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Sometimes the souls of presidential administrations surface in arts and literature. In the 1940s, readers saw Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s “Age of Jackson.” Twenty years later, theatergoers saw John Kennedy’s New Frontier in “Camelot.” In the 1980s, Winston Churchill’s six-volume memoir of the Second World War was a fixture in the homes of Reagan appointees, who saw in Churchill’s lonely stand against Hitler inspiration for their president’s stand against Soviet communism. Now a book has appeared that may capture the spirit of the administration of George W. Bush. As one might expect, it is authored by a conservative. But it celebrates the life and career of the father of modern liberalism. The book is Conrad Black’s “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom.” The book has been discussed and debated in National Review and other conservative publications. Its jacket cover bears laudatory squibs from William F. Buckley and George Will. Why are conservatives excited about a book on Franklin Roosevelt? It may not be surprising that a British lord, even a transatlantic one like the Canadian-born Black (now Lord Blackharbour), would view FDR heroically. British conservatives view the world differently than their American cousins. A few years ago, Lady Margaret Thatcher, a former prime minister who now sits with Conrad Black in the House of Lords, wrote an ode to Spam, calling it “a wartime delicacy.” Few American conservatives would call Spam a delicacy. But then, few American conservatives faced starvation at the hands of the German U-boat blockade during World War II. Tons of Spam, shipped by America, helped save Britain. FDR, who harnessed America’s boundless power to rescue the Old World, became another “wartime delicacy” to British conservatives. But what of the fascination of American conservatives? The answer may lie in the way George W. Bush, their political if not ideological leader, has governed. His conservatism has not sought to limit the role of government, nor to avoid foreign entanglements. It has been a muscular, assertive conservatism, of big and strong government. The kind of government Franklin Roosevelt built and ran. Something has happened to the conservative political movement. Under Ronald Reagan, government was “the problem, not the solution.” Under George W. Bush, government has been a growth industry. Federal outlays will rise 24 percent between 2001 and 2004. That excludes the $87 billion supplemental bill for Iraq. The increase is not primarily military, nor is it for mandatory spending over which the administration has no control. Non-defense discretionary spending has risen 31 percent under Bush. Spending on education has risen 60.8 percent, on labor 56 percent, and on the Department of the Interior, 23.4 percent. The president’s new Medicare program was price-tagged at $400 billion, but that figure has already been discarded as too small by a third. Total federal spending has now topped an inflation-adjusted $20,000 per household. The last time it was that high, Franklin Roosevelt was in office. Yet despite some grumblings at The Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, most conservatives have remained staunch in their support. Perhaps, in the aftermath of 9/11, conservatives have reappraised their value system and decided that national security trumps domestic limited government. Or perhaps, with Republicans now in control of all three branches of the government, conservatives are losing their fear of government power. Reappraisal of the present encourages reappraisal of the past, and that process may explain why conservatives are looking at Franklin D. Roosevelt in a new light. At the same time, they have helped make Conrad Black’s book — all 1,300 pages and 3 1/2 pounds of it — a best seller. Black’s book mentions Bush only once (and not flatteringly), but its portrait of the 32nd president evokes many features of the 43rd. Orthodox liberals and conservatives may vie with each other to see who can shriek with louder indignation, but the fact is, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Walker Bush have much in common. Both were born to old aristocratic East Coast families, the pampered sons of loving parents. Both were raised by strong, protective and adoring mothers. One need not delve into psychology to see how this kind of upbringing imbued each man with supreme self-confidence and assurance. Franklin and George grew up in the shadow of men who happened to be war heroes and presidents. In Bush’s case, the shadow was his father. For FDR, the shadow was his cousin, the uncle of his wife Eleanor, Teddy Roosevelt. The elders offered support and inspiration, but they also provided contrasts unflattering to their young proteges. Both the younger Bush and the younger Roosevelt were college cheerleaders, not athletes. They had pleasant personalities. They were liked more than admired by their fellow students. By contrast, George Herbert Walker Bush had been a star baseball player at Yale, and Teddy Roosevelt boxed at Harvard. Teddy Roosevelt was as much a political role model to cousin Franklin as Bush senior was to his son. Franklin always referred to TR as the greatest man he ever knew. He sought the advice of the ex-president when he launched his political career in 1908, and mentioned him frequently in his campaign appearances, sprinkling his speeches with “bully” and “delighted!” — terms made famous by TR. The relationship between Teddy and Franklin became so close that the older man signed his letters “your affectionate uncle,” several degrees closer than the actual familial relationship. Bush the father saw combat as the country’s youngest Navy pilot in World War II. He was shot down and was lucky to survive. Bush the son served as a fighter pilot for the Texas Air Guard during the Vietnam War. That was more than many men of his age and station did during that conflict, but it was safe work, and it paled in comparison to his father’s military service. Though confined to a wheelchair by polio in later life, Franklin Roosevelt was a healthy young man when America entered World War I. He manned a desk as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the Great War. According to Black, Teddy “begged him to get into uniform at once.” He also urged Eleanor to use her influence to get her husband to enlist, a request Eleanor brusquely refused. Franklin’s wartime career was doubtless a disappointment to Teddy, who pleaded with Woodrow Wilson for a commission for himself, so that at the age of 58 he could join the fighting. Franklin’s failure to see military duty, like George Bush’s failure to serve in Vietnam, was neither improper nor unpatriotic. Roosevelt proved an effective and energetic Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and