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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Franklin D Roosevelt"

James Roberts: Big state spender Roosevelt shouldn’t be Gove’s new role model

James Roberts is Political Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Our de facto prime minister, Michael Gove, has been a busy man. On Tuesday, he was in the Commons explaining Mark Sedwill’s sudden departure. At the weekend, he delivered a much-vaunted address to the prestigious Ditchley Foundation, joining a long line of luminaries: Mark Carney, David Milliband, John Major, Chris Patten, to name but a few.

Sparing the blushes of the distinguished Ditchley crowd, Gove didn’t mention Brexit much. But what he did deliver was a rare tour de force about the challenges facing Western governments, delivered with daring incisiveness by the Government’s ‘Hand of the King’. If the ever-authoritative media talking heads (and rapidly-departing civil service barons) want to know what ‘hard rain’ that nasty Dominic Cummings has in store for them, Gove’s lecture was a good place to start.

He didn’t pull his punches. For the ‘Forgotten Man’, faith in the system has been broken, “compounded by cultural condescension and insulation from accountability”, with the policy-making elites in political parties and the civil servants in the dock.

Reasonable demands, or taxpayers’ money to be well spent on accessible public services that actually work have been ignored. The top tiers of mandarin management are stuffed with like-minded PPE-ists, dripping in self-reinforcing groupthink, preaching every form of diversity going – except diversity of thought.

Gove described with brutal accuracy the tendency to coalesce around a cosy Westminster consensus, perpetuated by media commentary and pressure group plaudits, with almost non-existent evaluation of real world delivery. But the government eco-system is dying – its credibility eroded away by constant deforestation to feed an insatiable 24 hour media cycle, the whims of easy-choices-only politicians and the childish tantrums of the Twitterati. The spirit of intellectual challenge has been driven out of the forest, with generic generalists climbing high and genuine innovators buried in the undergrowth.

He’s bang on. As Matt Ridley identified back in 2013, policy-making has long been broken: sometimes little more than a string of special interest spending demands; elaborated on by so-called experts; written into submissions by pedantic pen-pushers; approved by malleable ministers; and made into law by preoccupied politicians.

‘Doing something’ is the name of the game. If social media demands it, laws can be changed. If the media suggests it, money can be found. The Forgotten Man – that is, the taxpayers who pay for all this – be damned. Their preferences are secondary or even, as Gove suggests, absent entirely. A quick reference to ‘taxpayers’ money’ seems often enough to settle the consciences of Tory ministers, as they implement evermore expensive government intervention, because a hashtag told them to.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance knows calling this out doesn’t win you many friends: you can count on one hand the number of policy-makers willing to go against the grain. At DEFRA, lest we forget, Michael Gove was quick to join the chorus of environmentalist big spenders, navigating Theresa May towards a non-negotiable £1 trillion net zero commitment (which by our reckoning no government department has any idea of how to achieve). But then, there’s no zealot like a convert.

But a form of zealotry is exactly what government reform needs. The so-called ‘Rolls Royce’ civil service has broken down by the roadside. On that front, Gove wasn’t short on bold solutions. As our landmark polling last year with ConservativeHome’s columnist, James Frayne, showed, more than six in 10 working class taxpayers agree with the suggestion that we should move more central government offices and jobs outside of London.

Almost three quarters of them believe that all civil service jobs should be open to applicants without a degree, perhaps hoping to break the hold of the hapless humanities graduates. A hard-nosed look at value for money is vital, too.

Gove namechecked numerous programmes, including his old chum David Cameron’s £1 billion National Citizenship Service, which could benefit from a proper quantitative analysis of success and failure. There should be nothing noteworthy about a politician taking aim at programmes, like the £920 million Troubled Families scheme or (Gove’s own) Pupil Premium, and asking if these really delivered for taxpayers. But in the punch-and-judy pantomime of the current political debate, this feels revolutionary.

The same can be said of some of his other policy proposals. In a speech so wide ranging it would usually have a Prime Minister worried, Gove called for  planning reform to fast track beautiful development, better use of data in the NHS, transparency on court and school results, reviews for failed anti-radicalisation programmes, interrogating defence procurement contracts and accountability on the impact of aid spending. Many of these things should be music to taxpayers’ ears.

But the implications of all this are far from clear. As the punters know, policy outcomes matter more than policy processes. Reviews often come to nothing. Promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. The devil’s in the detail. What does Gove actually want to achieve?

