Developing Western Countermeasures to Disinformation

Delivered at “The Riga StratCom Dialogue 2017,” NATO STRATCOM CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE, Latvia, 5 July 2017

[Opening remarks, thanks, and prognostication comments]

Western counter-measures will develop along two metrics, one macro and one micro.

At the macro level we must broaden our understanding of what’s going on here, and come to a general agreement about what’s at stake.

We are in a period of quick and dramatic societal change that’s not just technological, but more importantly socio-economic and structural, on a global scale.

This is a period when the way humans organize and govern themselves will shift, and the direction of that shift is what we are contesting.

And at the micro level we need to learn how to apply the lessons from social science, campaign management, and big data to information and influence campaigns.

These lessons are more immediately applicable to the problem and perhaps therefore more exciting, but in all honesty I do not believe they are nearly as important in the long run as the macro understanding.

So… what kinds of cooperation and actions will enable Western countries and alliances to triumph at the macro level?

We will learn to be clear about our ideology, the narratives we use to communicate and support that ideology, and our identities.

I say “identities,” plural, both because multiple identities build resilience in our populations, and because we’re going to learn that there is power in considering oneself not just a good Latvian, but also a good Balt. And also a good European. And simultaneously a good Transatlanticist, and also a worthy child of the Enlightenment.

Cultivating multiple identities will enable us to more effectively coordinate Western voices across boundaries without sacrificing authenticity.

We will increasingly understand that effectively responding to foreign influence requires standing up for who we are and what we believe. And that to do so requires a whole-of-government, and indeed whole-of-society response.

If this sounds challenging, it is. It will require strong and honest leadership, and a willingness to clarify the difference between real threats to our societies – and there are real threats to our societies, from automation to climate change – and conspiracy theories.

Honestly, though, I think many of our leaders are already there. Here’s a quote from Canada’s Foreign Minister Freeland a month ago, discussing the liberal international order:

“Since before the end of the Second World War, beginning with the international conference at Bretton Woods in 1944, Canada has been deeply engaged in, and greatly enjoyed the benefits of, a global order based on rules…. These institutions may seem commonplace now…. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago they were revolutionary. And they set the stage for the longest period of peace and prosperity in our history…. Seventy years ago Canada played a pivotal role in forming the postwar international order. We are now called—by virtue of our unique experience, expertise, geography, diversity and values—to do this again, for a new century.”

And here, speaking the same day, and also in Canada, is President Obama:

“We’re in an environment where we are only accepting information that fits our opinions rather than basing our opinions on the facts that we receive — and evidence and reason and logic…. By the way, that’s been part of our prosperity — the Enlightenment — and we should continue to promote those values.

“[The liberal international order] based not just on military power or national affiliations, but on principle, on rule of law, on human rights, on individual freedoms, on empathy, on understanding across cultures — that’s our only choice. Those of us who believe in those values and believe in democracy have to speak out with conviction. We have to listen, we have to acknowledge imperfect information. We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom, but we have to speak on behalf of those things that we know are true and are right because both the facts and history are on our side.”

As the former president urges, the West will learn to embrace the challenge and have the argument: we will eagerly pit our system of governance against the alternatives. We will openly argue that the Rule of Law, Independent Judiciaries, Electoral Integrity, Representative Government, and Freedom from Corruption are good things, that Liberal Democracy works well and that we like our systems, both domestically and internationally.

We will learn not to debate about which Western actors are Nazis; not to repeat lies about child abductions, or gay mafia plots, or genocidal plans; not to waste any more energy than absolutely necessary in refuting blatant lies about nonexistent bombing errors, or arms deals, or anti-male or anti-white agendas. Instead we’ll learn to re-frame questions – like any good politician – and consistently promote our own, positive, Western narrative.

Which brings me to part two: what does this look like at the micro level?

At the micro level, Western countries and alliances will learn to run information campaigns like political campaigns. We will tap into the rich traditions of research in neuroscience, psychology, social psychology, anthropology, history, economics, political science, and other sciences to help us formulate the most effective methods of promoting our own values, and reframing adversarial campaigns.

We are already pretty good at tracking adversarial narratives. We will next learn to reframe those narratives and replace them with our own.

We will make the truth louder. Not so much with bots as with consistency of messages shared across ministries, governments, and civil society actors; the building of networks, and the identification of credible messengers; and with effective audience analysis to make sure our themes are well adapted to existing preconceptions.

We will learn to be proactive with those audiences, reaching out to them before they encounter disinformation.

We will become better mapping the networks of so-called experts utilized by our adversaries – and better at building networks of our own, replete with messengers credible to our target audiences.

We will prepare memes supporting our narrative and nullifying our adversaries’. Memes designed to break apart unnatural alliances between far left and far right, between loyal domestic opposition and foreign interventionists. Wedge memes, if you will.

We will learn the importance of repetition, repetition, and repetition when it comes to telling our own stories. And of not repeating adversarial or false narratives. We will make the truth louder.

We will not be trapped by our adversaries’ framing of persons or events. Here I quote MacLeans’ Kerry Glavin, describing how the Canadian media handled accusations that their new foreign minister was from a family of Nazis:

“Unfortunately, we’ve all spent a great deal of effort being clever in our elucidations upon how to properly distinguish between a Ukrainian patriot and a Nazi collaborator in the terror time of the 1940s, and about where one might situate the boundaries of Soviet-occupied Eastern Galicia on contemporary maps of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands, and other such boring ephemera. This is what Moscow wanted, and it also wanted the not-especially-bright among us to be wondering out loud and often about whether it might be true that Freeland is a Russophobic Nazi sympathizer who can’t be trusted with the Foreign Affairs portfolio.”

Don’t get trapped in their frame. Discredit it, instead.

In short, we will realize that this is an ideological conflict, a contest of narratives with strategic outcomes.

We’re going to learn to take the fight to the level of meta-narrative, and there we’ll have the argument about which systems of governance are best for the governed.

