Total Pageviews

Monday, June 9, 2014

Patron Book Review: Roosevelt: The Lion and The Fox by James MacGregor Burns

Posted by EPL patron and guest blogger, Irv S.

James MacGregor Burns wrote a biography about a Harvard educated Democrat who used a big city political machine, without embracing its most objectionable qualities, to become president of the United States at a time of grave economic crisis and terrifying activity by foreign leaders. The president dealt with economic issues somewhat successfully, was roundly criticized for his policies, and was excoriated by an economic elite, which actually benefited significantly from his policies.  A prominent conservative spokesman said FDR wanted  to "soak the successful".  Leaders of the congress fought many of his efforts, especially in his second term. They delayed and sometimes rejected presidential appointments and attempted to hamstring him by cutting funds from the budget.  He was wrongly called a socialist and absorbed vicious attacks from some elements of the media. Throughout it all he maintained his dignity and continued his attempt to unite the country.

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox is a worthwhile read from the historical perspective and as a parallel to current political events.  Burns was a scholar who has told the story of FDR from cradle to grave, warts and all. It is often said that the greatest risk for a biographer is that of becoming an apologist for the subject. The author clearly admired his subject but retained his objectivity.

Burns writes at length about the "court packing" plan, giving us the arguments and political gaffes for each side. Some scholars argue that FDR lost the battle, i.e., his plea to appoint additional judges was rejected, but won the war. The same court that had declared unconstitutional the Railroad Retirement Act, the National Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Farm Mortgage Act, later upheld the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act. However, the administration's tactics had alienated many and the congress that had supported  the president's programs previously became much less cooperative.

The bibliography is lengthy and contains extensive endnotes.  Burns also provides "A Note on the Study of Political Leadership" which is brief, interesting, and appropriately pedantic.

No comments:

Post a Comment