Does turning to more data in the NHS mean only allowing for government-made track and trace apps, which inevitably fail? Does it follow that reviewing a failed social programme results in it actually being abolished, and taxpayers getting their money back? Does accountability for aid spending mean cutting back the £15.2 billion cashpoint in the sky, or simply swapping money between dodgy dictators and wasteful NGOs?

he voters we polled wanted foreign aid reduced and reallocated to other priority areas such as the police, the NHS and schools. Very few people care how the sausage is made – they just want aid cut. But that’s an uncomfortable view in SW1, and incidentally not one that Michael Gove shares. It’s the same with the majority (68 per cent of C2DE voters) who backed abolishing the BBC licence fee. When he becomes inconvenient, or wants things that really upset the Westminster village applecart, the Forgotten Man is once again forgotten. Politicians just come up with better ways of ignoring him – the endless reviews and the broken promises.

In that sense, Gove’s speech could easily have been given by a much more fitting figure for the Ditchley Foundation: Tony Blair. Like Gove, he reached for the model of America’s big spending New Deal, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New Labour offered innovation, clever solutions and new public service delivery models, with a pledge and a commission for every occasion. Gove and his Cameronite contemporaries looked on in awe, while most Conservative voters were horrified at the economic paternalism, metropolitan condescension and fiscal vandalism of the Blair years.

Many still believed that reams of government data and endless initiatives can never outgun the free and rational choices of millions of individuals. Their ears still rung with the mocking rebuke of Ronald Reagan: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Endless cash flow means that civil servants, not taxpayers, still made the rules. The TaxPayers’ Alliance itself was founded to take a stand.

Blair paid the price for ignoring his own voters, and taxpayers got sick of the Westminster consensus he created – ‘expert’ policy tsars, expensive PFI, and constant right-on crusades – arguably leading up to the EU referendim result in 2016. For a man so intimately involved in that campaign, Michael Gove may sadly be in danger of starting off down the same path. Replacing Oxford-educated experts with world-beating data whizz kids, or swapping a programme here with a review over there, won’t change the Blairite policy-making consensus – unless there is fundamental change of political intention at the top.

Britain’s forgotten taxpayers need Michael Gove’s intentions to be as bold as his analysis.

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Profile: Franklin Delano Roosvelt, whose New Deal is the inspiration for Johnson’s Build, Build, Build

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a son of privilege who became the greatest leader of the Democratic Party. He led his country through two ordeals, the Great Depression and the Second World War, and won four presidential elections, twice as many as anyone else. His well-tempered air of command resounded through his fireside chats to the nation, and extended to the denial of his own infirmity after polio deprived him, at the age of thirty-nine, of the use of his legs.

FDR had the patrician self-confidence to enjoy breaking the rules, to feel no pang of conscience as he did so, and to condemn the rapacity of big business. A worker once said, ‘Mr Roosevelt is the only man we ever had in the White House who would under- stand that my boss is a son of a bitch.’ FDR was detested by some plutocrats as a class traitor, but persuaded most people that the federal government should pursue with the utmost energy any experiment which might relieve mass unemployment. He at length restored full employment by instituting the massive arms programme needed to prepare for hostilities in which 420,000 Americans were to lose their lives.

His father, James Roosevelt of Hyde Park, was a Hudson Valley squire who dedicated himself to a gentlemanly way of life, but also had extensive interests in railways and coal. James’s much younger second wife, born Sara Delano – she was twenty-six when they married, he fifty-two – gave birth with difficulty to a son, and was advised by her doctors to have no more children. Franklin was kept at home, schooled by tutors, until at the age of fourteen his parents delivered him in their private railway car to Groton, a high-minded American version of Eton.

The following year his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt – their common ancestor had landed on Manhattan Island in 1649 – came to speak at Groton about being a police commis- sioner in New York City, and kept the boys in fits of laughter. Franklin was invited at the age of fifteen, along with a host of younger cousins, to visit his high-spirited Cousin Theodore dur- ing the summer holidays at Oyster Bay on Long Island. He described Theodore as the greatest man he ever knew, and prof- ited from observing and imitating his brilliant career. But the Hyde Park Roosevelts were Democrats, while the Oyster Bay Roosevelts were Republicans.