And we’ll win the argument, because for all our challenges – and the challenges are real – liberal democracy, the post-war international order, and democratic governance are responsive and effective.

Especially compared to corrupt, dysfunctional, kleptocratic, patriarchal autocracies.

[If necessary / time permitting]

Finally, to the question of information activities having a higher profile in Western defense policies and doctrines.

They may not become as predominant in United States defense policy so long as we have by far the largest military and therefore the tendency to view problems and solutions through a steel lens.

Then again, that could change if the military successfully pivots toward a strategic doctrine that emphasizes the non-kinetic phases of “combat,” a process that I’m told is underway – but that I’ve been told “is underway” for probably ten years now.

I’d be interested in hearing from the Americans in this room as to progress around doctrine coping with “human terrain,” “target audience analysis,” “phase zero,” etc.

There’s also the chance that the United States could begin to re-emphasize information activities in civilian agencies, along the lines of our investments during WWII and the Cold War. I really don’t see this happening in the next two years, though. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But… outside of my country I believe we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the understanding of information activities. Especially in Northern Europe, from here in the Baltics straight over to Britain.

This is not surprising since (1) other democracies lack the burden of possessing history’s largest kinetic force and (2) they invented this stuff – some of the most compelling examples of information activities date back to WWI and the interwar period, when France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union pioneered the use of modern technology to fight non-kinetic battles worldwide.

When you look at the current speed of technological change today, and the corresponding empowerment of individuals and non-traditional groupings of individuals, I see tremendous parallels with the interwar period.

I also see a greater clarity back then around the nature of the conflict. The people and organizations working to promote fascism, communism, and liberal democracy were consciously battling to define human destiny. And all sides were convinced they were right.

And this gets me back to my initial point: Western democracies will be well placed to cope with disinformation campaigns when we’re confident enough to reframe them.

I’m confident enough in the the post-war international order broadly, the European experiment specifically, and the Enlightenment tradition ideologically to believe that the West can win the narrative argument… once we learn not to play by our adversaries’ rules.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Defends FDR’s (and the West’s) Challenged Post-War Legacy

Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities

[Slightly cropped and with emphases added by the FDR Foundation. Click the link below to read the full version.]

June 6, 2017 – Ottawa, Canada

…International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question. From Europe, to Asia, to our own North American home, long-standing pacts that have formed the bedrock of our security and prosperity for generations are being tested.

And new shared human imperatives—the fight against climate change first among them—call for renewed, uncommon resolve.

Turning aside from our responsibilities is not an option. Instead we must think carefully and deeply about what is happening, and find a way forward.

Since before the end of the Second World War, beginning with the international conference at Bretton Woods in 1944, Canada has been deeply engaged in, and greatly enjoyed the benefits of, a global order based on rules.

These were principles and standards that were applied, perhaps not perfectly at all times by all states, but certainly by the vast majority of democratic states, most of the time.

The system had at its heart the core notions of territorial integrity, human rights, democracy, respect for the rule of law, and an aspiration to free and friendly trade.

The common volition toward this order arose from a fervent determination not to repeat the immediate past.

Humankind had learned through the direct experience of horror and hardship, Mr. Speaker, that the narrow pursuit of national self-interest, the law of the jungle, led to nothing but carnage and poverty.

Two global conflicts and the Great Depression, all in the span of less than half a century, taught our parents and grandparents that national borders must be inviolate; that international trading relationships created not only prosperity but also peace; and that a true world community, one based on shared aspirations and standards, was not only desirable but essential to our very survival.

That deep yearning toward lasting peace led to the creation of international institutions that endure to this day—with the nations of Western Europe, together with their transatlantic allies, the United States and Canada, at their foundation

In each of these evolutions in how we humans organize ourselves, Canadians played pivotal roles.

There was Bretton Woods itself, where the Canadian delegation was instrumental in drafting provisions of the fledgling International Monetary Fund and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

These institutions may seem commonplace now, Mr. Speaker. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago they were revolutionary. And they set the stage for the longest period of peace and prosperity in our history.

…For a few lucky countries—like Canada and the United States—that feel protected by geography and are good neighbours, the answer is less obvious. Indeed, you could easily imagine a Canadian view that says, we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first.

Here’s why that would be wrong.

First, though no foreign adversary is poised to invade us, we do face clear challenges. Climate change is by definition a shared menace, affecting every single person on this planet. Civil war, poverty, drought and natural disasters anywhere in the world threaten us as well—not least because these catastrophes spawn globally destabilizing mass migrations. The dictatorship in North Korea, crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism and expansionism also all pose clear strategic threats to the liberal democratic world, including Canada.

Our ability to act against such threats alone is limited. It requires cooperation with like-minded countries.

On the military front, Canada’s geography has meant that we have always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella beneath which we have found indirect shelter.

Some think, some even say, we should therefore free ride on U.S. military power. Why invest billions to maintain a capable, professional, well-funded and well-equipped Canadian military?

The answer is obvious: To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state. And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.

Whatever their politics, Canadians understand that, as a middle power living next to the world’s only super power, Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules. One in which might is not always right. One in which more powerful countries are constrained in their treatment of smaller ones by standards that are internationally respected, enforced and upheld.

…Another key benefit for Canada from an international system based on rules, is of course free trade. In this sphere as well, beggar-thy-neighbour policies hit middle powers soonest and hardest. That is the implacable lesson of the 1930s, and the Great Depression. Rising trade barriers hurt the people they are intended to help. They curb growth, stifle innovation and kill employment. This is a lesson we should learn from history. We should not need to teach it to ourselves again through painful experience.

The international order an earlier generation built faces two big challenges, both unprecedented.

The first is the rapid emergence of the global South and Asia—most prominently, China—and the need to integrate these countries into the world’s economic and political system in a way that is additive, that preserves the best of the old order that preceded their rise, and that addresses the existential threat of climate change. This is a problem that simply cannot be solved by nations working alone. We must work together.

