Obama is no FDR...thank goodness!


In my dealings with Democrats I sometimes encounter people who are disappointed that they didn't get an FDR style president in President Obama. I wanted to learn more about what I’ve been missing since clearly this FDR must be some kind of President. Based on what I’ve read so far, yes for his time and given all the advantages that he had such as majorities in both houses and three terms in office, he was great. But was FDR really the sort of President we need now? Were his policies so superior to those of our present Administration? Or have the policies of FDR taken on a mythology that is easier to long for than to deal with present day reality?

Even a superficial comparison shows some fundamental differences between the two men as seen in this table.

Franklin Delano RooseveltBarack Obama

  • Born into privilege and wealth. Two parent family.
  • Frequent trips abroad.
  • Graduated Harvard with a C average.
  • Went on to become a Corporate Lawyer for Wall Street.
  • Married once but didn’t remain faithful.
  • Entered office during the worst economic crisis this country has ever experienced.
  • Unemployment at 25% when he entered office.
  • Passed major economic stimulus legislation in first 100 days of office. (New Deal)
  • After 8 years in office (first two terms) unemployment figures declined to 17.2% by 1939 (recession of 1937).
  • Removed 500,000 Veterans and widows from the pension rolls and reduced benefits for the remainder.
  • Cut the salaries of federal employees.
  • Reduced spending on research and education.
  • First 8 years: Democratic Majorities in both houses.

  • Born into a middle class single parent family.
  • Lived in Indonesia for four years.
  • Graduated Harvard Magna Cum Laude.
  • Turned down offers from Wall Street to become a Community Organizer.
  • Married once and has remained faithful.
  • Entered office during the second worst economic crisis this country has ever experienced.
  • Unemployment climbed to 10% during first year in office.
  • Passed major economic stimulus legislation in first 100 days of office, preventing a second Depression. (Recovery Act)
  • After 2.4 years in office unemployment declined to 9%.
  • Increased benefits for Veterans.
  • Froze the salaries of federal employees.
  • Increased spending on research and education.
  • First two years: Democratic Majorities in both houses. Second two years: 51 Democrats in Senate; lost the House. Split Government.

I’m no economist, still what jumps out at me is how FDR cut back on funding for research and education while President Obama increased funding for research and where possible increased, or at the very least, preserved funding for education. How many present day Democrats would argue that reducing spending for education and research is the way to grow an economy or compete in a global market?

Another chronic complaint among the FDR Democrats is that Obama’s policies haven’t brought down unemployment to acceptable levels in record time. Neither did the policies of FDR. In 8 years unemployment achieved the lowest level of 14%, but then the Conservative Coalition overturned many of the advances of the New Deal and the country was thrust into a recession in 1937 that brought unemployment back up to 19%. It was our entry into WWII that finally created the jobs that were necessary to virtually eliminate unemployment. This happened in FDR’s third term. What kind of legacy would FDR have left behind if had been limited to two terms? He would have left office with an unsustainably high unemployment rate of about 17% that could have easily triggered another recession.

When President Obama took office, the economy was still shedding jobs at an alarming rate. Many of those jobs were in the construction industry, particularly home building. Overbuilding factories was one of the causes of the Depression. The glut of housing inventory along with the collapse of the housing market brought about by bad lending policies left many in the construction industry with no work. Tight or non-existent lending by the banks and virtually no demand for new homes has prevented the construction sector from recovering at anything like a robust pace, until money becomes available in some sustainable fashion to rebuild our infrastructure. The best policies in the world won’t work if the money isn’t there. With a split government, something FDR didn’t have to contend with, the money is a problem.

The other chief grievance among Democrats longing for the repeat of the FDR administration is that the Obama Administration has done little to regulate the banking industry and Wall Street. The comparison harkens back to the many bold measures taken by Roosevelt to reign in the financial industry of his time. There is no doubt that his Administration did a much to mitigate many of the problems that caused the Depression, most were meant to avoid a repeat of the financial ruin and global economic collapse. He created the FDIC; gave the Federal Trade Commission broad new regulatory powers that provided mortgage relief to millions of farmers and homeowners and created the Securities and Exchange Commission to name a few. These institutions have performed as advertised, but have been weakened greatly by subsequent Administrations. The repeal of key components of the Glass-Steagall Act contributed to the financial problems that nearly led to a second Depression.

My sense is that those who believe Obama should be more like FDR when it comes to dealing with the banking industry and Wall Street were hoping that sweeping changes could be brought about as rapidly as before when an entirely different set of circumstances provided FDR with the political clout to make such changes. FDR had to navigate a bank panic, an outmoded gold standard, spiraling deflation and massive unemployment. He also enjoyed large majorities in both Houses, public good will (desperation) and a completely different media environment than exists today.

During FDR’s Administration unions were just beginning the collective bargaining process so there was plenty of cheap labor in this country. The very notion of outsourcing jobs overseas hadn’t even been invented. There was no real middle class. The American Dream consisted of having a roof over one’s head and food on the table. The economy wasn’t based on oil or automobiles or consumption of goods. People also didn’t have credit cards.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed by President Obama in July, 2010. While not the end-all and be-all of financial reform, this bill takes very important steps to dismantle the too-big-to-fail financial/insurance institution. I’ve heard Democrats complain that this law didn’t go far enough, especially in curbing abuses in the derivative markets. Personal commentary: flea-droppings in pepper when you look at the overwhelming scope of everything that requires attention in the complex world the Obama Administration faces every day.

The management of the TARP was taken over by the Obama Administration. The original $700 Billion dollars allocated were cut back to roughly $456 Billion. The entire program will come very close to earning a profit for the taxpayers.

In addition President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
I cannot understand any attempt to discredit these achievements as not living up to the hype of FDR. The Obama Administration has done everything humanly possible to rescue the economy and create the conditions for sustainable recovery and give unyielding support to the creation of a green industrial revolution in THIS country. His commitment to out-competing the rest of the world is unmatched. Think about it. As Democrats, do we want an economy based on being the Arsenal to Democracy (FDR), or are we ready to embrace the green industry of the future (Obama)?

I won’t even begin to wade into topics like Internment Camps and refusing to support anti-lynching laws to keep the Dixiecrats happy.

I don’t want an FDR-type President. I’m perfectly happy with the President I have.