Franklin Roosevelt (1)

Sunday May 13, 2007

7:25 a.m. All right, looking back I see that I was on the same thing yesterday at the same time: it is time to write again. This morning I thought, write the guidance book and I guess I will. But I read instead, reading the 10th Lanny Budd [the series of novels by Upton Sinclair]. I am at the death of Roosevelt, and it occurs to me that he would not be left out of the discussion on “Hog-ism” as Joseph Smallwood calls it. If Lincoln is part of it, Roosevelt would be part of it.

Mr. Roosevelt, may I have a word? I am learning that there is not much use for tact on your side of the veil, so I won’t try to pretend that I hold you as high as I do Mr. Lincoln, but high enough. It’s harder to approve your conduct these days when so many bad precedents have returned to haunt us. But to your immense credit you did believe in the people, and try to govern the people and not just any part of it. Your words on “hog-ism” and a worldwide anti-slavery society would be invaluable, 62 years and one month after your release from that crippled body.

Frank to Frank, eh? And speaking frankly. Well, certainly, it is a great pleasure always to be putting your shoulder to the wheel – if it is the right cart!

The things I did wrong, or did badly, or didn’t do and should have done, speak for themselves. Perhaps you will find it the hardest thing to bear, initially, as you pass over: You see how much more you might have done, and how much better – if only you’d known! But we don’t see very much, and it is hard to keep our attention on any one thing or set of things, and maybe if we do we petrify somewhat, like an old revolutionary after the war is won who cannot readjust himself to a new condition of things.

We do our best, and that will have to do, and we trust for a lenient judgment when our time comes.

You know, in my defense, I said it right at the beginning of my presidency: We face not a theory but a condition. I did not enjoy the luxury of being able to worry about what my successors 50 years later would think about what I had done, and certainly could not spare the time to worry about what any such successor might do, in very different circumstances. We each do what we can and there is nothing else we can do. We try to do what looks right to us. What could Lincoln know about the depression, or the diplomacy that Woodrow Wilson used to try to keep us out of the first world war? What did Lincoln see of what was being created from what he felt he had to do to meet the emergency he was faced with? In practical terms – and I was a practical man, remember, not a college professor, not a writer, but a politician all my grown days – in practical terms we do the best where we are, and we leave the future to the man of the future. Yes, and the women of the future, too.

However, that said, there is an old saying that you know that says “old men for counsel,” and the reason for it is that we have seen so much, it’s hard to fool us with another round of the same old applesauce. It’s true we may misjudge new facts, but we are less likely than younger men – and women – to misjudge human nature, because facts change, but human nature doesn’t. Lincoln wouldn’t have been much good as a soldier in the line at age 50 and more – but he couldn’t be matched as a soldier in the thinking line. There is an advantage to having seen it all twice, as you ought to be discovering yourself at your age. So, you are using us right, for we all, over here, are the equivalent of wise old men – wise old women, too – as long as you get the right view of us, the completed view, as you would say.

Now what our friend Joseph calls “hog-ism” is very much to the point. It is human nature under very specific circumstances, and if you can change the circumstances you can alleviate them greatly. Don’t count on changing human nature. It may happen but if it does it won’t very likely change in the way you expected to. It will surprise you, every time.

Your worldwide anti-slavery society should take into account a couple of things. People want to stand out, and they want to be as secure as they can be. Nobody wants to think of himself as nobody, and nobody wants to risk being penniless in old age if he has a choice.

Those traits aren’t very variable.

But in a tribe, for instance, where people take care of each other because it is too uncomfortable to see someone go hungry right next to you, and you connected to him by all sorts of ties, direct and indirect –

Sorry, wandered.

Perhaps you should take a break here?

It has only been half an hour, but perhaps so.

When you find yourself working with half your mind elsewhere, you can’t do your best work.

No. All right, back again in a bit.

One thought on “Franklin Roosevelt (1)

  1. I love hearing from FDR. Presidents are human and imperfect. Great Presidents rose to the challenges they were confronted by for our benefit. I don’t know that, other than Lincoln and Washington, any President faced more formidable challenges. My Dad loved FDR and to his deathbed he considered himself a FDR Democrat.

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