FDR went to Harvard, edited the student newspaper, the Har- vard Crimson, and was known to some as Feather Duster, for he was seen as a bit of a lightweight. He was a handsome young man, six foot two inches tall, with a dazzling smile. His recently widowed mother moved to Boston to keep an eye on him. She was appalled when he revealed his engagement to Eleanor Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore’s wastrel younger brother Elliott, but could not prevent the marriage, which took place in 1905, with President Roosevelt (as he had become) giving the bride away. Eleanor was no beauty, and worried Franklin might be too good-looking for her to hold on to. When they got engaged, she copied out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines for him: ‘Unless you can swear, “For life, for death!” / Oh, fear to call it loving!’

In the early years of the marriage she gave birth to six chil- dren, of whom five survived. FDR dabbled in the law, decided it was not for him and in 1910 was elected as the Democrat New York state senator for Dutchess County, which included Hyde Park. Two years later, he canvassed for Woodrow Wilson, who after winning the presidential election rewarded him with the post of assistant secretary of the navy.

Like Theodore Roosevelt, who had held the same job, FDR exploited its possibilities to the full. His administrative gifts were such that after America joined the war in 1917, President Wilson discouraged him from doing what Cousin Theodore would have done, and going off to fight. FDR feared his political career would be held back by his decision not to risk his own skin, and when Groton was erecting a tablet in the chapel bearing the names of those who had served in the war, made the most of the dangers he had run while on an official visit to France in 1918: ‘I believe my name should go in the first division of those who were “in the service”, especially as I saw service on the other side, was missed by torpedoes and shells . . .’

While he might have been in the trenches he carried on an affair with his wife’s spirited and charming social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore, encouraged the romance: ‘He deserved a good time. He was married to Eleanor.’ In 1918 Eleanor discovered a packet of Lucy’s love letters and offered Franklin a divorce. His mother, on whom he was dependent for funds, told him she would cut him off if he accepted the offer.

Divorce would have ended Roosevelt’s career; not until Ronald Reagan in 1981 did a divorced man enter the White House. FDR promised Eleanor he would stop seeing Lucy, but from now on they conducted a political marriage, their personal relations glacial. His mother, who lived until 1941, remained firmly in charge at Hyde Park, where in the 1920s a cottage called Val-Kill was built, which was the only place Eleanor could call her own. She stayed there with close women friends, flung herself into progressive causes and journalism, and became a public figure in her own right, the most notable first lady since Dolley Madison. Relations with her husband never mended. In 1949, five years after his death, she said of him: ‘I was one of those who served his purpose.’

In 1920 FDR was selected by the Democrats as their vice-presidential candidate. The party went down to a heavy defeat, but he was a rising star. The following August he was stricken, while at Campobello, the island just over the Canadian border where the Hyde Park Roosevelts spent summer vacations, with polio and found himself paralysed in both legs from the hip downwards. For a long time he hoped he would recover, and bathing in the waters at Warm Springs in Georgia made him feel better, so he developed the spa there for the use of himself and other sufferers.
There was no cure. The most he could do was learn to take a few steps with heavy steel braces supporting him instead of his legs and a son or bodyguard to hold his arm. With remarkable fortitude and self-discipline he set out to conceal from the public the gravity of his handicap. When he smiled, which was often, he looked like a man without a care in the world. Only two of the 35,000 photographs in the Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park show him in a wheelchair.

In 1924, he gave his ‘Happy Warrior’ speech at the Democratic convention in support of Al Smith’s presidential candidacy. The reference was to Wordsworth’s lines: ‘This is the happy Warrior, this is he / That every man should wish to be.’

The speech was a triumph and proved that he too was a warrior. He repeated this success four years later, when he again nominated Smith, who persuaded him to run for the governorship of New York, once held by Cousin Theodore. FDR was a formidable campaigner and in 1928 won New York by the slender margin of 25,000 votes, while Smith as the Democrats’ presidential candidate lost the state by 100,000 votes and went down to a heavy national defeat.

This was the springboard which could propel Roosevelt to the White House in four years’ time. He set out to show he was the most dynamic governor in America, promoting unemployment insurance, farm relief and a vast electrification scheme, reaching voters directly via the radio, winning a second term in 1930 by a record margin and using state funds to fight the Great Depres-sion by providing jobs and food.

Walter Lippmann, the famous liberal pundit, held out against the growing chorus of praise for the Governor of New York, writing in early 1932: ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.’ But FDR was already the front-runner for the 1932 nomination, a position he never relinquished. Doctors who watched him at work as governor testified that he was ‘able to take more punishment than many men ten years younger’, while Eleanor, on being asked if he was fit enough for the White House, replied: ‘If the infantile paralysis didn’t kill him, the presidency won’t.’

