Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama and FDR: Department of intriguing coincidences

FDR and Obama both went to the same schools, sort of. FDR graduated from Harvard College and attended but didn't quite finish up at Columbia Law School, dropping out after he passed the New York bar exam (as Arthur Schlesinger relates in his "The Age of Roosevelt"). Obama got his undergraduate degree from Columbia and doctor of jurisprudence degree with honors from Harvard Law.


Roosevelt's home was in Hyde Park, N.Y. Obama's is in Hyde Park in Chicago.


FDR appointed Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK, as ambassador to the U.K. Obama is reportedly considering naming Caroline Kennedy, JFK's daughter, to the Court of St. James's.


Columnist Walter Lippmann on FDR (before his first election): "He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President."

Columnist Charles Krauthammer on Obama (before his election): "Has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?"

How soon should Obama start trying to emulate FDR?

Some commentators wish that President-elect Obama in his first press conference Friday had been more Roosevelt-like. Joe Nocera, who writes a thoughtful, and diligently researched, business column for the New York Times, asked, "Where Is FDR When We Need Him?" But Roosevelt didn't become President for more than three and a half years after the Great Depression began. Americans were truly despairing when Roosevelt, in his 1933 inaugural address, said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." So here's Obama, less than two months after the financial meltdown, followed by the diagnosis of a recession of indeterminate force, making his first media appearance -- more than two months before he takes office. For him at this time to pull out the rhetorical stops would be...erratic. On Nov. 4, American voters demonstrated what they thought of impulsive responses to the financial crisis that occurred during the presidential campaign. Obama wisely chose not to offer up a post-election reprise to what his opponent did.

At his press conference, Obama said, emphatically, about the pace of his economic recovery program: "I want to emphasize 'deliberate' as well as 'haste.'"

Since he won't be President for more than two months -- during which time the financial/economic situation may go through continuing volatile changes -- doesn't this make sense?