…Let us seize the great opportunity we now have to help the people of the world’s fastest-growing countries join the global middle class and the multilateral system that supports it. Peace and prosperity are every person’s birthright. The second great challenge is an exhaustion in the West of the belief among working people, the middle class, that the globalized system can help them better their lives. This is an enormous crisis of confidence. It has the potential, if we let it, to undermine global prosperity itself.

At the root of this anxiety around the world is a pervasive sense that too many people have been left behind, betrayed by a system they were promised would make them better off, but hasn’t.

Here’s the key: it’s true that the system is flawed. But international trade is the wrong target, Mr. Speaker. The real culprit is domestic policy that fails to appreciate that continued growth, and political stability, depend on domestic measures that share the wealth.

Admittedly, this is a complicated problem. If there were easy solutions everybody would be applying them.

But let’s be clear on this point: it is wrong to view the woes of our middle class as the result of fiendish behaviour by foreigners.

The truth is that the nature of work has changed because of profound, and generally benign, global economic innovation. This transformation, driven primarily by automation and the digital revolution, is broadly positive.

Managed fairly, it has the potential to increase prosperity for all—not just the global one percent. That means supporting families, supporting pensioners, and supporting education and retraining—as the Minister of Finance did in his recent budget.

By better supporting the middle class, and those working hard to join it, Canada is defining an approach to globalization that can be a model. At the same time, we strongly support the global 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development, Mr. Speaker. The world abroad and the world at home are not two solitudes. They are connected.

Likewise, by embracing multiculturalism and diversity, Canadians are embodying a way of life that works. We can say this in all humility, but also without any false self-effacement: Canadians know about living side-by side with people of diverse origins and beliefs, whose ancestors hail from the far corners of the globe, in harmony and peace. We’re good at it. Watch how we do it.

…In short, Canadian liberalism is a precious idea. It would not long survive in a world dominated by the clash of great powers and their vassals, struggling for supremacy or, at best, an uneasy détente.

Canada can work for better, Mr. Speaker. We must work for better.

Let me pause here and address the United States, directly. As the Prime Minister said last week: Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the U.S. federal government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.

That said, we will continue to seek opportunities for constructive progress on the environment, wherever we can find them, with our counterparts in Washington and across the great United States, at all levels of government and with partners in business, labour and civil society.

As I have said, we Canadians can rightly be proud of the role we played in building the postwar order, and the unprecedented peace and prosperity that followed.

Yet even as we celebrate our own part in that project, it’s only fair for us to acknowledge the larger contribution of the United States. For in blood, in treasure, in strategic vision, in leadership, America has paid the lion’s share.

The United States has truly been the indispensable nation, Mr. Speaker. For their unique, seven-decades-long contribution to our shared peace ‎and prosperity, and on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to profoundly thank our American friends.

As I have argued, Canada believes strongly that this stable, predictable international order has been deeply in our national interest. And we believe it has helped foster peace and prosperity for our ‎southern neighbours, too.

Yet it would be naive or hypocritical to claim before this House that all Americans today agree. Indeed, many of the voters in last year’s presidential election cast their ballots, animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership. To say this is not controversial: it is simply a fact.

Canada is grateful, and will always be grateful, to our neighbour for the outsized role it has played in the world. And we seek and will continue to seek to persuade our friends that their continued international leadership is very much in their national interest—as well as that of the rest of the free world.

Yet we also recognize that this is ultimately not our decision to make. It is a choice Americans must make for themselves.

The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.

We will follow this path, with open hands and open hearts extended to our American friends, seeking to make common cause as we have so often in the past. And indeed, as we continue to do now on multiple fronts—from border security, to the defence of North America through NORAD, to the fight against Daesh, to our efforts within NATO, to nurturing and improving our trading relationship, which is the strongest in the world.

And, at the same time, we will work with other like-minded people and countries who share our aims.

Mr. Speaker, to put this in sharper focus, those aims are as follows:

First, we will robustly support the rules-based international order, and all its institutions, and seek ways to strengthen and improve them.

We will strongly support the multilateral forums where such discussions are held—including the G7, the G20, the OAS, APEC, the WTO, the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, the Arctic Council, and of course NATO and the UN.

A cornerstone of our multilateral agenda is our steadfast commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance. Our bond is manifest in CETA, our historic trade agreement with the European Union—which we believe in and warmly support—and in our military deployment this summer to Latvia.

There can be no clearer sign that NATO and Article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.

We will strive for leadership in all these multilateral forums. We are honoured to be hosting the G7 next year, and we are energetically pursuing a two-year term on the UN Security Council. We seek this UN seat because we wish to be heard. For we are safer and more prosperous, Mr. Speaker, when more of the world shares Canadian values.

Those values include feminism, and the promotion of the rights of women and girls.

It is important, and historic, that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim ourselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.

…We are proud of the role Canada has played in creating a rules-based international trading order. We believe in the WTO and will continue our work to make it stronger, and more responsive to the needs of ordinary people in Canada and around the world.

We believe in progressive trade that works for working people. That is why we are very proud that this month, Canada will ratify the last of the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization.

In summary, we will be tireless in pursing our national interest, tireless in upholding progressive Canadian values, tireless in working to create a rules-based international order for the 21st century. Seventy years ago Canada played a pivotal role in forming the postwar international order. We are now called—by virtue of our unique experience, expertise, geography, diversity and values—to do this again, for a new century.

Mr. Speaker, these are ambitious objectives. There is no guarantee of success.

We set them, not in the assumption that success will come easily, but in the certain knowledge that it will not. We will venture, in noble and good causes. We will risk. We will enjoy victories—and we will suffer defeats. But we will keep working toward a better world, Mr. Speaker, because that is what Canadians do.

Let me conclude on a personal note.