A month before the Democratic convention, Roosevelt spoke at Oglethorpe University in Georgia: ‘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.’
Once the convention had chosen Roosevelt, he flew to Chicago to deliver an acceptance speech, breaking what he called ‘the absurd tradition that the candidate should remain in professed ignorance of what has happened for weeks until he is formally notified of that event weeks later’. In his peroration he declared:

‘I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign: it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.’

The New Deal was born. It had the advantages of being neither precise nor consistent. At times Roosevelt was accused of sounding like his opponent, President Hoover, a man wedded to more orthodox views. In the four months between Roosevelt’s election victory and his inauguration there was no cooperation between him and Hoover, who loathed and despised him. This helped the President Elect to show he was a completely different kind of person. The economy continued to deteriorate, with a severe banking crisis in February 1933, adding fear of loss of life savings to fear of unemployment.

Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, delivered on 4 March 1933, is famous for his declaration that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, a phrase which has grown smooth from overuse. It acquires its proper force when it is placed after the first two, somewhat platitudinous paragraphs, heard on radios across America:

“This is a day of national consecration, and I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candour and a deci- sion which the present situation of our nation impels.
This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt’s success rested on his superlative ability to find the right words for every occasion. He carried Americans with him by using biblical language which would have been familiar three centuries before to the Pilgrim Fathers. ‘We are stricken by no plague of locusts,’ he went on to say, but have been failed by ‘the money-changers’, who ‘have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish’.

These exhortations would have been exposed as worthless had they not been followed by action. He put the Emergency Banking Bill through Congress in a day, and said in the first of what came to be known as his fireside chats – his radio addresses to the nation – that the legislation would only work if depositors stopped trying to withdraw their savings from the banks: ‘You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumours or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.’

Roosevelt gave people hope. His clear, resonant, buoyant tones rang out across the nation, but he knew they must not ring out too often, or people would cease to pay attention. In the twelve years and one month of his presidency he delivered thirty fireside chats, each of which took ‘four or five days of long, over- time work’ to prepare. He had discovered how to bypass a predominantly hostile press and speak directly to the people.

His first hundred days saw a torrent of New Deal legislation, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, the Truth-in-Securities Act, the Home Own- ers’ Loan Act, the Farm Credit Act, the Railroad Coordination Act, the Glass-Steagal Banking Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, which sought to control floods, promote river traffic, generate cheap electricity and foster enterprise in a depressed area four-fifths the size of England. The results of these meas- ures were patchy, but the energy and ambition were undeniable. Unemployment did come down a bit, and FDR instilled in Americans the belief that the worst was over.

He also incurred the hatred of big business, which he assailed, in his speech accepting the nomination in 1936, for creating ‘a new despotism’, an ‘industrial dictatorship’ which destroyed small businesses and imposed ‘economic slavery’. In his speech at Madison Square Garden shortly before polling day, attacking the forces arrayed against him, a touch of hubris is apparent: ‘Never before in our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred . . . I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of self- ishness and lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.’

Roosevelt won his greatest electoral victory in 1936, and pro-ceeded to make one of his greatest mistakes. The Supreme Court had rejected some of the New Deal measures as unconstitutional because they concentrated so much power in the hands of the president. He responded by trying to pack the court. This was a step too far, and he failed.

In foreign policy, Roosevelt was an impotent spectator of the rise of Hitler. Neither Congress nor public opinion would sanction a strong line: isolationist sentiment was too powerful. But in 1939, when war broke out in Europe, Roosevelt established communication with Winston Churchill, who had been recalled to the Admiralty. In May 1940, when Churchill became prime minister, he asked Roosevelt for the ships, aircraft, guns, ammunition and steel Britain needed to hold out against the German onslaught.

Roosevelt could not possibly do all that at once. When he informed Congress that American military aircraft production must increase from 12,000 a year to 50,000, many of his listeners declined to take him seriously. But as France crumpled under German attack in June 1940, FDR warned in a speech at the Uni- versity of Virginia against ‘the now obvious delusion’ that America could remain ‘a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force’, for then democracy itself would be in dan- ger. Roosevelt employed the liberal internationalist language of Woodrow Wilson, indeed improved upon it, for he sounded less naïve.

