Rip Walsh is an Adjunct Professor at Long Island University who writes about U.S. History and Politics.
Sowing the Seeds
SOWING THE SEEDS
It is not the critic who counts… the credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is covered by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while striving greatly-
Is there anything in a president’s early life that might hint at future greatness or mediocrity as the nation’s Chief Executive? It is hard to say definitively, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson both grew up in poverty with little formal education, yet Lincoln proved a success, Johnson a failure as president. Does enduring tragedy or hard times prepare a person better for the trials they will face in the presidency? Of the five presidents featured in this book, four grew up in affluence, while the fifth could be considered middle class, whose childhood featured a diversity more in tune with the current state of the United States. Though born into wealth, Teddy Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma and endured the deaths of his first wife and mother on the same day in the same house at age 25 in 1884. Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, was stricken with polio at age 39 in 1921, and would never walk again. Just to re-enter politics, FDR faced tremendous challenges, which no other holder of the Presidency needed to deal with.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT- SAGAMORE HILL HURRICANE
Teddy Roosevelt was born October 27, 1858 in New York City to wealthy parents, Theodore Sr. and Martha. Though surrounded by opulence, TR struggled in early childhood with serious asthma, which often left him debilitated and gasping for breath. In his good moments, the boy immersed himself in natural history and history of the United States. His indulgent parents allowed his bedroom to become a laboratory of bird nests, along with species of stuffed and live animals. At some point, his father had a heart to heart with TR, telling him he possessed a fine mind but needed to develop his body or risk spending his life as a semi-invalid. Inspired, father and son established a gym in a room of their 57th St. mansion, where Teddy diligently lifted weights and learned to box. A life-long love of exercise and activity resulted.
Following the path of many East Coast sons of affluence, TR entered Harvard in 1876. Despite nagging his professors with endless questions, Teddy excelled in academics, while joining various clubs, and participating in boxing and rowing. He also courted a local Boston socialite, Alice Lee. After graduating in 1880, Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School and married Alice on his 22nd birthday, October 27. TR determined a law career was not for him, left Columbia, and ran for the New York State Assembly, winning a seat from Manhattan at the age of 23. In Albany, he quickly established a reputation as a fierce advocate for progress and reform, much to the annoyance of older colleagues, who detested his high-pitched voice and self-righteousness.
Though winning recognition for his hard-nosed reformist crusade, unspeakable tragedy struck TR and his family in early 1884. His wife, Alice, passed away two days after giving birth to a daughter, also named Alice. On the same day, in the same house, Roosevelt’s mother, Martha, died as well, some 9 hours after Alice’s passing. TR attempted to carry on as a legislator, and did finish the 1884 session, before following one of his favorite maxims, “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”
He abandoned New York, leaving daughter, Alice, in the care of his sister, Bamie, and headed for the Dakota Territory to become a cowboy and rancher. Before departing, TR visited Brooks Brothers in Manhattan, and had a custom cowboy outfit made to wear in his new venture. One might have fully expected the hardened westerners to laugh loudly at this dressed up dandy with the squeaky voice, playing at cowboy and rancher, but they did not. That is because Roosevelt won their respect by enduring all the hardships they did, and working harder than any of them. An extremely harsh winter, which wiped out most of his cattle herd, ended the cowboy daydream for TR, but the experience revived his spirits and toughened his body.
Back home in New York, Roosevelt worked on his Long Island summer home, called Sagamore Hill, and re-married in 1886 to childhood friend, Edith Carow. Edith and he would have 5 children together. Career-wise, beginning in 1889, TR re-launched his quest to clean up government, occupying various posts until landing in the presidency in 1901. From 1889 to 1895, he served as a Civil Service Commissioner under Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. Roosevelt was too efficient at his job, uncovering shenanigans in the post office that damaged Harrison in his re-election bid against Cleveland in 1892. Next, from 1895 to 1896, TR took up the mantle of New York City Police Commissioner, gaining notoriety by walking the beat in the middle of the night to keep officers on their toes, and cracking down on bars that ignored the Sunday closing Prohibition. Displaying uncommon political courage or perhaps stupidity (take your choice), the irrepressible Roosevelt even attended a protest march of bar owners and patrons against the Sunday stricture, standing there for hours, waving and showing his famous toothy grin, as the protesters plodded past, most holding signs denouncing him. The Republican party leadership of New York, leery of TR’s popularity and zeal for reform, wished to get Roosevelt out of the state, but needed to do it deftly. They approached incoming Republican President William McKinley about giving TR a job in his administration, but McKinley hesitated, believing the fireball might be uncontrollable. The new president finally relented, maybe to his regret.
