Watching the fifth episode of Ken Burns' 14-hour documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, (each episode is two hours long and so far I have seen them all), I couldn't help but be struck by the mask of ebullience and gregariousness that FDR put on. As George F. Will remarked, the president's smile was probably more responsible for pulling American's of their feeling of hopelessness post-stock market crash than anything else. And while one can't help but admire the act he put on--and he was always "on" when there was someone to see him; the only person to whom he confided his own feelings of despair wasn't him wife, who was decidedly not the worshipful type, but to a distant female cousin who adored him unconditionally--documentary viewers were given an insight to the man that people at the time never had.
One can't help but be reminded of what more than a few people aid about Robin Williams following his suicide--that he was always "on." One cannot even imagine the emptiness that was present when there was no around to be "on" for, and what a toll that that forced ebullience took on him.
And yet FDR managed to mask his own demons just as well as he disguised his physical impairments, the result of a crippling bout of polio. The fact is that the only way he could stand upright and take a few steps--and then only haltingly, and in a sort of ungainly shuffle--was by being locked into leg braces that caused him excruciating pain. That, too, he masked, never for a moment letting on in public that he was suffering, and the sheer force of will it required to get through each and every day, and to do it while being the most pro-active president (many said too pro-active) in American history.
Whether you think his plethora of alphabet programs--from the NRA to the CCC to the TWA and all the rest--succeeded in raising the nation out of the Great Depression (and to its credit, the Burns doc details many of the programs' failures and setbacks), you have to admire the energy behind it. And, at the end of it, America could point to massive infrastructure--bridges, highways, airports, tunnels and dams--that would not have been there had Roosevelt not been president. And when you consider the gazillions of dollars that were squandered by Barack Obama, a Roosevelt wannabe but never-was, on his non-stimulating stimulus, and the fact that when all the money had been spent there was little if anything of substance to show for it--no bridges, highways, airports, tunnels and dams--one can't help but remark to the current POTUS: You, sir, are no FDR.
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