A popular criticism today of the argument I am making here, is that all such ideas are abstract, perhaps of interest to the so-called Laurentian elite, or the media, or the Ottawa bubble, but not at all relevant to “real” Canadians.

That line of reasoning is the ultimate, elite condescension; it is nonsense. And in reply, I offer the example of my grandfather, John Wilbur Freeland.

He was born in Peace River, Alberta—the son of a pioneer family. Wilbur was 24 in 1940, and making a bit of a living as a cowboy and boxer. His nickname was “Pretty Boy” Freeland.

My grandpa was the opposite of an Upper Canada elite. But in the darkest days of the Second World War, Wilbur enlisted to serve. Two of his brothers, Carleton and Warren, joined up too. Wilbur and Carleton came home. Warren did not.

My grandfather told me‎ they signed up partly for the excitement—Europe, even at war, was an exotic destination for the youths of the Peace Country.

But there was more to it than a young man’s thirst for adventure. My grandfather was one of a generation of Canadians who intuitively understood the connection between their lives, and those of people they’d never met, whose speech they couldn’t comprehend, who lived on a continent so far away as to constitute, back then, another world.

That generation of Canadians—the Greatest Generation, we call them, with good reason—had survived the Great Depression. They were born in the aftermath of the First World War. They appreciated viscerally that a world without fixed borders or rules for the global economy, was a world of strife and poverty. They sought to prevent that from ever happening again.

That is why they risked and gave their lives to fight in a European war. That is why, when they came home, they cheerfully contributed to the great project of rebuilding Europe and creating a postwar world order. That is why they counted themselves lucky to be able to do so.

They were our parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents. The challenge we face today is significant, to be sure. But it pales next to the task they faced, and met.

Our job today is to preserve their achievement, and to build on it; to use the multilateral structures they created as the foundation for planetary accords and institutions fit for the new realities of this century.

They rose to their generation’s great challenge. And so can we.

The Real 100 Days

Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his inaugural address, March 4, 1933. Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, image 48224291.

The chronically insecure Richard Nixon appointed a Hundred Days Group to try to ensure passage of the requisite amount of legislation in his first hundred days.

Newt Gingrich declared one in 1995, pledging that the Contract with America would be passed in one hundred days.

In 2011 Andrew Cuomo congratulated himself on a successful first hundred days when the New York legislature passed an on-time budget for the first time in many years.

And so it has been for elected officials since 1933—many of them trying to evoke for themselves the warm glow of accomplishment that accrued to Franklin Roosevelt after his famous first hundred days, March 9 to June 16, 1933.

Much is being made today about the impending end of President Trump’s first hundred days and whether his record of accomplishment will live up to his promises. But it was the news media, not Franklin Roosevelt, who gave the benchmark its name. Its origins might give students of history pause.

The first “first hundred days” marked the period between Napoleon’s return from exile on the island of Elba on March 20, 1815, the turbulent battles including his defeat at Waterloo that ensued, and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII—under escort from the Duke of Wellington—on July 8, 1815. (It was actually a period of 111 days, but the French are not such sticklers for precision in the face of a grand pronouncement.) Thus it was the prefect of Paris, Gaspard, Comte de Chabrol, who first used the term “les Cent Jours” in welcoming the return of the king and the Bourbon monarchy. Were the newsmen of 1933 being ironic in dubbing the Roosevelt’s first months in office a modern-day “cent jours”?

We will never know, but it may be worth revisiting the historical context of the modern concept of the hundred days. Roosevelt took office at a time of unparalleled national despair. Trump may have described the country as beset by American “carnage” in his inaugural, but it is impossible for us to imagine the state of the nation when Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933.

A string of bank closings beginning on February 14 had sent the nation’s financial system into a new crisis.  Most of the nation’s banks were closed. On inauguration morning the governors of Illinois and New York closed the Chicago and New York stock exchanges.

These were the final weeks of what historians have come to call the “interregnum,” the seemingly interminable four months between the election and inauguration of FDR. After this terrifying episode of presidential limbo, Inauguration Day was changed from March 4 to January 20.

But the conditions in 1933 were just the most recent in a series of economic disasters. Since 1929 the Great Depression—the deepest and longest in our history—had tested the endurance of Americans. Eighty years later the grim statistics of life in the United States in 1933 remain shocking.

Depression era breadline, New York City, 1932. Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, image 7420(244).

In a population of about 125 million, one in four workers was jobless.  In industrial cities like Youngstown, Ohio, close to three-quarters were unemployed.

Nineteen million Americans depended upon meager relief payments to survive. There was no national safety net.

Those lucky enough to have jobs earned (on average) 30 percent less than three years earlier.

Over 1,300 municipalities—and many states—had defaulted on their obligations to creditors.

Two statistics, selected from thousands, capture the sense of paralysis that gripped the nation.

  • In 1929 the US Steel Corporation—a cornerstone of the American economy—boasted 225,000 full-time employees. In 1933 it did not have a single full-time worker.


  • The nation’s farmers were in even worse shape. Farm prices fell 53 percent from 1929 to 1932; farm income fell 70 percent. By early 1933, 45 percent of farmers were delinquent on their mortgages.

Violence erupted at farm foreclosure sales and the homeless gathered in tent cities called Hoovervilles.

Some voices, fired by desperation and fear, even called for a suspension of constitutional government and near-dictatorial powers for the president. Instead the new president famously declared in his first Inaugural Address:

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

He called for “action, and action now.”

Immediately on taking office, the banking crisis consumed the president and his advisors.  Columbia law professor Raymond Moley, head of Roosevelt’s Brain Trust, and the new Treasury Secretary William Woodin worked day and night with Hoover’s financial team, including former Secretary of the Treasury Ogden Mills and other holdovers from the previous administration.

The plan they adopted was essentially that of Hoover’s team, a conservative approach designed to save rather than subvert the capitalist system.

On his first full day in office, by executive order, Roosevelt declared a four-day national banking holiday effective Monday, March 6.