Although only Assistant Secretary of the Navy, TR often acted as the actual Secretary, and assumed control of the department when Secretary Long was out of the office or indisposed, which was numerous times. Roosevelt took it upon himself to put the navy on a war footing in early 1898 when hostilities with Spain seemed imminent. How many other Assistant Secretary of the Navy’s had the nerve to proclaim that the president possessed “a backbone of a chocolate éclair”, when McKinley procrastinated in declaring war against Spain. Teddy Roosevelt was an unabashed imperialist, one of his faults, but would be the first to back up his words when war started in April, 1898. He immediately resigned from the Naval Department, and dashed off to fame as the lieutenant colonel of the fabled Rough Riders, with their legendary charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. Now a national hero, New York Republican leaders could not ignore TR and asked him to run for governor of New York. He agreed and won the governorship.
New York Republican leaders quickly remembered why they wanted to get rid of Roosevelt in the first place, he was too concerned with reform and honest government. For a second time, they searched for a means to rid themselves of the pesky TR. The 1900 US presidential election offered the chance as McKinley needed a new VP, as his first one died in office. McKinley again was not thrilled by the idea, but finally became convinced to take Roosevelt as his running mate. TR served in the second slot for five months before McKinley’s assassination in September, 1901. The country, as well as the Republican leadership, were stunned to say the least, the top Republican, Mark Hanna, commenting, “That damn cowboy will be the president.” Theodore Roosevelt would be the youngest person to ever serve as president, being 42 when he took the reins. The White House and Washington itself would not know what hit them. TR brought an energy and exuberance to the presidency missing since the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Teddy Roosevelt worked to revive something which he believed died along with Lincoln, moral leadership in the White House. A visit to the TR White House would be unlike a trip there during any other time in US History. Before being served dinner, a guest might be taken on a vigorous 5-mile hike through Rock Creek Park (including wading the creek itself), or spar a few rounds with the president in a boxing ring. From his bully pulpit, TR attacked what he saw as the abuses in the American economy. Roosevelt did not hate capitalism or corporations, but felt there were some businesses that had grown too big and powerful, and were no longer responsive to consumers or the market. Earning his moniker, “Trust Buster”, TR broke up some of the largest corporations, including JP Morgan’s massive Northern Securities. He also fought for consumer protections, convincing Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act. Roosevelt could not be considered a die-hard Progressive, although fighting for
a Square Deal and opportunity for all, he thought government should be controlled by wealthy, educated gentlemen like himself.
Theodore Roosevelt did not question how campaigns were financed at the time, but announced in no uncertain terms that money did not mean influence with his decisions. JP Morgan discovered this to his severe chagrin in 1904 after donating $100,000 to TR’s re-election bid. Roosevelt released a public statement that Morgan might give as much money as he wished to the Republican Party but to expect no special favoritism in return. In terms of civil rights, TR had a mixed bag record. He personally believed everyone entitled to equal justice under the laws, but thought you could not legislate who people interacted socially with. Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner, but the outcry in the South being deafening, never repeated the gesture, though continuing to consult with Washington during his presidency. He also dishonorably discharged an almost whole regiment of African-American troops after they supposedly brawled with whites in a Texas town. Many believed the president overly harsh, the punishment not fitting the crime. Domestically, Roosevelt’s greatest achievement occurred in conservation, as he set aside millions of acres for national parks and preserves.
Unfortunately, the righteous zeal with which TR pursued his domestic agenda, did not carry over into foreign policy. Roosevelt not only wanted the US to enter the imperial race with the European powers, but to win it. A disciple of naval theorist, Alfred Mahan, and his mantra that a nation’s strength resided in its navy, Teddy dramatically increased the size of the US Navy, and send it on a world tour to display American might. The Panama Canal benefitted the entire world, but TR ran roughshod over Colombia’s sovereignty to acquire the territory to build it. His dealings with other Latin American nations, Cuba, and the Philippines were also not in the best tradition of American ideals. He did win the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, yet sullied it somewhat by engaging in secret power brokering with Japan over Korea and the Philippines. Roosevelt’s imperial leanings dampened what overall had been an excellent presidency, one badly needed to restore the Executive Office to its proper place among the three branches of government, after 35 years of Congressional domination.
Teddy Roosevelt’s post-presidency life (only 50 when he left office in 1909) unfolded as might have been expected. Unable to sit still, he hunted in Africa and traveled for over a year until returning to the US in 1910. He challenged his hand-picked successor in the White House, William Howard Taft, for the 1912 Republican nomination, disappointed in Taft’s handling of TR’s Progressive legacy. The 1912 campaign would be notable for Roosevelt’s championing a very liberal program, including unemployment insurance, universal health care, and sweeping bank reforms, things enacted into law by future presidents such as Woodrow Wilson and his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, except obviously the health care. Unable to beat the entrenched interests at the Republican convention, who selected Taft as their candidate, Roosevelt broke away and launched a third party bid under the Bull Moose banner. The campaign featured TR at his bullying worst, engaging in a low and dirty campaign against his old friend, Taft, who he called a “puzzle wit” and “fathead” (tame insults by today’s standards, but new to campaigns then). After Taft faded, the election came down to Roosevelt vs. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, with Wilson winning due to the Republican split. Afterwards, Teddy embarked on another adventure, this time to the Amazon jungle of South America. The dangerous sojourn almost killed the former president and sapped much of his remaining vitality.
