDR’s greatness also lay in his wisdom regarding selection of good people for key positions who were imbued primarily with a sense of public service. (Certainly, I have seen Secretaries of Labor and Commissioners of BLS, in my career – late 1990s to late 2010s – who gave the impression that “public service” was a nice but antiquated idea.)

  19. peon

    Another good Francis Perkins book is “The Woman Behind the New Deal” by Kirstin Downey. Good read about FDR and the New Deal as well.

  20. William Hunter Duncan

    Looking at that list of articles, plus the local reflections I am aware of, it is clear that the results of the policies don’t matter. What matters is what the core liberal democrats will believe. Most of the people who actually read these articles as if they are truth still believe Obama was a great, groundbreaking President.

    After Biden is no longer President, even if income inequality is worse, if race relations are more troubled, if there is greater consolidation and monopoly, worse ecological damage, many core Democrats will still likely conflate Biden with FDR, based on little more than such messaging.

  21. Jeremy Grimm

    Am I correct to guess that Biden’s ‘Jobs Plan’ remains embodied in White House public relations documents? Until it becomes several hundred pages of obscure legalize in a Congressional Act or set of Acts how can anyone evaluate its content or impacts?

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