He then called Congress to Washington in special session. Their first task was to pass legislation under which the banks could be reorganized and reopened.

On March 8, to explain the banking plan, FDR held the first of the 997 press conferences of his twelve-year presidency.

On March 9, five days after his inauguration, he signed the Emergency Banking Relief Act. It gave him broad discretionary powers over banking and currency and was introduced, passed, and signed in less than eight hours.

Roosevelt’s advisors believed it was key to get people to deposit, not withdraw, their savings from the banks. To explain the plan to the public, the president delivered his first Fireside Chat, on banking, on March 12.

In plain language Roosevelt spoke to the America people as if speaking to a single family gathered around their firesides.

He calmly and clearly explained the reorganization. “My friends,” he said, “ I want to talk for a few minutes . . . about banking. . . . I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.” He explained the phased reopening of the banks, concluding by asking the public to return their savings to the reorganized banks. “My friends,” he assured them, “it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress.” Amazingly, people returned their precious savings to the re-opened banks.

The people also began a national conversation with their new president. In the week following his inauguration, more than 460,000 people wrote to FDR. He was forced to replace Hoover’s one mailroom clerk with a staff of fifty; over the course of his presidency, an average of six thousand people a day wrote to their president.

On March 16 Roosevelt decided to keep Congress in session to move forward on the relief and reform measures that would address systemic problems in the financial system, agriculture, and industry—and meet the immediate problems of food, shelter, and work for the suffering masses.

The list that follows is the standard of accomplishment that has proved an elusive benchmark for every president who followed.

March 20, Economy Act. Ironically, an attempt to reduce the budget—this act cut veterans’ pensions, reduced federal salaries by 15 percent, and reorganized several government agencies. It was the opening salvo of the New Deal. Like most Democrats, FDR believed a balanced budget would put the government on sound financial footing. So the regular federal budget actually contracted even as the new emergency spending skyrocketed. He believed the Economy Act would save $500 million; the actual saving was about $240 million. The real value was probably in terms of morale, a signal of the new administration’s determination to act decisively.

March 22, Beer–Wine Revenue Act. As the repeal of the Volstead Act of 1919 made its way through the states, the Beer–Wine Revenue Act legalized the sale of wine and beer that contained no more than 3.2 percent alcohol—and people rejoiced. The act went into effect on April 7. The 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment, was enacted on December 5, ending the failed experiment of Prohibition.

March 31, Civilian Conservation Corps Reconstruction Relief Act. This act created 250,000 road construction, soil erosion, flood control, national park, and reforestation jobs for young men on relief between the ages of 18 and 25. Those employed received $30.00 weekly, $25.00 of which was sent to their families. The CCC employed more than two million young men (referred to as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army”) by the end of 1941 and is credited by some historians with a vital role in preparing young men for the war effort.

April 19, Abandonment of Gold Standard (executive order). This brought about a decline in the dollar value abroad, but commodity, stock, and silver prices increased on American exchanges.

May 12, Federal Emergency Relief Act. This act vastly enlarged and reorganized Hoover’s Emergency Relief Act. It was administrated by Harry L. Hopkins and was replaced by the WPA in 1935. Half of the $500 million appropriation was allotted to the states.

May 13, Agricultural Adjustment Act. At the time about 30 percent of the American workforce was agricultural. The AAA was designed to raise farm prices by cash subsidies or rental payments to farmers in exchange for curtailment of production and by establishing parity prices for certain basic commodities. Funds came from taxes levied on farm product processors. This feature of the AAA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936.

May 18, Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This act authorized the TVA to construct dams and power plants and to produce and sell electric power and nitrogen fertilizers in a seven-state region. It inaugurated Roosevelt’s vision for progressive land and social reform, model communities, and resettlement, reforestation, and agricultural educational programs.  It also provided the basis for the Sunbelt, the industrial development of the Tennessee Valley. Between 1933 and 1945, electrification grew from about 2 percent to 75 percent of the population in the Tennessee Valley.

May 27, Federal Securities Act. This act required most new securities issued to be registered with the Federal Trade Commission and established the Securities and Exchange Commission.

June 5, Abandonment of Gold Standard. FDR signed the gold repeal joint resolution—which canceled the gold clause in all federal and private obligations—making all debts and contractual agreements payable in legal tender.

June 13, Home Owners Refinancing Act. This act authorized the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to refinance nonfarm mortgage debts. HOLC made loans on about one million mortgages by June 1936, or about 20 percent of the nation’s mortgages.

June 16, National Industrial Recovery Act. This act created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and established regulatory codes for control of numerous industries. Employers were exempted from antitrust action; employees were guaranteed collective bargaining and minimum wages and maximum hours. The second section of the act established the Public Works Administration (PWA), which provided employment by public works construction. The PWA spent more than $4 billion on 34,000 public works projects. In 1935 the Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional.

June 16, Glass–Steagall Act. The Glass–Steagall Act created the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guaranteed bank deposits, separated investment from commercial banking to halt speculation with deposits, and widened the powers of the Federal Reserve Board. The Graham–Leach Act of 1999 repealed important provisions of this act, leading—many observers say—to the abuses that resulted in the recession that started in 2008.

June 16, Farm Credit Act. This act reorganized agricultural credit activities and agencies.

June 16, Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. This act created the office of federal coordinator of transportation and gave the Interstate Commerce Commission supervision over railroad holding companies. It tried to smooth out operating duplications and inefficiencies and required national railroads to limit layoffs due to consolidation.


And then — and only then — Franklin Roosevelt took a vacation. He left Washington for a sailing vacation and returned to the family vacation home on Campobello Island, for the first time since contracting polio there in 1921.