Despite not being on the national stage, Theodore Roosevelt continued to battle for causes he believed in. He vehemently called for US entry into World War I after hostilities broke out in 1914, and belittled Wilson for being too timid. When the country finally joined the conflict in April, 1917, TR immediately offered to raise a regiment for service in France. Wilson turned down the gesture flat. Roosevelt’s four sons all volunteered, and it was perhaps the death of his youngest, Quentin, during air combat in 1918, that finally eliminated TR’s boyish fascination with warfare. The lingering effects of his Amazon trip and grief over Quentin’s death undoubtedly contributed to his untimely death in January of 1919, at age 60. The lion finally slept tonight, but his roar would linger on in the American consciousness.
FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT- HYDE PARK SQUIRE
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s life in many ways mirrored that of his 5th cousin once removed, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. In fact, FDR attempted to model his career after his illustrious relative, with certain obvious differences. In politics, Franklin was a Democrat like his father, where Teddy was a Lincoln Republican. Though both advocated warfare when necessary, only TR actually served in the military, seeing action in the Spanish-American War. Finally, FDR suffered a catastrophic illness at age 39, which left him disabled for the rest of his life. Overcoming tremendous obstacles, Franklin not only returned to politics, but went on to be the longest serving president in U.S. History.
FDR was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, north of New York City on the Hudson River, to James Roosevelt and his wife, Sarah Delano. They were part of the Roosevelt family tree that had moved up the Hudson Valley, breaking off from the Manhattan/Long Island branch that Teddy Roosevelt belonged to. Franklin’s father had been a lawyer but went into business after inheriting a substantial sum. Like cousin, Ted, FDR grew up amidst wealth, and being an only child, was doted on by mother, Sara. While TR did home-schooling until entering Harvard at age 18, tutors worked with Franklin to age 14, whereupon he enrolled at the prominent prep academy, Groton, in Massachusetts. Groton served as a springboard for upper class boys to Harvard, a path FDR would follow.
At Groton and then Harvard, FDR produced an undistinguished record in both academics and social activities. The lasting impact from Groton became the beginning of a lifelong friendship with the school’s headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who encouraged his pupils to lead a life of Christian duty, joining public service and helping the less fortunate in society. The high point at Harvard would be working as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson daily newspaper in his senior year. After graduating Harvard in 1903, Franklin, like TR before him, went to Columbia law school. Also similar to his cousin, FDR never earned a law degree, but, unlike Teddy, would practice law for several years. In those days, a person could act as a lawyer if they passed the bar exam (which Franklin did in 1907), though not possessing a law degree. Interestingly, both TR and FDR received honorary law degrees posthumously from Columbia Law School in 2008.
While contemplating what direction his career might take, FDR, along the way, courted and married Teddy Roosevelt’s niece, Eleanor, daughter of his dead brother, Elliot. The pair wed on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), 1905, in New York City, with then President Theodore Roosevelt walking the bride down the aisle of the church. Franklin and Eleanor would have six children together, five who survived to adulthood. Eleanor’s discovery in 1918 that Franklin had been having an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer Rutherford, effectively ended the marriage, yet they did not separate or divorce. FDR’s mom, Sara, threatened to cut him out of the Hyde Park estate if they did. From that point, their relationship might be characterized as a political partnership, one of the most famous and productive in U.S. History. Eleanor not only would be the hardest working First Lady ever, but became an ambassador to the world as well.
Following in TR’s footsteps, FDR decided a law career was not in the cards, and ran for the N.Y. State Senate in 1910. Proving to be an excellent campaigner, Franklin won a Senate seat as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. Once in Albany, he took up the Progressive mantle previously carried by Teddy, much to the chagrin of the bosses in both parties. In the 1912 U.S. presidential election, FDR supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson against his cousin, a stance which upset much of TR’s family, though not the old president himself. That endorsement earned Franklin the same position in Wilson’s Administration that Theodore once held- Assistant Secretary of the Navy. FDR championed increasing the size of the navy, and would be a vocal supporter of U.S. entry into World War I. Despite his belligerent posture, Franklin possessed the reputation in Washington as a somewhat powder-puff dandy. He loved the social life and parties, something which Eleanor hated. When the U.S. did join the war in 1917, FDR wanted to go on active service, but Wilson said no, telling him to remain at his post. Roosevelt did travel to France in 1918 on a naval inspection tour and visited the front line trenches. In 1920, Franklin appeared on the Democratic national ticket as vice president for candidate James Cox of Ohio. The Cox/ Roosevelt team went down to a crushing defeat at the hands of the Republican Harding/Coolidge tandem. After the loss, FDR prophetically said the Republicans would not be driven from office until the country suffered an economic collapse.