In June 1940 he sanctioned the secret research for what became the atomic bomb. In July, in a bold attempt to build bipar- tisan support for American entry into the war, he appointed two senior Republicans, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, to the posts of secretary of war and secretary of the navy. In September he agreed to swap fifty elderly destroyers for British bases in New- foundland and the Caribbean. But 1940 was an election year, so like Wilson before him, at the end of October 1940 FDR felt obliged to repeat in the most categorical terms his promise to the ‘mothers and fathers’ of America: ‘Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.’

With such momentous events unfolding, few voters criticised Roosevelt for flouting the convention, set by Washington, that no president serve more than two terms, and they gave him a third by a convincing margin. He could now hasten to the aid of Hitler’s remaining opponents. At a press conference in December 1940 he compared supplying arms to Britain to lending your gar- den hose to a neighbour who needed to put out a fire. A fortnight later, as the Luftwaffe subjected London to a pulverising raid which was supposed to distract attention from his speech, he said:

‘The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can turn a tiger into a kitten by stroking it . . . We must be the great arsenal of democracy . . . There will be no bottlenecks in our determination to aid Great Britain.’

In June 1941 the war broadened with Hitler’s invasion of Russia. Roosevelt had already got the Lend-Lease Act through Congress, and sent his close aide Harry Hopkins, a raffish and gifted figure, to London to get to know Churchill and establish what supplies the British needed most. Hopkins went on to Mos- cow to do the same with Stalin. Hitler hoped to the end that his three main adversaries would fall out, as had Frederick the Great’s at a moment of peril for Prussia in the eighteenth century. FDR never allowed that to happen.

In August 1941, on board American and British warships at Pla- centia Bay in Newfoundland, he and Churchill held the first of their eleven wartime meetings. They sang stirring hymns – ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’ – and agreed what became known as the Atlantic Charter, a Wilsonian statement of eight rather misty post-war aims, behind which could be detected Roosevelt’s determination that this should be a war for democracy, not for the preservation of the British Empire.

But America was not yet in the war, and Hitler was careful to provide no provocation which would enable FDR to rout the still- powerful isolationist lobby in Washington. The Japanese were less circumspect. On 7 December 1941 they launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, where they destroyed or dam- aged eight battleships and killed 3,000 Americans. Roosevelt described this as ‘a date that will live in infamy’ and called for a declaration of war on Japan, which Congress immediately pro- vided. Germany and Italy proceeded, in accordance with the axis they had formed with Japan, to declare war on the United States.

Pearl Harbor united Americans in shock and anger. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of having known in advance about the attack, but could produce no evidence to support that view, nor has sub- sequent research revealed any. As a man who loved the navy, it is inconceivable that he would have left eight battleships tied up in port if he had known they were going to be attacked. But as soon as the attack had happened, he knew what he wanted to do. His priority was the defeat not of Japan, seen by most Americans as the aggressor, but of Hitler. FDR dramatised his role by flying to conferences with America’s allies, at which they settled on a com- mon strategy which concealed deep differences between them. He was the first president to travel by air while in power, and even his sternest critics in the American press could not help acknowl- edging that he possessed ‘a certain vast impudent courage’.
At the same time, FDR agreed to the internment of about 120,000 people in America of Japanese descent, most of them US citizens, in clear violation of their constitutional rights but in conformity with public opinion. Roosevelt felt no qualms. He was by no means a bleeding-heart liberal.

At Casablanca in January 1943 he proclaimed the doctrine of the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Germany, Italy and Japan, a term which, he reminded the assembled press, had been coined by Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. This may have stiffened the resistance of the Axis powers, but it also reassured Stalin, who was not at Casablanca, that the western allies were not going to make a separate peace. In the summer of 1944, a year later than Stalin would have liked, the Americans, British and Canadians, along with smaller contingents from other allies, launched, under an American supreme commander, Gen- eral Dwight D. Eisenhower, the D-Day landings on the Channel coast of France.

Roosevelt, learning from the mistakes made by Woodrow Wilson, was already laying the foundations for the post-war world, which would include the United Nations and the Inter- national Monetary Fund, and he decided it was his duty as well as his wish to see the job through by standing for a fourth term. In September 1944 he opened his campaign with a speech at a Team-sters’ Union dinner in Washington, during which he responded to an attack on his dog:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or on my wife, or on my sons. No, not con- tent with that, they now include my little dog Fala [laughter]. Well of course, I don’t resent attacks and my family don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent attacks [laughter]. You know, Fala’s Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him – at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three or eight or twenty million dollars – his Scotch soul was furious [laughter]. He has not been the same dog since.”