Adlai & Eleanor: Progressives Who Shaped the World

Adlai Stevenson II

It’s one of the great ironies of history that Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in April 1945, less than a month before the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Despite FDR’s strong leadership and immeasurable contributions to that success, his ultimate but unrealized dream was to participate in the creation of a new world body that would bring nations together to build a lasting peace. That dream could well have died with him in the devastated aftermath of the Second World War. Instead the United Nations was brought to life in 1945 by the selfless, dedicated work of many people, but perhaps most importantly by the tireless efforts and contributions of two gifted individuals who became political allies and close friends, the President’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s public service background particularly her selfless, decades long efforts as “the President’s eyes and ears” is generally well known to the American public. However, it was her important post-war efforts that perhaps gave her the most pleasure, particularly her work in the foundation and development of the United Nations, as well as what became a close personal friendship – indeed an alliance – with Adlai Stevenson. In fact, by 1948 their relationship had developed to the point that Mrs. Roosevelt played a key role in convincing Mr. Stevenson to run for Governor of Illinois and later to twice seek the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination – in 1952 and 1956.

Like Mrs. Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson was the product of a wealthy, well connected and politically active family. Mr. Stevenson’s maternal great grandfather, Republican Jesse Fell, had been a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and served as the future President’s campaign manager in 1858. His paternal grandfather and namesake had been vice president during Democrat Grover Cleveland’s second term. In 1900 the elder Stevenson again ran for vice president with the renowned orator, William Jennings Bryan, this time unsuccessfully. In that same year, Adlai Stevenson II was born.

Young Stevenson attended Choate, a well-regarded boarding school in Connecticut, and then Princeton University, editing the undergraduate newspapers at both schools. He attended Harvard Law briefly, but found his studies “uninteresting.” After failing several classes, he withdrew. He returned to his Bloomington, Illinois home, and began working for the family-owned newspaper, The Daily Pantagraph, which has been founded by his grandfather and was the source of much of the family wealth. After a chance meeting with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, his interest in the law was rekindled. Stevenson entered Northwestern University and eventually became a lawyer practicing law in Chicago. In 1928 he had married – and 20 years later divorced – Ellen Borden, a wealthy socialite who gave him three sons he adored: Adlai III, Borden and John Fell.

In 1933, Stevenson was one of the bright, young lawyers who emigrated to Washington to participate in the newly elected president’s efforts in structuring what became known as the New Deal, designed to bring America out of the Great Depression. Stevenson’s first two years in the Capitol were spent as Special Counsel to the recently formed Agricultural Adjustment Administration organized to help the country’s struggling farmers. After two years, Mr. Stevenson returned to Chicago to practice law. His strong interest in America’s future led him to serve a one-year term as president of the Chicago Counsel of Foreign Relations. He also became the Chicago chairman of the William Allen White Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. At the start of World War II, Mr. Stevenson returned to Washington to serve as Special Assistant to President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. In 1945, then Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, appointed Mr. Stevenson as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Archibald MacLeish to work on the establishment of the United Nations.

The United Nations shield, which shows a polar view of the globe, was chosen by FDR as he felt it better represented a non-western biased view of the world

Upon President Roosevelt’s death in April, vice president Harry Truman became his successor and soon invited Mrs. Roosevelt to join the U.S. delegation at the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to be held in February, 1946 in London. Mr. Stevenson also became an early participant in the organization of the UN – attending the new institution’s first organizational meeting in San Francisco in 1945. He later played a key-role in the workings of a “preparatory commission” which met in London in the fall of 1945 and early 1946. Mr. Stevenson’s early involvement with the UN is important to understanding his lifetime commitment to his country’s position in a changing and increasingly dangerous world.

On September 4, 1945 Mr. Stevenson sailed for England to assume an important role in the organization’s first organizational meetings. Adlai Stevenson was in impressive company – Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, Former Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, and Charles “Chip” Bohlen, the State Department’s Russian expert who had served as President Roosevelt’s translator at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. In the fall of 1945, however, he spent a good deal of time with Mr. Stevenson on the voyage across the Atlantic discussing U.S. – Soviet relations. Bohlen was deeply impressed by his new colleague, especially by “the freshness and sensitivity of his mind and his civilized approach to world problems”.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson (to her immediate right) at the United Nations, 1946

Mr. Stevenson’s work at the New World body after his organizing efforts was initially devoted during the U.N.’s first General Assembly in early 1946, helping to pass its first 103 resolutions. During the formative period in London, Mr. Stevenson began to know Mrs. Roosevelt, first at evening social events, then professionally during the General Assembly’s second session in October, 1946. As Mr. Stevenson noted in his diary on October 2nd:

“[we] discussed politics, languages, and education. Everything confirms [my] convictions that she is one of the few really great people to have known.”

Despite their evolving bond, they sometimes underwent lengthy periods out of touch with each other due to their respective schedules and commitments. For example, one of Mrs. Roosevelt’s most demanding efforts was her position as a Chairlady of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which she held for several years. From the perspective she gained from working together, Mrs. Roosevelt believed Mr. Stevenson possessed the same qualifications as her late husband…urbane, articulate and highly intelligent.

In 1947, Mrs. Roosevelt encouraged Mr. Stevenson to run for Governor of Illinois. Once again, Mr. Stevenson chose public service over his law practice. Stevenson was also the chosen candidate of Jacob Avery, the leader of the powerful Chicago Democratic political organization. His opponent was incumbent Republican Dwight Green who had presided over a state administration that was widely viewed as corrupt. Mr. Stevenson upset Green by 572,067 votes, a record margin over all previous gubernatorial elections in Illinois.

Governor Stevenson’s “clean-up” administration was highly effective and propelled him to national recognition among Democrats. As noted in the papers of Eleanor Roosevelt –

“He attacked political corruption in the state…reorganized the Illinois government, improved infrastructure, fought organized crime and drew additional [national] attention when he resoundingly vetoed the Broyles loyalty ‘oath bill’.”