In the spring of 1921, after serving 8 years for the Wilson Administration, FDR looked forward to some time off at his summer home on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, off the coast of Maine. On the journey to his vacation, Franklin made the fateful decision to visit a Boy Scout encampment at Bear Mountain, Westchester, New York. It would be there that Franklin Roosevelt contracted the polio virus. Age 39, young and vigorous, his political horizon unlimited, FDR would never walk again. His mother, Sara, wanted him to retire to Hyde Park, living out his life as a semi-invalid squire, with his stamp collection, model ships and trains. The inner fire and drive of Franklin Roosevelt emerged as his decision to re-enter politics had a great impact not only on U.S. but World History.
While FDR spent several years during the 1920’s in Florida, attempting to re-gain the use of his legs, to no avail, Eleanor and his political advisor, Louis Howe, kept his name active in Democratic party circles. In 1924, he gave a nominating speech at the Democratic national convention, employing crutches to reach the stage. Franklin realized to be taken seriously by the country, he could not be seen as disabled, nor did he desire any sympathy. Along that line, FDR toiled innumerable and very painful hours teaching himself to swing one braced leg forward while leaning on a cane and the arm of a strong person, often one of his sons, and then the other leg, presenting the appearance of walking. To even attend a political event, Franklin required preparations far beyond what any other president in our history has needed. He would arrive early at the venue, to be wheeled backstage to wait. The exact number of steps from there to the speaker’s dais were counted. When he started toward the rostrum, a crowd of people usually accompanied him and his helper, making it difficult for the audience to see his legs. To them, Roosevelt just seemed to be walking slowly. Once he began speaking, FDR needed to grip the lectern tightly, praying he did not lose his balance when letting go with one hand to turn the pages of his speech. The slow shuffle, in the opposite direction, would be repeated once Franklin finished his talk. Calling it whatever you will, the stratagem worked, a good portion of the nation never had an inkling their president was disabled. FDR also created a gentleman’s agreement with the press. They would not publish photos of him in his wheelchair, while he provided access to the Oval Office. Perhaps amazingly, both sides honored the pact. In fact, the only known pictures of Roosevelt in his wheelchair are private family ones.
Of greater import, polio awakened in Franklin a larger empathy for the downtrodden and less fortunate in society that he did not possess before. As Eleanor noted, “Anyone who has gone through great suffering is bound to have a greater sympathy and understanding of the problems of mankind.” Franklin Roosevelt may have been elected president without contracting polio, but a strong argument can be made that he might not have been as great. By 1928, Democrat leaders asked FDR to run for governor of New York, though he did not feel ready. After winning the election, he proved to be one of the most progressive executives in the country when the Great Depression hit in 1929. He instituted among the first relief programs, including direct aid for the hardest hit and work agencies, to put people back on the job. His enthusiasm and optimism impressed not only New Yorkers, but the rest of the nation. In 1932, he would be the Democratic candidate for president, running against incumbent Herbert Hoover.
FDR easily defeated the hapless Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, and took the helm of a nation in very deep trouble. Millions were on the brink of starvation, unemployment reached 25%, while the country’s banking system was on the verge of collapse. Franklin did not have a set blueprint for combatting the Great Depression, but would employ different ideas. Above all, he knew the people wanted any action after the inert Herbert Hoover. As FDR stated, “The country needs and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” That he could do.
Upon taking office in March, 1933, Roosevelt first dealt with the banks, where 32 out of 48 states had shut down their banks. He declared a banking holiday, closing all the banks for 4 days, while investigators looked over their soundness. The worst were shuttered permanently, while the rest set to re-open the following Monday. FDR informed the populace what was happening through his first presidential fireside chat. People began returning their money to the banks and the system was stabilized. Now, his administration might begin tackling the other woes of the nation. In the famous “100 Days”, 15 major pieces of legislation were passed to tackle the Great Depression. Direct aid was provided to those on the point of starving, while work programs such as the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA (Works Progress Administration) put people back to work on infrastructure projects such as parks, roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. Farmers were given supports, where the government would buy surplus corps when the market became glutted. Artists and musicians also fell under the New Deal umbrella, commissioned to paint murals and work on other programs. The important thing was that Roosevelt acted, putting people back to work, and giving the country something it had lost, hope.
Not all of the New Deal agencies were successful and some received heavy criticism for being too socialistic or communistic in concept. FDR possessed a strong Cabinet and advisors, but constructed lines of authority so that the final decision always rested with him. Many considered this method too haphazard, sloppy, and wasteful of resources. Later conservative critics would accuse FDR of prolonging the Great Depression. Debatable, but remember, the economic collapse had been over 60 years in the making, with abuses and corruption deeply embedded in American business. Corrections could not take place overnight, or cure all the maladies. The relationship between the people of the United States and their government was permanently altered by the “Safety Net” constructed by Roosevelt to protect the population against future economic downturns- Social Security and other initiatives. Uncle Sam would now play a large role in the daily lives of the citizens, for good or bad.
