Harvey J. Kaye: Why Obama Is No FDR

tags: Barack Obama, FDR, progressivism, Daily Beast, Harvey J. Kaye



Harvey J. Kaye is Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He is the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (FSG 2005) and the forthcoming The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye

Campaigning for a third term as president in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt told an enthusiastic crowd in Cleveland: “You provided work for free men and women … You used the powers of government to stop the depletion of the top soil … You wrote into law the right of working men and women to bargain collectively … You turned to the problems of youth and age … You made safe the banks.”

I was reminded of FDR’s words when I heard President Obama say in his re-nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Party Convention last September in Charlotte: “You were the change. You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who will get the surgery she needs… You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home … Only you have the power to move us forward.”

Articulating anew the fundamental democratic truth that democratic change requires democratic propulsion, Obama was urging Americans to recognize his administration’s initiatives as their own and to take responsibility for securing them by turning out in November. But his words led me to think again of what might have been if the President had taken that fundamental democratic truth to heart in 2009 and, like FDR, mobilized popular energies and aspirations to confront the crises of the day, beat the conservative and corporate opposition, and transform the nation for the better—and in turn, had we responded as did the men and women of the 1930s and 1940s by not only pursuing those labors and struggles, but also pushing our President to act ever more progressively with us....



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