Tracing poignant, heroic last days of FDR

Book Review
By David M. Shribman Globe Correspondent September 02, 2016

We think of him as our longest-serving president, but oftentimes we forget that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, at the moment the United States needed it most, also our most experienced president, the one most accustomed to the burdens and opportunities of the office, most aware of its limits, and most conscious of its broader role in American civic life.

Through four successful elections, a dozen years on the job, his political power and perspective grew amid the cauldron of worldwide depression and armed conflict, with civilization itself seeming in the balance. But over that period, too, FDR’S personal powers of physical vigor and mental clarity were diminishing.

When he died he was only in his early 60s, the second half of those three-score years full of physical discomfort from midlife polio, relentless political warfare from New Deal battles, and the grinding stress of global challenges. It took a great and grave toll. At the end he may have been the world’s best-known 63-year old, but he also was perhaps its weakest and weariest.

Those last months of FDR are the topic of “The Final Battle,” the gripping story masterfully told by Joseph Lelyveld, former executive editor of The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize winning author (“Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White”).

Read more at the Boston Globe

Are Grand American Projects a Thing of the Past?

FDR_w_Gov_Merriam_Benbough_1935
By Ron Bonn | 4 p.m. Sept. 1, 2016

Carl Sandburg memorably called his beloved Chicago, the “City of the Big Shoulders.” The America I grew up in, and that I covered for television news over four historic decades, once was, in truth, the land of the big shoulders. It thought big, did bigger. No more. There has been, I think, a failure of nerve.

These ideas began with a recent steamboat voyage up the lovely Columbia and Snake River systems, through Oregon to Idaho. Our replica stern-wheeler, “American Pride,” locked through eight dams, climbing almost 800 feet across waters once unnavigable. Those dams were part of a vast system, begun under Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, with no small goal: to light the entire Pacific Northwest. Inside the first dam, the Bonneville, 18 dynamos spin endlessly as Columbia races to the Pacific. The infrastructure is immense — two giant power blocks, a spillway damming the entire river, locks, fish ladders. Fourteen great dams in all.

In those same years, in America’s opposite corner, another gargantuan New Deal project — the Tennessee Valley Authority. It may be a polluting nuisance today, but it dragged the rural southeastern United States out of the 19th century and into the 20th within a decade. And all of this was done by us — by government. FDR’s motivation was straightforward: To create jobs, salaries, in the midst of a devastating Depression. Folks who earned those wages would spend them — first, perhaps, on food and medicine, but then on cars, homes — all the time creating new jobs, creating, in fact, a new middle class.

Read more at the San Diego Union Tribune

America’s parks system unites us all

Aug 29, 2016

It is another presidential Roosevelt, the aggressively outdoorsy Theodore, who is most commonly associated with the establishment and promotion of America’s National Park System. It was Theodore’s 1903 camping trip with legendary conservationist John Muir, after all, that led to the long-term protection of the Yosemite Valley. And it was Theodore who created five national parks during his presidency.

The younger Roosevelt, however, also had a deep understanding of what the parks meant to the American psyche. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration used the Civilian Conservation Corps to better the national park system even as the country was mired in the Great Depression. As president, FDR made frequent public trips to the national parks. So did Americans. Even as the country grappled with economic crisis, park attendance skyrocketed.

The elder Roosevelt was a Republican, his younger cousin a Democrat. Both, however, understood how important creating and preserving the park system was to the American experience.

Read more at the Gloucester Times

Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?

By FREDRIK LOGEVALL and KENNETH OSGOODAUG. 29, 2016

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case….

Read more at the New York Times

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal

If Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2016, she will not be the first working woman to exercise power at high levels in the White House day-to-day over the course of a presidential term. Nor was it Madeleine Albright, or Valerie Jarrett, or any of the high-powered, highly-decorated women we so often associate with broken glass ceilings in the highest levels of government.

A strong case could be made that the first woman to wield such power was Marguerite LeHand (better known as “Missy”) who began her day at about 9:25 each morning when, after having coffee and orange juice in her suite on the third floor of the White House and scanning several newspapers, she walked into President Franklin Roosevelt’s bedroom. There, with the president still in bed, wearing an old blue sweater or a navy cape to keep his shoulders warm as he finished his breakfast and read the Congressional Record, she and the president’s other secretaries went over the day’s schedule and other pressing matters before dispersing to their individual offices.

Missy worked as Roosevelt’s private secretary for more than 20 years. They met when she was the campaign secretary for his unsuccessful bid for vice president in 1920, and she became his private secretary at his Wall Street law firm the following year. When he re-entered politics after his long retreat following his paralysis from polio in 1921, her duties kept her going almost 24/7 as Roosevelt rose from governor of New York in 1928 to the presidency in 1932.

Read the full story at Politico.com