The Un-Rooseveltian Joe Biden

by Conrad Black

There has been a good deal of focus lately on the alleged emulation of Franklin D. Roosevelt by current president Joe Biden.

It is not hard to believe that Biden’s family were Roosevelt supporters. They lived in the coal and steel city of Scranton, Pennsylvania which was hard-hit in the early days of the depression and well served by President Roosevelt’s economic recovery programs and his extension of Social Security and unemployment benefits to American workers.

Roosevelt’s war leadership was respected by practically everyone and the results were practically an unbroken string of American and allied victories from the Battle of the Coral Sea five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor all the way to the dropping of the atomic bombs, four months after FDR’s death.

It would be gratuitous to dwell upon the cavernous differences between their levels of worldliness, eloquence, taste and style, and accomplishment.

Roosevelt’s was an eminent family, and he was multilingual, an alumnus of Harvard and Columbia, a valiant fighter against polio for which his foundation ultimately produced the funding from which the Salk preventive vaccine emerged.

He largely directed the United States Navy in World War I and was a distinguished governor of what was then the nation’s largest state prior to winning four consecutive terms as president.

That Joe Biden does not measure up to such a career is no fault of his; very few people have. And he must not be faulted for either his admiration of Roosevelt or his desire to emulate him.


But such self-association with the cult of Roosevelt does invite some reflections on Mr. Biden’s thoroughly un-Rooseveltian foibles.

The high respect and admiration that Roosevelt earned and retained from tens of millions of Americans throughout his career as a national politician would have been impossible had he cribbed a foreign politician’s stump election speech or routinely stated how tempted he would have been as a young person to take a political opponent out back in high school and beat him up—he was referring to Donald Trump, who has always looked considerably more vigorous than the current president.

The frequent liberties Joe Biden has taken with the truth in referring to episodes in his own career finds no precedent in the record of FDR. Nor do Biden’s long-term flounderings in opinion polls and Democratic Party primaries in the presidential selection process, including last year when he came fifth in the New Hampshire primary with only eleven percent of the vote.

In his two campaigns for the presidential nomination prior to becoming VP, he never reached as high as 2 percent support of his fellow Democrats. None of this bears any resemblance to Roosevelt’s career: he lost an ambitious run for the U.S. Senate at about the same age when Biden won such a campaign in the much smaller state of Delaware.

Apart from that, except when he ran as vice president in 1920 and the country went to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge by a heavy majority, Roosevelt was completely undefeated in four state legislative races, two runs as governor of New York, and four presidential campaigns, and in all of which he carried his party and not the other way around, as we saw last year with Biden.

Light Rapier Strokes

Nor did Roosevelt ever conduct such a monstrous and inexcusable smear job as Joe Biden joined in with Teddy Kennedy in inflicting upon the late Robert Bork, former solicitor general and Supreme Court nominee.

In the Great Depression, Roosevelt focused public anger on groups of people that did not exist: “economic Royalists, war profiteers, monopolists, malefactors of great wealth;” none of these groups actually existed and if FDR had ever named individual families such as Ford, Rockefeller, Morgan, and said that they would pay for the collapsed economic condition of the country, mobs would have burned their houses down.

Even in election campaigns he pierced his opponents with light rapier strokes and left it to subordinates to wield the sledgehammers. In 1944, he unearthed an allegation by a Republican congressional candidate that the president had left his dog behind on an Aleutian island “and had sent a destroyer back to find him at a cost to the taxpayer of two or three or eight or $20 million,” Roosevelt related. His dog, Fala, “is a Scotty … And his Scots soul was furious.”

His opponent, Wendell Wilkie, was left effectively running against the president’s dog. Joe Biden won six straight senatorial elections in the pocket borough of Delaware, but he never had much fun with them or got much notice outside Delaware for any witticisms or innovations.


There is also something slightly annoying about Joe Biden’s pretense to knowing a lot about Roosevelt. The average television viewer the last couple of weeks has seen several times at least Biden’s supposedly knowledgeable historic treatment of Roosevelt’s famous court packing bill of 1937, calling it “a bonehead move.” It wasn’t a bonehead move, it worked.

The Supreme Court did declare the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional, but it had pretty will run its course anyway. Roosevelt’s concern was that they would attack the Tennessee Valley Authority and other major New Deal measures that he considered extremely important.

Even when his Senate leader, Joseph Robinson of Arkansas, told him he could add two justices but no more, he didn’t move. He wasn’t really interested in packing the court—he was interested in frightening it. The court never bothered him again and in the next four years he named seven of its justices anyway.

The president’s meeting ten days ago with the group of historians also seems to be a bit hokey. Michael Beschloss is a journeyman who has never regained the originality of his first book on the relationship between FDR and Joseph P. Kennedy.

John Meacham is even more shopworn: he devised the most unpromising editorial policy in weekly magazine history for Newsweek—columns only but mainly from people no one wished to read and the magazine failed. He wrote a book about Churchill and Roosevelt that never seriously raised the question of why Churchill did not attend Roosevelt’s funeral, which is the chief mystery remaining in that relationship. Meacham wrote his way in as Bush family historian, prior to executing a 180° turn and becoming a Biden speechwriter commenting well on a speech for a television network, unaware that he had written it.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is more formidable but her principal effort in the Roosevelt era, was devoted to the complete myth that Elinor was virtually a co-president.

The meeting all seemed dedicated to the improbable idea that Joe Biden actually knows something about modern presidential history prior to what he has observed himself. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but it does nothing to alleviate the geriatric, otiose, and gimcrack aspects of this administration.

Franklin D. Roosevelt saved the economic system; he sincerely believed what he said to Justice Felix Frankfurter: “I am the greatest friend American capitalism has ever had.” Joe Biden was equally sincere when he said he was the most “progressive Democratic candidate” ever.

But America needed salvation from Roosevelt; it does not need what Biden clearly thinks is a progressive improvement of Americans now. Roosevelt’s presidency was a long series of triumphs. That does not look remotely likely to be replicated by his current admirer in the White House.

First published in Epoch Times.


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