During his four-year term (1948-1952), Mr. Stevenson called “Gov” by many, demonstrated his very unique sense of humor. When the Illinois legislature passed a bill dealing with roaming cats declaring they were a public nuisance, Governor Stevenson vetoed the bill and publicly stated:

It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of un-escorted roaming, the problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to solve it by legislation who knows but what we will be called upon to take sides in the age old problem of dog versus cat, bird versus bird or even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the state of Illinois and its local governing leaders already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency. For these reasons, and not because I love birds the less or cats the more, I veto and withhold my approval from Senate Bill Nol. 931.”

Stevenson’s strong  term as governor, together with his intelligent and engaging speaking skills, had generated a national following. In early 1952, while Governor Stevenson was still in office, President Truman announced he would not seek the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1952. Mrs. Roosevelt urged Governor Stevenson to run for the nomination. President Truman, after considering several other potential candidates, met with Mr. Stevenson in Washington and suggested the soon to be ex-Governor run with his support. A “draft Stevenson” movement had begun in the spring of 1952 led by friends like George Ball, a banker and eventual long time diplomat. Ball would later write of Stevenson –

“He lighted up the sky like a flaming arrow, lifting political discussion to a level of literacy, eloquence, candor and honor that tapped unsuspected responses in the American electorate.”

But it was his friend and political soulmate, Eleanor Roosevelt that in looking back put the Governor’s candidacy in bold perspective.

“In 1952, it was my opinion that Governor Stevenson would probably make one of the best Presidents’ we ever had.”

Stevenson, however, continued to insist into the summer of 1952 that he intended to run for re-election as Governor of Illinois and “no other office.” The pro-Stevenson sentiment within the Democratic Party carried the day and in late July the Governor of Illinois was nominated to run against President Eisenhower in the fall. He had not run in any State primaries. Accordingly, the well-respected New York Times columnist Arthur Kroch told Mr. Stevenson “I think you may be one of the true drafts in our political history.”

Mrs. Roosevelt acknowledged after the fact that Governor Stevenson’s victory was virtually impossible due to the American public’s hero worship of General Eisenhower who represented “Victory in Europe.” Although he was beaten badly by the General in the 1952 election, Stevenson pulled 3 million more votes than President Truman had over his Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, in 1948. Governor Stevenson never came even close to losing his sense of humor. When the powerful Connecticut Republican Stewart Alsop called him an “egg head” based on his baldness and his intellectual, academic air, Stevenson joked “Eggheads of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your yolks.”  Following another speech in the 1952 campaign, a lady came up to him and offered:

Truman campaigning for Stevenson, 1952

“Oh, Mr. Stevenson, your speech was positively superfluous.” To which he replied, “Thank you madam, I’ve been thinking about having it published posthumously.” “Oh, that will be nice. The sooner the better.”

Impervious to defeat, in 1953  Stevenson undertook an ambitious but exhausting world trip, reminiscent of Wendell Willkie’s One World journey after losing the 1940 election to President Roosevelt. Mr. Stevenson traveled through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Stevenson arguably enjoyed a greater success than Willkie, because he spent a considerable amount of his time listening to the ordinary people of the countries he visited. Listening was one of Ambassador Stevenson’s greatest attributes. On the world stage democracy faced an enormous and threatening challenge from the rise of communism in the 1950’s. Stevenson, always listening, talked of America’s strengths and the future promise the United States offered for the world. He almost always spoke to large crowds of cheering ordinary citizens of the countries he visited. Upon his return, Stevenson, although exhausted, told a group of his supporters “we carried all of Asia”. He also spoke to many leaders with persuasive yet diplomatic understanding of the delicate position they were in at the time due to the largely forgotten struggle between democracy and communism in the 1950’s.


Notwithstanding his 1952 loss to Eisenhower, Mr. Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt essentially became the inspirational – if not the de facto – leaders of the Democratic Party in the 1950’s. It seems Stevenson felt that he needed to share his world view — perhaps to strengthen a potential run against President Eisenhower in 1956. In any event, he campaigned vigorously for the party’s candidates in the 1954 mid-term elections despite having undergone kidney surgery in April of that year. On the campaign trail, he hammered three issues which strongly resound in today’s politics: foreign policy, the domestic economy and internal security. Ambassador Stevenson’s leadership and hard work produced Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as 9 new governorships. He also was able to wipe out his party’s $800,000 debt – a significant amount at the time. His party leadership in 1954 certainly helped and appeared to assure his nomination two years later.

The two friends didn’t always agree however.  In May of 1954 the United States Supreme Court handed down a unanimous landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education arising out of segregation in the public school system of Topeka, Kansas. The Court’s opinion held the “separate but equal” doctrine the Court had established in 1886 was unconstitutional. Mrs. Roosevelt was one of the country’s strongest advocates for civil rights.   In 1945, she had accepted an invitation to serve on the Board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“the NAACP”) and was elected the co-chair of the organization. When the NAACP moved for defunding non-compliant school districts, Mr. Stevenson took a significantly different approach urging “gradual implementation of the Court’s decision.” His position was regarded as less than satisfactory for the Democratic Party’s liberal standard bearer. Despite the Governor’s strong commitment to minority rights throughout his career, some thought Stevenson’s muted reaction was influenced by his view that a strong negative response to the Court’s decision in the Southern States could lead to the breakup of the Democratic Party. Fortunately, Stevenson’s tepid stance and mild estrangement from Mrs. Roosevelt was short lived. On her forthcoming birthday he wrote her:

“Personally, I am not sure we should celebrate your birthday or that we should be reminded that time passes for you as for the rest of us. There are some people for whom time seems to stand still and who can bridge all the generations by their interval on earth, but they are very rare. You are one, and for me, you will always be the same age, and no age”.

While Stevenson and Mrs. Roosevelt were invigorating the Democratic Party, a junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, was leading a well-publicized campaign to rid the Federal Government and American society of so-called “subversives” or “communists”. Mr. Stevenson regarded McCarthy’s reckless statements and actions as highly corrosive and irresponsible both in the United States and abroad. Accordingly, Stevenson attacked McCarthy’s vitriol with what many regarded and supported as uncharacteristically strong force while President Eisenhower again remained relatively silent and “above the fray” — presumably thinking that McCarthy’s nasty program would help the Republican cause. But “McCarthyism” finally was censored by the House of Representatives in December, 1964 although its hateful activities would linger.