Brilliant performances like this, which was broadcast across the nation and can today be enjoyed on YouTube, distracted atten- tion from questions raised in the press about whether his health was up to another term. His doctor, Admiral Ross McIntire, who was an ear, nose and throat specialist, insisted he was fine. A naval cardiologist, Dr Howard Bruenn, who examined Roosevelt in March 1944, found he was suffering from advanced heart dis- ease and his condition was ‘god awful’. Had Bruenn been asked, he would have said it was impossible for the President to run again.

But Roosevelt ran again, and won a reasonably comfortable victory, assisted by American successes on the battlefield. In Feb- ruary 1945 he went to Yalta in the Crimea to discuss with Stalin and Churchill the shape of the post-war world. Churchill’s doc- tor, Sir Charles Wilson, wrote in his diary, ‘the president appears a very sick man … I give him only a few months to live’. But Roosevelt still obtained what he most wanted, which was Stalin’s assurance that when the fighting in Europe was over, the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan, which was expected to last for a long time, at a heavy cost in American casualties. At Yalta, Stalin got a free hand in eastern Europe, subject to unen- forceable promises about holding free and fair elections, but it is hard to see how Roosevelt, or any other American president, could have averted this, given the dominance on the ground of the Red Army.

Roosevelt returned to Washington, and in early April went down to Warm Springs. He was met there by Lucy Mercer, now Lucy Rutherfurd, for she had married a rich and elderly widower who was by now dead, and had rekindled her affair with Roosevelt, who was the love of her life. She was with him for most of the
time after Yalta, and was present on 12 April 1945 when, as his portrait was being painted, he remarked that he had a terrible headache, and died of a heart attack. Churchill described him in the House of Commons as ‘the greatest American friend we have ever known, and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the New World to the Old’. Victory in Europe was by now imminent. On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide as the Russians stormed Berlin.

‘Many books will be written about Franklin Roosevelt, but no two will give the same picture . . . He was the most compli- cated human being I ever knew,’ Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labour and the first woman to serve in the Cabinet, wrote in her memoir, The Roosevelt I Knew. ‘I felt as if I knew him . . . I felt as if he knew me – and I felt as if he liked me,’ a young soldier guard- ing the White House told Perkins on the night Roosevelt died. H. L. Mencken, known as the Sage of Baltimore, suggested by contrast that FDR ‘had every quality that morons esteem in their heroes’.

Roosevelt had a devious yet open-hearted charm which baffled inquiry. Many people were so flattered to be admitted to his circle on terms of seeming equality, they were happy to contribute to his success. He had a gift for making pragmatic choices seem adventurous and morally right. When challenged to explain his philosophy, after he had denied being a communist, a capital- ist, or a socialist, he replied: ‘Philosophy? I am a Christian and a Democrat – that’s all.’

This article is an extract from Gimson’s Presidents, Brief Lives from Washington to Trump, illustrated by Martin Rowson.

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Trump’s mishandling of the virus crisis confirms that he is an impudent opportunist

Donald Trump, the first reality TV star to become president, has treated the Coronavirus crisis as if it were a reality TV show. He has allowed a vacuum of leadership to develop into which the governors of the individual states have now stepped.

One can see why he approached the crisis in this way. It is his natural game, he lacks the moral seriousness to make the huge effort needed to change it, and this mode of behaviour has advantages for him.

Part of the point of reality TV is that when it’s going badly it’s going well: the ratings rise because it’s astonishing to see such disreputable conduct played out in daily instalments for the public’s amusement.

Trump has boasted that the ratings he is getting for his daily press conferences are high, though some might say that 8.5 million viewers in a nation of 330 million at a time of national peril is unimpressive.

It does not compare with what, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt got for his fireside chats on the radio – a more valuable commodity, for during the 12 years and one month he was President, and led the country through the Great Depression and the Second World War, he delivered only 30 of those, and took enormous trouble over them, each of them requiring “four or five days of long, overtime work” to prepare.

Nor is he capable, as FDR and most of the presidents since him were, of leading an international response to the crisis. In some ways, he is the most embarrassingly out of his depth occupant of the White House since Warren G. Harding, though Harding’s most grievous flaws were only exposed after his death in office in 1923.

