John R. Miller: FDR’s Failed Moral Leadership

John R. Miller is a former United States Ambassador at Large on Modern Slavery, former Congressman from Seattle, a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

A new book, Where They Stand, written by National Interest editor Robert W. Merry, shows that American historians consistently list Franklin Delano Roosevelt just behind Lincoln and Washington on their ratings of American presidents. A recent issue of Newsweek lists FDR as the top modern president. Years ago, the Schlesinger Presidential Poll even rated FDR first among all presidents.

I believe these judgments cannot be sustained. Correcting them might help Americans clarify what kind of character they want in the presidents they elect.

FDR was certainly influential. After all, even if economists on the right and left debate whether it was his stimulus policies or World War II rearmament that finally ended depression era unemployment, FDR certainly bolstered American confidence after the Depression and during World War Two, while greatly extending the scope of American government.

My quarrel with FDR’s high rating is that in judging a president, it is not just achievements or influence—the criteria used by most historians–that matter. One must also consider whether a President’s conduct is based on moral principles and lives up to such American ideals as truth, dignity and compassion.

Some might argue that President Nixon’s opening to China or founding of the Environmental Protection Agency were great achievements, but historians consistently rate Nixon near the bottom. Why?..

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