The significance of Professor Thornton’s article today cannot be overstated. I’ve always been puzzled by the wild worship of FDR. His economic agenda was as bad or worse than Obama’s, and yet he never seemed to pay the political price. Were the American people longing for a dictator? Were they just stupid? Sure, his popularity is overstated, but it would be foolish to deny that he had the thing every president wants: that glow and glory that comes from hero worship. He was the first teflon president.
Thornton has finally put his finger on the reason for this momentum. Roosevelt freed the people! To me, this makes complete sense. If you know something about American politics, you know that the first 100 days are everything, the time in which presidencies are made. Now we can understand something about why people loved him. He freed the whole country from rule by fanatics. We can see this happening in other cases. JFK cut taxes and people loved him. Reagan’s tax cuts gave him his teflon. Even Clinton benefited from his repeal of the 55 mph speed limit.
Presidents have long tried to emulate FDR in the hope of becoming a Great Man of History. Well, here we have a path to emulate. This is the route to go. Do something wonderful for people, and the people love you. Obama might have achieved this by pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan or legalizing pot. The next Republican could do something like abolish the Fed, or eliminate the income tax, or get rid of restrictions on oil production. Something big, something historic and bold.
I’m grateful to Mark for having drawn attention to this very interesting piece of forgotten history, something that both explains a mystery of history and shows a path forward.