Roosevelt’s second term (1937-1941) would not be as successful as the first. FDR made some bad decisions, starting with the Court Packing Plan, proposing to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from 9 to 15, in response to several New Deal acts being declared unconstitutional. Poorly conceived from the beginning, the idea went down to inglorious defeat in the Congress and hurt Roosevelt’s reputation. In 1937, believing the worst of the Depression to be over, Franklin drastically cut federal spending, throwing the nation into the “Roosevelt Recession”, where 4 million people lost their jobs. Massive increases in spending for 1938 reversed the downward trend. Toward the end of his second term, Roosevelt turned his attention to the growing crisis in world affairs, with fascism on the rise in Asia and Europe. This would be FDR at his finest and convinced him to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940.
Since the end of World War I in 1918, many Americans had become isolationist in outlook, not wanting the U.S. to be heavily involved in world affairs, especially in any more wars. That sentiment remained strong in the 1930’s, a force Franklin had to reckon with. He slowly chipped away at the restrictions of the Neutrality Acts passed by Congress in the 1930’s, while arguing the nation at least needed to arm itself in self-defense, in case another war broke out. When World War II did start in September, 1939, Roosevelt shifted his focus to supporting Britain, feeling that keeping the British in the war might be the best way to keep the U.S. out of it. At first, weapons were sold to Britain on a “cash and carry” basis, they must pay cash and carry the supplies on their own ships. After the British treasury ran out of money, this became converted to “Lend-Lease”, they might borrow the armaments and return them when the conflict ended. Both strategies worked, Britain held off Nazi Germany until the United States joined the war.
In addition, FDR displayed political courage by calling for the first peacetime draft in our history during the 1940 presidential campaign. Surviving a tough challenge from Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, Franklin became the first and only person to win a third term as president. Most thought if the U.S. entered the struggle, it would be an incident with Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic that provided the spark, a badly mistaken assumption. Tensions between the U.S. and Japan had been steadily rising for years, as the Japanese expanded aggressively in China, and set their sights on Southeast Asia. As Japan got most of its gas and oil from America, the placing of an embargo on those products in the fall of 1941, pushed the Japanese to prepare for war with the United States. Here again, the experts were wrong, predicting Japan might strike at the U.S.-held Philippines or some other far flung Pacific outpost. The Japanese aimed much higher and more boldly, attacking the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941, destroying most of the U.S. Pacific fleet, except the aircraft carriers.
FDR and the American people rose magnificently to the herculean task of fighting the greatest war in human history. The president challenged the nation to produce the weapons required to win the epic clash, unleashing the largest industrial output ever seen. Any remnants of the Great Depression disappeared as factory workers, many of them women, produced the airplanes, ships, tanks, and all the other war materials to successfully prosecute the struggle against Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. Roosevelt decided he would concentrate on war aims, the fighting fronts, and relations with our allies, leaving the home front under the direction of former Supreme Court Justice, Jimmy Byrnes. Militarily, Franklin put excellent commanders in place and let them do their jobs- George Marshall as Chief-of-Staff; Dwight Eisenhower commander in Europe; Douglas MacArthur in charge of the Southwest Pacific Theater; Admiral Chester Nimitz leading in the Central Pacific. Once American industrial strength kicked into gear, the outcome of the war was not really in doubt. The question became how long it might last, and what the post-war world could look like.
Not everything ran smoothly, as FDR committed some major blunders along the way. The worst was the internment of Japanese-Americans beginning in early 1942 for the duration of the war. Over 100,00 people, including 70,000 U.S. citizens, were forced from their homes to bleak camps in desert areas, in blatant disregard of their civil rights. Roosevelt’s overall record on civil rights as president might be termed spotty at best. He did appoint more African-Americans to government positions than any previous president, but refused to endorse an anti-lynching bill in the late 1930’s, thinking if he did, he might lose all Southern Democrat support; a fairly lame excuse. FDR did not have to be out front on social issues as wife, Eleanor, always led the charge. She championed civil rights and helping the disadvantaged, often at odds with her husband.
The matter of providing assistance to the Jewish people in the fatal grasp of Adolf Hitler also caused controversy during the war, many feeling FDR did not do enough to disrupt the concentration camps. The president maintained the best way to help the Jews would be to win the war as quickly as possible. Bombing the rail lines leading to the death camps might have slowed the process, but that expedient would have been more practical for the Soviets, who were closer, than for the British and Americans. Roosevelt and British leader, Winston Churchill, do not seem to have discussed the possibility with the secretive and wily Soviet Premier, Josef Stalin. Franklin’s relationship with Churchill during the war can only be deemed excellent, while attempting to keep Stalin on board with Allied war aims. FDR would be faulted for supposedly yielding Eastern Europe to the Soviets at the Yalta Conference in 1945, but the post-war borders of that region were determined by the Red Army; there being nothing Roosevelt or anyone else might do about it.
