I’m talking about the meta-historical meaning of FDR, what he most fundamentally signified – not just for economics or American politics, but for the human spirit. Yes, he coalesced the idea and the form of the modern welfare state. Yes, he created the model for leadership in the age of mass communications. Yes, he defined the normative political consensus for a generation. And yes, he was correct, in the judgment of history, on the two vast challenges with which the country was confronted in his time.
But deeper than that, FDR represented the capacity of human beings to tackle problems on a societal scale, in an age when “societal” meant huge, diverse, complex (in the complex-adaptive-systems sense), global. He was the modern world’s chief historical embodiment of hope – not just rhetorical hope, but functional hope. Whether you agreed with his place on the left-right spectrum or not, whether you saw him defending your interests or goring your ox, there was no gainsaying that he showed
A basic understanding of and reaction to that is what made people elect him four times. That’s what made my grandfather and my parents adore him. That’s what cemented his place in history. That’s what makes his accomplishment continue to resonate today – why it is still the model to emulate for any President of the
FDR made it clear that the world had not become too vast and complex for human beings to handle. He understood that this engine the Founding Fathers had built had extra gears in it, that it could run safely at highway speeds. He saw an
That’s what conservatives distrust, at a deep level – this remarkable confidence in the capacity of oneself and one’s fellow humans to get their arms around great big problems and make things better. It’s also what many on the Left distrust – and why they therefore hang onto archaic Marxist frames, with their teleological absolutism. FDR was the real exemplar of the audacity of hope. And that’s what Barack Obama is failing to live up to, so far.
The roadblocks have been cleared away. He’s got a mandate – a consensus (not just in the
All that remains is the self-knowledge and the boldness to act. And yet, our new president quails before the prospect of such action. Instead, he dithers around with this silly post-partisan kabuki, instead of stepping up to the plate.
It's the substance, stupid.