FDR and the Transformative Presidency: Reading Notes
"Franklin Roosevelt’s Reconstruction," Steven Skowrownek
288-89 Describes FDR’s point of entry into presidential candidacy as a politician with "clean hands," a typical reconstructionist attitude according to Skowrownek. In what way was this a unifying tactic – both for voters and other politicians who felt disaffected by traditional party politics? Keep this question in mind as you read on.
290 Skowrownek uses the word "modernity" on this page and throughout his article. What does he mean by that?
291-292 FDR’s reconstructionist energy
292 The American Liberty League – Roosevelt’s first resistance to New Deal policy
293-294 First comparisons to Andrew Jackson – these appear throughout the article, too. Is it fair to compare FDR to Jackson and, later, Lincoln? In other words, is the fact that they are all committed reconstructionists a good conceit for understanding FDR’s "modern" presidency?
295-297 FDR’s definition of discipline, both in what he expects from the American people and from himself.
297-301 FDR says, "I am a Christian and a Democrat." This statement has a variety of meanings – it’s a way of allying himself with a higher moral order, stating his traditionally progressive position, and separating himself from "the degenerate regime" that preceded his presidency. It’s also a way of separating his American politics from popular political ideologies like fascism, communism, and socialism. From a cumulative standpoint, however, can FDR’s policies be understood without these other ideologies? Do they borrow from socialism and fascism or is FDR’s agenda totally "American" – that is, free from the influence of different political notions?
301-303 Skowrownek’s three cautions for understanding the FDR presidency. Note the beginning of Roosevelt’s invocation of the Constitution.
305-307 Roosevelt’s plan for the National Recovery Administration (306) and two assumptions he made about what the American people wanted from him. These are important because they relate to the Inaugural addresses we read. Do you think Congress was right or wrong to limit FDR’s powers in the NRA? What do you think the American people wanted?
308-313 Outcomes of the NRA
312 Why did FDR meet with less resistance in creating social security, the TVA, etc. in 1936 than he did when pushing the NRA through Congress?
313-315 FDR’s reconstruction proposals are almost unanimously met with rejection…but Congress, the Supreme Court, and political parties turn around and create (or legitimate) similar programs. Skowrownek argues that this relationship between the President and Congress becomes one of the major features of the modern presidency.
316-319 Why political parties, Supreme Court, etc. did not want reorganization that would produce the kind of strong Executive branch FDR envisioned.
319-322 FDR’s use of Constitutional precedent and Skowrownek’s comparison of FDR with Jackson, Jefferson, and Lincoln returns.
322-324 Two big words and one big concept are part of this conclusion: modernity (again), progressivism (again), and Constitutional flexibility. All of them contribute to FDR’s inability to assert the power of the presidency as he wanted – and Skowrownek argues that they are also at the heart of the modern presidency’s ambivalent place in American politics. Why? What does this mean?
In the Shadow of FDR, William E. Leuchtenberg, pp 1-62.
Chapter I: Harry Truman
1-4 Truman assumes power after FDR’s death and is met with an uncertain (if not outright cold) reception from government officials and advisors.
4-7 Roosevelt keeps Truman out of the loop, doesn’t even tell him about the Manhattan Project. Truman harbors a lot of resentment toward FDR for treating him like a clerk (if even that well) during his administration. Was there a political reason behind FDR’s treatment of HST? Do you think this sets a precedent for future relationships between Presidents and their VP’s?
7-10 Truman’s twenty-one point plan. Were his motives for the plan political or ideological?
10-12 Relationship of HST and Eleanor Roosevelt.
12-18 Truman describes himself to Senator Claude Pepper of Florida as politically "middle of the road." Does this make sense with what we’ve read about him previously?
HST’s relationships to Herbert Hoover on one hand and New Dealers like Henry Wallace and Harold Ickes on the other (i.e. "the crackpots and lunatic fringe.")
18-25 HST public persona as a small town man in the big city. Did this image hurt him and, if so, is it an image that is still distasteful to Americans today?
Differences between the Eastern establishment politician and the "down home" regular guy politician. Precursor to George Wallace’s platform later?
Comparison between Truman and Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor)
23 In 1946 Congress sets out to dismantle the New Deal and lay blame on Truman. Interesting conflict here between desire of Congress to take apart FDR’s legislative legacy and their need to use pro-FDR rhetoric to keep public opinion in their favor.
25-33 Truman’s re-election campaign. Challenges at hand: Civil Rights and Southern democrats, keeping New Dealers on his side, winning Eleanor Roosevelt’s support, building a Democratic Coalition.
Compare this account of how HST won the 1948 election with the Grand Expectations reading from a couple of weeks ago. Was it HST’s rallying of his political allies, his charismatic whistle-stop tour, or Dewey’s ineptitude that won him the election? Or a combination of some or all of these?
33-36 Suggestions that HST wins the 1948 election because he associates himself with FDR.
More association with FDR: New Deal to the Fair Deal. How did FDR’s relationship with Congress differ from HST’s?
36-39 HST’s animosity toward Roosevelt and his family.
39-40 HST’s accomplishments. As far as hindsight goes, did FDR’s shadow corrupt an otherwise progressive, somewhat successful liberal presidency for HST? Or did he deserve many of the criticisms – of being too middle of the road, too weak, too uninformed, too quaint -- that plagued him throughout his career?
Chapter II: First Republican Interlude: Dwight D. Eisenhower
41-42 DDE as FDR’s "chosen one."
42-49 DDE’s opinion of FDR as a President. DDE’s politics initially thought to be in-line with FDR’s.
48 DDE’s foreign policy similar to FDR’s – largely because of the influence of his brother Milton, FDR’s special ambassador. DDE’s domestic policy also matches much of FDR’s: social security expanded, labor protected.
49-50 Animosity between DDE and Eleanor Roosevelt is strong.
51 "The First Hundred Days" – a unit of measurement associated with FDR – becomes a standard for measuring Presidential performance. Important point.
52- 57 DDE’s relationship to Congress, the Supreme Court, Democrats and Republicans.
DDE’s opinion of FDR as a personality – DDE is not FDR’s greatest fan
DDE’s opinion of New Deal projects – while he supports programs like social security, he dreams of destroying the TVA and makes disparaging remarks about the WPA. Why is that?
55 DDE claims that the New Deal and Fair Deal are articulations of "European ideals."
57 Leuchtenburg suggests that DDE’s politics might have suited an affluent American society such as he was encountering in the 1950s more than New Deal politics would have. A post-war U.S. was not as interested in experimentation as a pre-war or wartime U.S. might have been. Does this seem accurate? Is it an inclusive point of view, considering the state of Civil Rights at the time?
57-62 Eisenhower deals with ongoing adulation for FDR from Congress, the press, the public. Was the Eisenhower administration a mere interlude, not only for Republicans in a sea of Democrats (who control Congress during DDE’s presidency) but for the public, as well, or did his policies reach further than his presidency?