Despite failing health, FDR ran for a 4th term in 1944, wanting to finish the job of winning the war. He defeated New York governor, Thomas Dewey, but only lived 82 days into his fourth go-round in the Oval Office, dying on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had established a treatment center for fellow polio patients. After his death, Roosevelt received criticism for not telling his vice-president, Harry Truman, of the existence of the atomic bomb. Franklin had tried to keep the number of people who actually knew the purpose of the Manhattan Project to a bare minimum, but not informing Truman was a mistake, the man who would ultimately make the decision to use the bombs. All things considered, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had done a masterful job as president, keeping the country afloat during the Great Depression and inspiring the people to super human exertions during World War II. He had the foresight to look beyond the conflict, envisioning a peaceful planet overseen by a new world organization, the United Nations. FDR literally worked himself to death to bring his ideals to fruition; the true definition of an American patriot.
GEORGE W. BUSH-LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
George Walker Bush would be the product of Texas oil money and the penchant for some East Coast scions of wealth to pursue public service. Born July 6, 1946, to parents George H.W. and Barbara, George W. could be said to have a silver spoon in his mouth. He would be one of six children George H.W. and Barbara had. His father had left the comforts of Connecticut for the wild fields of oil rich Texas, making a lot of money in the process. George H.W. had then gravitated toward government service, in time, being a member of Congress, Ambassador to the United Nations, head of the CIA, vice-president to President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989, and finally 41st President of the United States between 1989 and 19993. A sense of serving your fellow Americans had been strongly instilled in the Bush household.
Following the road of the well off, George W. attended prestigious Phillips Academy in Massachusetts for high school, before entering Yale University in 1964. He led an active social life at Yale, including being head cheerleader and member of the famous Skull and Bones Club. Academically, George W. would acknowledge he had been a mediocre student at best, posting a 77 out of 100 grade point average for his time at Yale. Graduating in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War, George spent the conflict in the Air National Guard, serving from 1968 to 1974. Later critics charged family influence being exerted to keep him in the U.S., out of harm’s way. Maybe, the only indisputable fact is he did not go to Southeast Asia, take that as you like. From 1973 to 1975, George went to Harvard Business School, earning a MBA, the only president ever to do so.
Personally, Bush married Laura Weld in 1977, the couple having twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna in 1981. The same year as his wedding, George formed Arbusto Energy, for the purpose of oil exploration. This company would eventually be enfolded with another energy firm, HKN. In 1978, Bush made a bid to win a Congressional seat from Texas but lost. During the 1980’s, he did assist in father, H.W.’s political campaigns for the presidency in 1980 and 1988. George W. made a splash in 1989 by buying shares in the Texas Rangers baseball club, an interest he sold 10 years later for $15 million. Having never lost his enthusiasm for politics, Bush ran for governor of Texas during 1994, defeating the very popular, incumbent Democrat governor, Ann Richards. He had run on a platform of welfare and tax reform, reducing crime and improving education.
Experiencing some success in his legislative program, Bush also presented himself as a social conservative, notably signing into law a measure allowing Texans to carry concealed weapons in public places. In 1998, George won re-election with 69% of the vote, the largest margin in the history of the state. In a preview of his presidency, he mandated a $2 billion tax cut, with which he hoped to increase education, among other proposals. George also announced his support for evangelical churches, stamping himself as a solid conservative, something his father had been unable to accomplish. His popularity having risen substantially in Republican party circles, Bush announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential election.
George W. Bush attempted to position himself as a self-styled compassionate conservative for the nominating race, promising a return to integrity and family values at the White House if elected. Part of a big field of candidates, which included Dan Quayle, Steve Forbes, and Elizabeth Dole, among others, George forged ahead, narrowing it to a contest between him and Arizona Senator John McCain. Conducting an especially negative campaign, Bush took control after the South Carolina primary and secured the nomination. For his running mate, he chose long-time Washington player, Dick Cheney of Wyoming. His opponent for the general election would be President Bill Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, and Joe Leiberman of Connecticut for vice-president. It would be a particularly nasty and bitter slugfest between the two candidates.
The 2000 U.S. presidential election would be one of the most controversial and contentious in our history. The outcome of an extremely tight race hinged on Florida, where George W.’s brother, Jeb, just happened to be governor. The count among the two candidates ended so close, with Bush supposedly holding a miniscule lead, a recount was ordered, not made easy by Florida’s antiquated voting system, including the infamous hanging chads. The recount also had George ahead by the smallest of margins, but the Democrats were justifiably unsatisfied. The whole mess wound up before the Supreme Court, which determined on December 9, 2000 that George W. Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes over Al Gore, and thus would become the 43rd President of the United States. Gore had the consolation of winning the popular vote by 500,000, while George W. took the Electoral College by a 271 to 267 margin, 270 being the magic number for victory. George W. Bush would not be carrying a Dwight Eisenhower type mandate into the White House. How would he fare?