Stevenson Running for President in 1956

In 1956 Mr. Stevenson was again his party’s nominee to run against President Eisenhower’s pursuit of a second term. Eisenhower, notwithstanding the President’s preoccupation with the Soviet Union and the intensifying Cold War, won reelection by an even larger margin than he had in 1952. Mr. Stevenson had clearly, once again, not lost any of his trademark sense of humor when he responded to reporters: “The President was so far ahead of me that I was lucky to come in second.”

Despite two successive presidential losses, Stevenson was initially interested in the possibility of a third attempt in 1960. While Mrs. Roosevelt initially supported him in the early days, his close friend eventually threw her considerable assistance to Massachusetts Senator, John F. Kennedy.

After Jack Kennedy won the 1960 election, he felt he should offer Governor Stevenson a significant position in the new administration. Over the objections of his brother, Robert Kennedy, the President however offered Mr. Stevenson his choice of Attorney General, Secretary of State or Ambassador to the United Nations. Despite his earlier expression of a desire to be Secretary of State, Mr. Stevenson chose the United Nations position where he distinguished himself by diligently working on international cooperation while diplomatically maintaining America’s interests. President Kennedy assured his new Ambassador that he would play an important role in all major policy decisions, but that turned out not always to be the case.

After the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco (about which Stevenson was not consulted), Soviet Premier Khrushchev offered to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When American U-2 surveillance aircraft confirmed the expedited construction of missile launch sites and the presence of a quantity of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Cuba in October of 1962, President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of the island. This time Ambassador Stevenson was fully informed and prepared. At an emergency meeting of the Security Council, Ambassador Stevenson forcefully asked the Soviet representative Valerian Zorin if Russia was installing missiles in Cuba, concluding with the now famous demand “Don’t wait for the translation, answer yes or no!” When Zorin appeared to refuse to answer the question, Stevenson strongly retorted: “Sir, I am prepared to wait for my answer until Hell freezes over.” Ambassador Stevenson then showed U-2 photographs that proved the existence of the missiles in Cuba. The Soviets reluctantly honored the blockade as several of their warships approached Cuban waters. The warships turned around rather than challenge the blockade. They went on to withdraw their missiles, preventing a nuclear confrontation.

Adlai Stevenson discussing his recent European trip with President Kennedy 3 August 1961.

Ambassador Stevenson’s exemplary statesmanship at the United Nations was followed by a succession of tragedies – the first coming immediately after the Cuban missile crisis. Eleanor Roosevelt died in November 1962 following multiple complications after being struck by a car while walking in Manhattan in November 1960. At her memorial service at the United Nations, Mr. Stevenson eulogized his beloved partner by sadly saying he had lost more than a friend, He had “lost an inspiration: for she would rather light candles than curse the darkness and her glow had warmed the world.” At the end of his heartfelt and moving words he quoted a phrase used years before by President Truman: “the passing of this great and gallant human being who was called ‘The First Lady of the World’.”

Cora Ferguson, with tongue sticking out, hits Ambassador Stevens with a protest sign, Dallas October 25, 1963

The death of Eleanor Roosevelt was followed a short year later by the shocking assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963. Dallas had become what many called the “City of Hate” largely due to the anti-United Nations, anti-Washington vituperative bias generated by a far right group known as the John Birch Society headquartered in Dallas and founded by a retired Army General Edwin Walker.

Ambassador Stevenson was in Dallas at the time to speak about the United Nations. While he was used to the hostile crowds, one particular appearance was both beyond shocking as well as personally dangerous. Mr. Stevenson was shouted down and had to be escorted off the stage by Dallas policemen. In the riotous confusion a woman screamed at him “who elected you Adlai” and hit him over the head with a sign. When a policeman was getting ready to arrest the woman, Ambassador Stevenson calmly and with his characteristic grace said: “I don’t want her to go to jail; I want her to go to school!” Several days later, Mr. Stevenson was visiting his son, John Fell, in San Francisco and called the White House to warn the Secret Service that the atmosphere in Dallas was ugly, frightening and dangerous. He strongly advised the President’s advisors and the Secret Service that President Kennedy should forego the trip. The President went anyway, with tragic results.

Stevenson sitting under an oak at his Illinois farm.

A little over a year later, America lost another of its greatest statesmen when Adlai Stevenson died of a massive heart attack while walking in London with his friend Marietta Tree. Only days before his death, the Ambassador had a long conversation with journalist Eric Sevareid at the US Embassy. They discussed Stevenson’s frustrations with Vietnam and other foreign entanglements. He told Sevareid that longed to resign, and return to his farm in Libertyville and “sit in the shade under that tree with a glass of wine in my hand and watch the people dance.”

Hopefully this great man has been joined under that tree by his equally great and dear friend, Eleanor Roosevelt, where they can watch the dancing together.

Trump Isn’t the First President to Have a Private Resort

But he is the first one to turn it into a playground for his wealthy friends.


“…Only one other president’s executive outpost, however, was also his own private resort. That distinction falls to Franklin Roosevelt, who built a sprawling facility in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he regularly escaped the pressures of Washington, D.C.

In some ways Warm Springs wasn’t so different from Mar-a-Lago. Both compounds had swimming pools, a golf course, a dining hall and private quarters for the president. Both became the weekend nerve center of the federal government. Both relied on contributions from wealthy individuals.

There, however, the similarities end.

FDR built his club to care for people stricken by polio—many of them poor, and most of them children; he reveled in their companionship. Warm Springs was where FDR developed a deep and abiding empathy with those who had been left behind by life, and in some ways, it was the birthplace of his liberal outlook.

Trump, on the other hand…”

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