The shamelessness of reality TV, the primacy it gives to appetite and emotion over restraint and reason, means Trump can assert as true anything he would like to be true, regardless of whether it is known to be false, or will soon be proven false.

The first case of Coronavirus in the USA was detected on 20th January. The CDC – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency – was slow to test for the disease, and got no encouragement from Trump, who was anxious to downplay the threat.

Asked on 22nd January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, if there was a danger of the virus developing into a pandemic, he replied: “It’s going to be just fine. We have it totally under control.”

Over a month later, on February 26, he said of the virus:

“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear. And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. Could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”

The next day, Trump predicted the number of infected people in the country “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero”. On 16th March he started to take the pandemic seriously, but not long after he said the churches could be full for Easter.

A change in how the president is feeling suffices for a change in what he says at his daily press conferences. He can contradict himself as often as he likes, be as outrageous as he likes, and this unpredictability helps him to dominate the headlines, just as he did during the 2016 election campaign.

He enjoys a flexibility which is denied to his more scrupulous opponents, who feel under an obligation to strive to be honest, rational and consistent.

This puts his critics in a difficult position. Many of them find his wheedling, insinuating tone of voice so creepy they cannot bear to listen to him for any length of time.

The President is so disgusting he becomes incomprehensible. It is easier to excommunicate him than to sully oneself by trying to follow his thought processes.

This pharisaical reaction plays into his hands. His opponents reveal themselves as intolerant, self-congratulatory and out-of-touch, a bunch of hypocrites who think they’re better than the kind of people who watch reality TV.

All the same, reality TV can go seriously wrong, particularly when the participants start killing themselves.

Then questions start to be asked about whether those running the show exercised their duty of care towards the vulnerable people involved, and the answer is usually found to be that those in charge couldn’t have cared less.

Such questions now faces Trump. If within the next few months he is found to have been so negligent in his handling of the Coronavirus that huge numbers of Americans have died unnecessarily, his show is likely to be taken off the air in November, even if he faces an opponent no more formidable than Joe Biden.

Meanwhile America’s federal system is belatedly starting to supply some opponents more considerable than Biden.

On Sunday, Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois lamented the “loss of essentially the entire month of February” and the “profound failing of the federal government” to supply the tests it assured Americans it was going to supply:

“The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they’re just not here. I’m not going to wait on promises from the federal government that may never be fulfilled. We need this testing capacity now. So, we’re building it ourselves in Illinois.”

Pritzker, a Democrat, is a member of the immensely wealthy family which owns the Hyatt hotel chain. In 1993, Trump accused the Pritzkers – with whom he had gone into partnership to turn the old Commodore Hotel in New York into the Grand Hyatt – of racketeering.

If that was an isolated case of Trump falling out with business partners and flinging bizarre accusations at them, it could be regarded as a misfortune. But as James D. Zirin observes in Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits, published in September 2019, there is a pattern of behaviour here: instead of getting on with his partners in New York and winning their trust, Trump sued them, using the “attack-dog” methods he learned from the notorious Roy Cohn, who in turn had worked for Joe McCarthy.

Trump, in other words, has never practised treating people as valued allies in pursuit of a common goal, making the prudent accommodations needed to work together as a team. Instead he readies himself to strike some unbelievably low blow – the sort of thing which produces a gasp in the reality TV audience.

As my old friend Roland Stephen, who lives in Maryland, puts it:

“The only person to enter into any kind of transaction with Donald Trump — and I include the American people in this unfortunate group — who has escaped with fortune and reputation enhanced is Stormy Daniels.”

Trump is now in the process of falling out with the state governors whose co-operation he needs in order to get a grip on the Coronavirus. He has  lashed out at several of them, including Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Missouri, Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington, and Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York.

He complained that he has a “big problem” with the “young, a woman governor” in Michigan, because “all she does is sit there and blame the federal government.” He referred to her as “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer” and said she is “way in over her head” and “doesn’t have a clue.”

Whitmer responded on Twitter: “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”

When Inslee said the President should lead a “national mobilisation of the industrial base in this country” to produce medical supplies, Trump retorted that Inslee “shouldn’t be relying on the federal government”.

Cuomo said the state of New York would need 30,000 ventilators at the peak of the outbreak, and had only received 400 from the federal government. Trump replied that he had “a feeling” that “40,000 or 30,000” would not be needed.

Those three governors are Democrats, but some Republicans – Larry Hogan in Maryland, Mike DeWine in Ohio – have enacted stern measures to slow the virus, sterner than the President has ventured to commend.