BARACK OBAMA- THE TIMES ARE A’CHANGIN
Barack Obama would be the first, but hopefully not the last, person to break through the white male, many older in age, club that has dominated the White House since the inception of the United States in 1789. Born of a white mother, Anne Dunham, and African father, Barack Obama Sr. on August 4, 1961, Obama became the first African-American candidate for president from one of the two major parties, and the first elected to the Executive Office. His heritage and childhood better represent what America has become, more diverse in ethnicity and culture. He also rose from the middle class, not a product of the affluent and powerful.
Obama’s childhood featured a fascinating variety of experiences. Born in Hawaii, he also spent part of his youth in Seattle and Indonesia, before returning to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. He attended Penahu School, a private prep academy in Honolulu from 5th grade until graduating high school in 1979. Barack went to Occidental College in Los Angeles, then transferred to Columbia University in New York for his junior year. Graduating with a BA in Political Science in 1983, Obama worked in New York City for a year before moving to his adopted home, Chicago. He worked as a community organizer from 1985 to 1988, then enrolled at Harvard Law School. His tenure at Harvard saw him become the first African-American to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review and graduate magna cum laude. Returning to Chicago, Barack was employed by several law firms during the 1990’s, served as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and published his best-selling memoir, “Dreams of My Father.”
On October 3, 1992, Barack Obama married Michelle Robinson. The couple have two children, Malia Ann, born in 1998, and Sasha in 2001. Entering politics in 1996, Barack won a seat in the Illinois State Senate, and gained re-election in 1998 and 2002. His first attempt at running for the U.S. Congress did not end as successfully. He lost by a two to one margin in the Democratic Party primary race in 2000 for a seat in the House of Representatives from the Illinois 1st Congressional District. His next try at a national office proved to have better fortune. Running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama was helped by the incumbent withdrawing from the race, while the new Republican challenger also dropped out several weeks before the election. He won 70% of the vote in a landslide against a last minute Republican opponent.
Obama’s stature in Democratic Party circles began to rise after joining the Senate in 2005. He gave a rousing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where Massachusetts Senator John Kerry received the nomination to face incumbent President George W. Bush. Barack’s opposition to the Iraq War also gained him notoriety and movement toward a presidential bid took hold. Barack Obama decided to run for president in 2008, with the nation having just fallen into a severe economic downturn, due to the burst of the housing bubble. Barack’s main opponent for the Democratic nomination would be former first lady, Hillary Clinton. The fact you had an African-American and a woman as the top contenders marked a new departure in American politics.
Obama would eventually garner enough support to win the nomination from Clinton, becoming the first minority to head a major party ticket in a presidential election. Barack chose Senator Joe Biden from Delaware to be his running mate. Their Republican opponents in the campaign were Senator John McCain of Arizona and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who if nothing else, added some unintended flavor and levity to the race. With the country hurting, Barack’s chances were very good, along with McCain faltering a bit on what he wanted to run as. The Arizona Senator spent his career in Congress as a moderate Republican, but now tried to position himself as more conservative. The shift to the right extended to the point where McCain began lambasting his own long-time efforts in the Senate to find a compromise on the contentious issue of immigration reform. It is doubtful many in the country bought the attempted transformation to the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Teddy Roosevelt might have easily counseled McCain just to run on who you are, and let the chips fall where they may.
Obama’s campaign had done an excellent job employing the fairly new medium of the Internet to raise awareness and fundraise for their guy. 30% of contributions to the Obama campaign would be made by people giving less than $200 over the computer. Quite needlessly, Barack inflated the number to 90% in a campaign speech. The effort was reaping significant rewards, both monetarily and projecting Obama as a candidate of the average American, so why inflate the numbers just for the sound bite? In the end, it would not matter, as the Obama/Biden ticket defeated the McCain/Palin duo quite easily. The first African-American president would take office on January 20, 2009. Being the first is never easy, just ask George Washington. Expectations were high, along with hope. Critics were plentiful as well, as could be expected, including Republicans in Congress, led by Senate minority leader, Yurtle the Turtle (ah-yup), Mitch McConnell, who promised to thwart the new president as much as possible. By so doing, the Republicans exhibited they were of little or no account. Be that as it may, it was a reality the new president had to deal with, something requiring boundless energy, creativity, tenacity and patience. Calling TR and FDR, is there anybody home? Would Barack Obama be up to the challenge?
