Saturday, June 27, 2009

The FDR Example

One thing that I seldom do with this blog is tell my readers whether they should read something.

I will often refer to articles that I read online, but I almost never tell the reader to read anything. I will provide the link and, if the reader wants to read it, that is his/her choice.

But today, I want to recommend one — Bill Clinton's essay on FDR, "Getting It Right," in TIME.

I've been reading it, and I have found it to be very interesting.

It shouldn't be necessary, at this time, to remind anyone that Roosevelt was president during the Great Depression. And Clinton, in case you have forgotten, took office during the economic downturn that occurred under the first President Bush.

Only three other Democrats (besides Roosevelt and Clinton) have been elected president twice. And one of them was not victorious in two consecutive elections. Democrats who have won two consecutive national elections have been rare.

So, if Barack Obama thinks he'd like to be re–elected in 2012, it wouldn't hurt to read this article. Roosevelt actually was elected president four times, and it seems to me that the insights of the only other Democrat to win the presidency twice in more than 60 years since FDR's death would be particularly valuable (Republicans have elected and re–elected four presidents — Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and G.W. Bush — in the six decades since FDR's death).

Especially since Clinton concludes that Roosevelt "got the big things right."

In fact, Clinton observes that Roosevelt sought the presidency running as a "fiscal conservative" but realized, upon entering office, that "aggressive involvement by the government" was needed "with prices collapsing and unemployment exploding."

And that required an ambitious, expansive agenda.

This is something about which I have expressed my concerns before, but I'm probably guilty of not looking at the whole picture. I'm unemployed, and there are times when I feel fearful about the future. I worry that my unemployment benefits will be taken from me, and I worry about a federal debt that can never be repaid so a sense of urgency tends to engulf me. I get anxious to see some improvement in unemployment. If we can start putting people to work, my mind tells me, more people will be earning incomes and paying income taxes to help pay this bill.

It ain't much, but it's something.

And it's not that simple, of course. But, while it's probably selfish to say this, if we can't make a dent in the national unemployment rate, at the very least, I want to see some improvement in my unemployment situation.

I guess I'm too anxious at times to see some proof that we're going in the right direction. But just because there are mountains between us and our destination doesn't mean the destination isn't there — or that we can't get to it.

Some of my friends have told me (in their own words and their own ways) that so many things demand immediate attention that it must be done this way. I, grudgingly, agree with them, but I admit I feel more inclined to believe it when I read what Clinton says.

The fact that the Clinton administration turned the economy around in the 1990s and actually built a sizable surplus before he handed presidential power to George W. Bush tells me that Clinton knows something about this subject.

It also makes me wonder how things might have been right now if Hillary Clinton had won the nomination, and then the election, instead of Obama. The problems wouldn't be resolved — but would we be doing better or worse than we're doing?

With the benefit of a First Spouse who was president for eight years providing unique advice, how would Hillary be doing? Would she have managed to push through a bigger stimulus package? How would she have handled the revolution in Iran? Would she have enjoyed the kind of approval ratings Obama has received?

Those are questions for another analysis at another time. For now, though, the president could do worse than to follow President Clinton's urging to be "inspired by FDR's concern for all Americans, his relentless optimism, his penchant for experimentation, his relish for spirited debate among brilliant advisers and his unshakable faith in the promise of America."

No comments: