Comparing the Presidency of Barack Obama and FDR

In order to understand why Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Hussein Obama are constantly being compared, contrasted, and aligned with each other by various sectors of society, one must first understand where each man came from and what shaped his political ideologies and beliefs that drove each of them into specific actions. For to understand why a man conducts himself in the manner he did or does today, we have to look back on the events that shaped them as young adults with malleable minds.

To begin with, Franklin D. Roosevelt was not born into poverty. Nor did he come from a middle class upbringing. He was born in the area of Hyde Park, New York. The man served in various capacities as a public servant beginning with his election as a Democrat candidate to a senate seat during the elections of 1910. After, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy by then president Wilson. By the year 1920, he was a leading candidate for party’s vice presidential nomination. After battling Poliomyelitis in 1921, he successfully returned to the political arena of 1928 as the winning gubernatorial candidate of the city of New York.

Elected to the presidency of the land in 1932 in what would be his first of 4 terms in the highest political office of the land, he enacted various laws as supported by Congress that were meant to bring sweeping reform to a nation that was bleeding from one of the worst financial crisis to ever hit the land. Arriving in the White House during one of the darkest hours of the history of the nation, he was the voice of a nation in turmoil and the hope. He was elected to office during a point in time when people had lost all hope of ever regaining their faith in themselves, their political leaders, and their country. In a situation highly similar to that which swept our first African American president into the White House, Barack Obama Jr. and Franklin Roosevelt brought with them the promise of change in government and prompt action upon the problems besieging the nation and its population. During President Roosevelt’s inaugural speech he delivered the unforgettable line “ the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. As a 4 term president, he was responsible for steering the nation out of the Great Depression and ending World War II. It was also under his presidency that the United States seemed to have come into its own identity as the Guardian of the World as he helped develop the organization that came to be known as the United Nations.

He was also the man who brought sweeping changes to the American Constitution. Due to the questions raised by his New Deal programs, he found himself losing a Supreme Court battle but winning a war on reform. This loss led the the house and senate to amend the constitution to allow the government to freely regulate the economy as they deem necessary. It is this freedom to regulate that shall help President Obama steer our nation through our current financial crisis. And he owes it all to his role model, President Franklin Roosevelt.

Unlike the pure American heritage of President Franklin Roosevelt, Barack Hussein Obama on the other hand was born of mixed blood origins in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961. His Kenyan father, Barack Sr. married Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. However, the subsequent divorce of his parents found the future president being raised mostly by his grandparents on the island of Hawaii.

Pres. Obama, just like FDR, is an Ivy leaguer who share something in common. Both aspiring politicians attended Harvard Law School. Pres. Obama graduated with the distinction of being the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review. It is also important to note that Pres. Roosevelt also attended Columbia University Law School later on.

While President Roosevelt found himself thrust into the political arena that his family was born into, Pres. Obama on the other hand entered the world of civil Rights Law after his graduation. The first ever political seat he held was as a Senator in the Illinois State Senate as a democratic party candidate in 1996. The area he represented? The South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park.

President Barack Obama finds himself in the position of getting elected to the Oval Office after 8 years of conservative leadership in the land. Something he shares in common with one of his presidential heroes, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These two men share similar political growths in their lifetimes. With Obama almost mimicking the rise to power of FDR.. Each man was elected by the people to be an agent of change during a time of chaos and turmoil in the country.

President Barack Obama is the kind of person whose charisma and gift for words leaves everyone who hears him speak as an admirer of his. So far in his less than 90 days of presidency, he has managed to accomplish very little. Maybe because the house and senate are both divided, or maybe because he is making sure he always makes the right decision. Unfortunately for him, he has become the 2nd “Depression” president of the country. The first one was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. However, due to the financial similarities between the two American presidents, President Obama has been compared by some to FDR.

Oddly enough, both presidents came into power during a time of banking emergency and a citizenry hungry for a more responsive government. Unlike FDR, Pres. Obama does not enjoy the solid backing of the members of the House. FDR, back in 1933 saw a solid house of representatives backing up his first piece of economic legislation so that it passed without much problems. No, in 2009, Pres. Obama sees himself without the bipartisanship that he hoped to create when he first made election history. Instead, his programs and policies are met with constant bickering and doom saying from the opposition who do not seem to realize that if President Obama’s good and workable policies do not pass with their support, the nation will have a tremendously difficult task of extricating itself from the clutches of economic turmoil. Something that the House and Senate during the time of President Roosevelt saw and understood. Which is why he was able to pass a record number of economic stimulating proposals through the house and senate. By working hand in hand, the bipartisanship of the era saw America surviving its worst financial depression at the time even though the country was fighting a world war on 2 battlefronts, Europe and Asia.

President Obama also finds himself facing a seemingly insurmountable economic crisis. However, by looking back to the past and analyzing the moves of past presidents, such as President Roosevelt, he is able to come up with possibly workable game plays that, if implemented properly and carefully, could see the nation pulling itself out of the current economic crisis over an acceptable period of time. By learning from the others mistakes, he has placed himself in a position to even reuse the plans that did not work because he now has the vision to see how it should have been implemented in the first place.

With regards to his other economic plans, it is apparent to most analysts that Pres. Obama has taken more than a page out of the economic leadership style of Pres. Roosevelt. According to Marsha Mercer’s article “President Obama’s No FDR”, he is doing his best to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor. For instance:

Many economists say FDR’s measures didn’t go far enough. In the mid-30s, FDR made the depression worse, they say, by exercising fiscal restraint. It took the massive stimulus of World War II to pump up the economy. Obama is determined not to make FDR’s mistake of stopping too soon. After a private meeting on Capitol Hill with Republicans, the blog buzz was that Obama had said FDR’s initial steps worked, but his plan was too small.

Somehow, the American people have gotten it into their minds that President Obama is the reincarnation of Pres. FDR. What with his efforts to emulate the economic policies of FDR, Pres. Obama however falls short of his own belief. Unlike FDR, Pres. Obama has turned to using the fear factor to enlist the support of the public in this time of financial crisis. The America that FDR dealt with during the depression catered to big businesses who stood to benefit from cooperating with the government on economic policies. These days, businesses are much smaller and flexible. Not to mention more businesses are personally owned rather than tied up with trade unions during the time. Indeed, the economic policies of FDR would no longer work in this day and age. Which is why the economic team of Pres. Obama seem to be on track to tweaking what they can of the original New Deal to use to the advantage of the current incumbent.

According to an opinion piece on Economist.com, the New Deal of the Roosevelt era will not withstand the current business set up of America. These days following such a path is not without risk because:

The New Deal was introduced into a world of giant organisations—of big businesses and big trade unions that were capable of striking deals with big government. But today’s economy is much more fluid. America’s most successful companies are entrepreneurial outfits like Apple and Google, which thrive on flexibility; even giant companies such as General Electric are breaking themselves up into entrepreneurial divisions. More Americans own their own companies (15%) than belong to trade unions (12%).

Due to the all the government red tape and regulatory bodies that have been set into place since the time of Roosevelt, it has become difficult for a president to enact laws which he believes could help the country ease out of the financial crisis on a much faster basis. Both Pres. FDR and Obama knew that they need the support of the public if their economic plans are to succeed. However, the Big Government For Big Audiences approach is no longer applicable these days. People no longer have to put up with listening to the presidential speeches. Instead, they can simply opt to tune out of Pres. Obama’s rallying cry for unity and cooperation both from the public and private sectors of society.

President Obama continues to emulate FDR in his policies regarding how to deal with the current war on terror. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy dictated that while the United States would participate in mutual actions against aggressors, he also worked to strengthen the defense capabilities of countries under attack who were allies of the United States and other peace keeping countries. Having heard President Obama’s speech today on how he plans to deal with the war in Afghanistan, I think it will be safe to say that he has, once again, borrowed a page from the foreign policy book of President Roosevelt.

While some sectors of society promote the idealistic propaganda that Pres. Obama is a “latter day FDR”, others paint a grimmer scenario as to the political influences of our current White House resident. He is deemed by some to be socialist in approach due to his views and actions that the conservative Republican party find to be dangerously close to reshaping the American government into a veiled dictatorship. Further research that I have done in order to compare and contrast these two history making presidents have shown that Pres. Roosevelt himself was also accused of being a “Benign Dictator” of America. These accusations were brought to light during the era because it was believed that most of the actions undertaken by the then president violated certain constitutional and legal restraints.

Obama, just like Roosevelt, fed the public of the time the idealism of hope and change as coming to the country. Both men, having inherited a nation in shambles from their predecessors found that by using their gift of words, and a seemingly hypnotic effect they had on people, at least in the case of President Obama, they could manage to garner support for their questionable policies. Something that could really help keep the people calm, responsive, and appreciative of the actions the government is taking to help sort out the mess that was left behind. Both men knew that this was the only way to discover what policies would work and what would not.

As of now, it is evident that President Obama is trying on the Franklin Roosevelt economic template to see if it will fit the current economic climate of the country. I am not saying that he should not do this but, he should do this with much caution. Times have drastically changed and America is no longer the country that first used the economic policies of President Roosevelt. There is so much check and balance within the government these days that it would be almost impossible to implement the sweeping reforms that President Roosevelt did during his time. But that is not to say that the policies cannot be updated to work in the modern day era. Some of the policies might work. It just depends upon how it is implemented and updated for the times.

In conclusion, it must be noted that the presidency of Barack Obama is still in its infancy. As such, it is a presidency that is struggling to find its identity and what is stands for. It is one thing to say the president advocates change and another to show the public how he plans to implement it. Until he finds his own voice, President Obama shall be calling upon voices from the past leaderships to help guide him upon his political, economic, and foreign policy quests.

Similarities between his presidency and FDR, Lincoln, and others before him will continue to crop up as well due to the aforementioned reasons. We can only hope that our first African American president finds his own unique voice and leadership style in the near future.

Indeed, it is too soon to tell if President Barack Obama shall be the FDR of my generation or not. It took FDR 4 presidential terms to become the leader that history now vividly remembers him to be. President Obama, after only 2 months in office, is still trying to fashion himself a presidency by trying on different hats left behind by the past presidents. At the moment, he is trying on FDR’s hat for size. He has a long list of other presidential inspirations available to him and I do not doubt that he will create an amalgam of all that was best in the former presidents in order to create the image that shall historically remain connected with his White House stay. No, he is not and will never be the Franklin D. Roosevelt of 21st century America.

Bibliography/ References

Mercer Marcia. “President Obama’s No FDR”. WSAV3. 2009. Web.

Litchman, Allan. “FDR’s Lessons For Obama”. Talking Points Memo. 2009. Web.

Harrop, Froma. “Obama Is No FDR”. The Fayetteville Observer. 2009. Web.

Stark, Steven. “BHO’s No FDR”. The Portland Phoenix. 2008. Web.

“Barack Obama”. Bio True Story. 2008. Web.

“How New A Deal?”. The Economist.com. 2008. Web.

“Frankiln D. Roosevelt”. The White House. N.A. 2009. Web.