DONALD J. TRUMP- FAKE NEWS
On the 1950’s detective show, Dragnet, Sergeant Joe Friday made the phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am”, a standard of American culture. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the line separating fact from fiction has disappeared, plunging the country into a netherworld of “Fake News” accusations flying back and forth between the administration, Democrats and the liberal media. The vast majority of the Fake News emanates from the mouth of President Trump himself. The bigger problem is that Trump does not care that untruths are released from the White House on a daily basis. The Donald or his staff concoct a fabrication, peddle it to the nation, and run with it as long as they can. When the story loses traction, he just introduces the next tall tale. Can the United States survive this state of affairs? I think so, though the recovery will take some time. For the purposes of the book and this chapter in particular, the trouble is the blur established among real and fantasy extends back into Mr. Trump’s past. I will try to muddle through as best as possible.
It is a fact that Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, N.Y. to parents Fred and Mary Anne. He would be one of five children the couple had. Donald grew up amidst wealth as his father amassed a fortune in the New York City real estate market. Donald attended the private New York Military Academy from age 13 to graduating high school. He enrolled in Fordham University in the Bronx in the fall of 1964. Accusations have surfaced that Trump paid someone to take his SAT college entrance exam for him. Like everything else, one can choose to believe it or not without definitive proof. It is reality that as president, Donald threatened legal action against both the New York Military Academy and Fordham if they made public his academic records. One thing, among many others, that Trump has not accepted is that once a person becomes a public servant, the people have a right to probe her or his past. If you do not want anyone prying, remain a private citizen, stay out of politics.
After two years at Fordham, Trump transferred to the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania to finish his undergraduate degree. Despite later claims by the New York Times that Donald finished top of his class at Wharton, no evidence exists to support the high designation. He seems to have been a middling student at best, never making the honor roll. He did graduate in 1968 with a B.S. in Economics, and then joined the Trump family business. Donald received student deferments from service in Vietnam while in school; afterwards he used supposed bone spurs in his foot to obtain a permanent exemption from the draft. Two out of the three 21st century presidents so far presented themselves as very pro-military, yet somehow they both managed to avoid active service in their generation’s war. Trump has stated that his father gave him $1million to get started in life after college graduation. Again, the figure is open to debate, critics charging the amount was much higher. Donald Trump has been married three times, has five children, and ten grandchildren.
Trump’s business career is a matter of great controversy as well. He appears to have made a lot of money, but has encountered much trouble along the way. He filed for bankruptcy protection on his Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, while his casinos in Atlantic City went through the bankrupt provisions an alleged six times. In addition, stories have emerged that the Donald’s business losses for the late 1980’s and early 1990’s totaled around $1.7 billion. Investors took control of many of his properties, but left the Trump name on the buildings, for the appeal factor. One thing Donald Trump has engaged extensively in is litigation. As of April, 2018, there are an estimated 4,000 state and federal cases involving Donald clogging up the court system. He did settle some of the disputes, such as the now defunct Trump University, where former students sued for fraud. Trump paid out $25 million to make it go away. Canny and successful businessman (The Art of the Deal) or ultimate charlatan? Once more, take your pick.
In terms of politics, for much of the past several decades, Donald Trump did not show great interest in the process. He gave money to both Democratic and Republican candidates, including Hillary Clinton’s 2000 U.S. Senate run from New York. Trump claims he toyed with the idea of running for president in the early 2000’s, but never acted. He received national politic headlines in 2011 when beginning to peddle the ridiculous suggestion that President Obama had not been born in the U.S. No comment needed on that Trump whopper. In June of 2015, the Donald announced his candidacy for president in the 2016 election, on the Republican side. His main issues were immigration, off-shoring of American jobs, and Islamic terrorism, while trumpeting his slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Although not taken seriously by many, Trump proved adept at tapping into the extreme discontent with Washington and politics as usual prevalent in many areas of the country. He bulldozed a very large but uninspiring field of Republican candidates, demolishing them with biting put-downs and sarcasm. His adversary in the general election would be former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, a person with significant excess baggage herself. The Democratic party leadership did Trump a huge favor by arranging Clinton’s nomination against the wishes of the party rank and file, who wanted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to be the standard-bearer. That decision came back to bite the Democrats in a big way.
Between Hill and Bill, the Donald had an endless supply of skeletons to be dragged from the closet, which Trump gleefully took advantage of. The most damaging turned out to be the e-mail scandal, where Clinton illegally employed a private server at her home to send and receive government business when serving as Secretary of State for President Obama. Arguably the worst campaign in American History, statements such as “I am voting for the lesser of two evils” or “I am not voting for him or her, but just against the other candidate” were commonplace. The Donald did not help matters by proclaiming he might not accept the outcome of the election if it went against him, keeping the pot stirred. After an unbearable and beyond low mud fest, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, not by the popular count but in the Electoral College. He received 303 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232, with Hillary taking the popular vote by a very substantial 3 million people. Not an especially ringing endorsement for the Donald by the American populace. His presidency shaped up to be unlike any previous one, but would it be any good? The million dollar question. There is that number again, one million. Doesn’t everyone get a million dollars from their parents when they graduate college?