Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thinking about FDR...

So I'm reading "The Worst Hard Time," A book about the Great American Dust Bowl, Yes. Carol, I was supposed to read it in your Advanced News Reporting class and didn't... I admit that. But I'm making up for it now.

Anywho, I'm getting to the part where Franklin Roosevelt brought the New Deal to the Great Plains. He saved our banking system, by backing up people's money with the Federal Reserve. More close to my heart, he plants trees throughout the Plains to try and keep our states from blowing away. His famous first 100 days were the kind of progressive action we were all hoping Obama could muster. I've seen those trees those trees that were planted. They have become part of our history.

So while I read this book, my close kinship with Nebraska is getting tied up with FDR for what he did for the Plains.

But while I read, I also remember going to a lecture by a historian who wrote the history of the American Civil Liberties Union. After taking us through a short history of breaches in civil liberties throughout the century, he stopped and asked us who was the single worst president for US civil liberties....

Well, he concluded, it would have to be Franklin Roosevelt. Some presidents suppressed freedom of the press. Others allowed Joseph McCarty to blacklist free thinkers. Nixon was just a (tricky) dick to anyone who spoke out against him.

But Roosevelt actually supported the Japanese Internment. More than 100,000 Japanese people, mostly US citizens were taken from their homes and put in camps during World War II.

Yeah, no duh, I know everyone knows this. But it's a weird quandary for me.

I mean, how much good can one president do in order to make up for that? How many jobs must you create or farms must you save in order for history to view you as a good president (seeing as how history only views presidencies in black and white)? Because in my mind, Roosevelt did the single worst thing a president has ever done (imprisoning tens of thousands of US citizens without cause based on race) but also did some of the best things in our history.

So that's what I'm struggling with while reading this book. I am trying to grapple with the idea of a man who was a savior to so many but at one point was ruthlessly un-America, whatever that means.

I guess at the end of the day, that's just it. He was a man. And we often expect our presidents to be something else. He was just a man. And this is just a book. And that was just a question.

1 comment:

Carol Z said...

Molly, I am glad you are reading the book. Maybe now is a really good place for you to be to read it. Good questions. Life is full of contradictions.