The Real Legacy of FDR

(Samuel Francis)

"it seems to me," wrote H. L. Mencken in his private diary on April 13, 1945, the day after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, "to be very likely that Roosevelt will take a high place in American popular history - maybe even alongside Washington and Lincoln . . . He had every quality that morons esteem in their heroes."

Last week those who still worship at Roosevelt's altar gathered in Warm Springs, where he died, to esteem their hero once more. But for all the weepy tributes by Democrats (and not a few Republicans and neo-Conservatives) to the godfather of American liberalism and its crippling legacies 50 years after his death, the truth is that the damage Roosevelt inflicted on this country and the world still cannot be calculated. If Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich solemnly invoke him as a model and a hero, it shows that they have not even begun to understand the ruin he left behind him.

Roosevelt's role in designing and building the leviathan state is well-known, but in the context of the 1930s, its meaning appears as a good deal more sinister than foolish economic policies and unwarranted tax burdens . . .

The NIRA, created as an incestuous union of Big Business against small, independent businessmen, was an embodiment of that fusion of state and economy that James Burnham dubbed the Managerial Revolution. In his fury at the court's rejection of it, Roosevelt turned his wrath against the "Nine Old Men," who had dared defy his titanic will.

His "court packing" plan was intended to club the court and the Constitution into obedience to him and the bureaucratic elite he created. It failed, though it frightened the court into more docility toward FDR's schemes.

By the standards of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, itself modeled on the New Deal, Roosevelt's bureaucratic state looks like a piker, but it was he who initiated and legitimized, for Democrats as well as Republicans, the idea of conscripting federal power as the engineer of the social and economic institutions. The vast octopus of bureaucrats, goon squads and social tinkerers that lurks in Washington and winds itself around the country's throat today is Roosevelt's offspring.

Like the Caesarist strongmen in Europe, Roosevelt relied on his own charisma, carefully and deceitfully developed, and the executive power of his office to stroke a frightened electorate into compliance and to bludgeon critics. His welfare projects went far beyond aid to the poor and wound up bribing whole sectors of American society­p;farmers, business, banks, intellectuals­p;into dependence on him and the state he created.

Through his subsidies to intellectuals and artists, wrote the sympathetic historian, Richard Hofstaedter, "a generation of artists and intellectualsäbecame wedded to the New Deal and devoted to Rooseveltian liberalism." Their corrupted descendants still thrive today through federal endowments for the arts and humanities and in ideologically disciplined universities dependent on federal support.

In foreign affairs, Roosevelt pushed and pulled the country toward war, even as he piously promised peace. He allowed undercover British agents to operate freely and illegally within the United States to use this country for their own country's aims. Had his illegal and unconstitutional actions become known, even his own party would have impeached him.

His unprovoked belligerency toward the Japanese as well as the Germans helped cause the attack on Pearl Harbor, even as he and his tame eggheads vilified and persecuted the critics of his policies as "Nazis" and "traitors." His wartime diplomacy helped turn half a continent over to Communism, and his own administration was riddled with Soviet agents whose ideology was all but indistinguishable from the "liberalism" they prattled.

"He was the first American," wrote Mencken, "to penetrate to the real depths of vulgar stupidity. He never made the mistake of overestimating the intelligence of the American mob. He was its unparalleled professor." Let the Democrats, and those Republicans who will. cloak themselves in this great criminal's bloodstained robes. For those Americans who love to Old Republic he destroyed, Franklin Roosevelt was and remains our archetypal enemy.


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