In Mississippi, by contrast, a Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, has allowed most businesses to stay open, and restaurants too, as long as they serve no more than ten people at a time.

Reeves said his critics were enemies of Trump and “don’t like the fact that I’m a conservative and I’m willing to pray.” He added:

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if the United States found themselves in a severe depression with 20 per cent to 30 per cent unemployment that the abject poverty that could create could lead to more health problems than this particular virus is causing.”

Trump is tempted by that line of argument, remarking sometimes that the cure could be worse than the disease.

If only he could be confident that the Coronavirus would afflict Democrat states more grievously than Republican ones, then not taking the disease so seriously would possess a certain ruthless logic. But the evidence suggests the disease will not make that distinction.

When I began this article, I hoped to avoid composing yet another prosy denunciation of Trump, and at least to give him credit for a hucksterish Realpolitik which owes nothing to Christian morals or gentlemanly behaviour.

He also has the merit of not making himself the prisoner of experts who may have exaggerated their ability to see how the crisis will unfold.

But having watched the zigzag course he has steered, the laughably contradictory messages he has sent to the American public, and the way he has sought to diminish state governors instead of making common cause with them, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that at a time when the United States needs national leadership, it finds itself in the hands of an impudent opportunist.

Andrew Gimson’s recently-released Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump, illustrated by Martin Rowson, is published by Penguin Books.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Johnson bypasses the broadcasters to talk directly to voters

Yesterday’s announcement of a relaxation of the immigration rules for scientists from around the world was noteworthy for two reasons.

First, because it’s a good idea, long overdue and likely to be popular.

Second, because of how the message was delivered.

There was a press release, and an accompanying evening news package by the BBC, filmed on a Prime Ministerial visit to a fusion power research centre in Oxfordshire. But before either of those went out, the actual announcement took place online, in a Facebook Live broadcast by Boris Johnson.

The video itself was short, hitting key messages on police and NHS spending before trailing the headline news, leaving the detail for the official release shortly afterwards. The fairly simple set contained a few nods to his fans (and detractors) The flag, the ministerial red box (rapped pointedly when he spoke of getting to work) and, nestled away at the back, a red bus.

No, not that red bus. Nor the now-famous red buses built out of painted wine boxes. Rather a red, double-decker, London bus featuring the Back Boris 2008 logo – a memento of the mayoralty which influenced him so much, placed carefully where a TV had stood earlier in the day.

It’s the use of this video as the first point of announcement for an important policy that is particularly significant. It’s no secret that some political broadcasters have at times been a bit antagonistic, and that there are some tensions in the relationship already. More generally, what every politician really desires is an opportunity to communicate their message directly to voters without edit, limit or interpretation.

Breaking news through a social media broadcast, unfiltered, therefore makes sense. Between Facebook and Twitter this clip was seen by at least 450,000 people throughout the course of the evening, which isn’t bad given there was no pre-publicity to warn the audience in advance. My understanding is that this is a first experiment, and there will be more such broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the audience of which will be closely studied in Downing Street.

In an age which values authenticity, this is an approach with potential, particularly for this Prime Minister. Johnson opens with an invitation, the emphasis on the personal nature of the conversation and the privileged access being offered to viewers: “I’m speaking to you live from my desk in Downing Street”. He has built his career on being distinctive, engaging and entertaining; he’s the Government’s most notable media asset. It would be madness to lock that away behind bland scripts and anonymised official statements.

Previous examples of leaders seeking such direct communication with voters spring to mind, some more successful than others. Stanley Baldwin, the UK’s earliest adopter of broadcasting as a political tool; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’; Harold Wilson’s sometimes ill-advised penchant for television (complete with the affectation of a pipe); Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary run of over 1,000 daily radio commentaries on current affairs prior to becoming President. David Cameron, of course, had WebCameron – sometimes a bit stagey, but always more at ease than Gordon Brown’s rictus efforts at YouTube. There are lessons from each, and all underscore that no politician can afford to stand still while the media changes around him.

It’s encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s team exploring and trying out new ways to cut through to the electorate. Making sure they maintain message discipline while allowing his personality to show will be the key. Relax it too much and it loses its bite; structure it too closely and it risks looking like a hostage video, turning off fans who want to feel they are seeing their Prime Minister as he really is. Get it right, and these broadcasts could have a really big impact.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com