his superiors, including President Wilson, did not want him to resign. But he never completely lived down this omission, and overcompensated in his memory. After the war, he chronically exaggerated his contributions, insisting, for example, that he was responsible for the mutiny of the German Navy. In 1939, when the country was cautiously emerging from isolationism, Roosevelt told a visiting senator, “Listen, I probably saw more of the war in Europe than any other living person.” This was a ludicrous overstatement, and an insult to the Americans who actually fought at the front. But it reflected an insecurity over his wartime role, an insecurity George W. Bush may feel, especially if he faces John Kerry in the election. But even if Franklin and the younger Bush were not the men of action their mentors were, neither were they superficial. Two bedside scenes come to mind. When Roosevelt was first bed-ridden with polio, he did all he could to lift the spirits of his worried children, leading them in Harvard cheers when he managed to move his toes. There is a marvelous courage in such silliness. When Bush recently visited Walter Reed Medical Center, he stopped by the bedside of a Special Forces officer who had lost his right hand. Without hesitating, he grasped the stump in his two hands, said a prayer, then kissed the man. As politicians, both men were underestimated by their colleagues, and even more so by their opponents. Part of it was their preppiness. Bush coins nicknames for his peers. Roosevelt called everyone, from cabinet members to his valet, by his first name. Not everyone appreciated the familiarity. Dean Acheson observed that FDR treated his secretary of state “like a promising stable boy.” Both men were smarter than they let on, but neither was an intellectual. When FDR ran for president, Raymond Moley, the leader of his Brain Trust, approached him with alternative views for a speech on the hot issue of tariffs, one favoring high tariffs and the other low. Asked by Moley to choose a position for the speech, Roosevelt instructed him “to weave the two together.” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have described Roosevelt as “a second-rate intellect but a first-class temperament.” Black casts doubt on the authenticity of the quote. But the view was shared by others, including supporters. John Maynard Keynes, whom Black does not quote, once remarked in reference to Roosevelt’s grasp on policy that “he had as much idea of where he would land as a prewar pilot.” (Keynes was referring to World War I pilots.) If “Saturday Night Live” had been on the air in 1932, FDR probably would have been caricatured in much the same way Bush is today. Perhaps because they shunned intellectual pretensions, they were more popular with ordinary Americans than with celebrities. Charles Lindbergh, an American idol, was also a leading isolationist and one of Roosevelt’s most prominent critics on foreign policy. Conrad Black writes: Lindbergh was � a malignant prototype of the opinionated celebrity, a type that would become increasingly familiar in American life: entertainers or sports personalities or cultural figures trying to translate their talent or celebrity in their own fields into positions of political influence, more often than not for the propagation of sophomoric, fatuous, or even seditious views. Roosevelt had Lindbergh subjected to wiretaps — more than Bush has done with Martin Sheen or Michael Moore. Both became war leaders. Roosevelt saw Nazi Germany as a mortal danger, even though it was not directly threatening the United States. He gradually and intentionally provoked the Germans, providing the British with warships and supplies, extending American territorial waters 1,800 miles out into the Atlantic, and ordering the Navy to attack German ships whenever they were found. Roosevelt explained his thinking to a nation still clinging to the hope that it could avoid the world’s troubles: “We have sought no shooting war with Hitler. We do not seek it now � . But when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you don’t wait until it has struck before you crush him.” This statement echoes the doctrine of pre-emption adopted by President Bush years later. By coincidence, FDR delivered it in a radio address on Sept. 11, 60 years to the day before the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Both were skilled at coalition building. When FDR ran for president in 1932, the Democrats had lost 14 of the previous 18 elections. Roosevelt built a coalition of urban ethnics, blacks, Southern whites and progressives, which generated Democratic victories in seven of the next nine elections. Since his election, George W. Bush has solidified a Republican coalition of Southern Protestants and Northern Catholics, and has made strong efforts to expand it to include Hispanics. Despite lingering controversy over the 2000 election, despite a disappointing economy, Bush led his party to regain control of the Senate and to strengthen its hold on the House in 2002. Their opponents might entertain themselves with images of the two as intellectual lightweights. But Roosevelt and Bush have proved skilled and serious in their pursuit of power. Conrad Black did not set out to evoke George W. Bush when he wrote “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom.” His purpose was to advance the idea that Franklin Roosevelt was the most important person of the 20th century, and, with all his faults, a champion of American security and capitalism. Such a view coming from a conservative is worth noting. So is the book’s success among conservative readers. Prospective readers should be warned. Even at 1,300 pages, the book has the air of a work written on the run. Though the writing style is witty and acerbic, the author has a bad habit of repeating anecdotes. (It’s unnecessary to remind us that courtiers of Louis XIV facilitated the Sun King’s bowel movements by standing around grunting encouragingly. Once is enough, thank you.) And for a publisher who has been acquiring newspapers all of his life, couldn’t he have assigned an editor to fact- and spell-check the manuscript? Among many other minor but irritating nits, the reader finds Harvard naval historian S.E. Morison misspelled “Morrison”; New Deal brain truster Adolf Berle misspelled “Adolph”; and the German battleship Tirpitz misspelled “Turpitz.” FDR first met Winston Churchill in 1918, not 1919. After their Placentia Bay rendezvous, Churchill wrote: “It was a great hour to live,” not a “great day to live.” Lyndon Johnson did not “pass” the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress did, and Congress passed it in 1964, not 1965. And on and on. Perhaps a cleanup crew will work on the book before its second edition. But these are unimportant. The spectacle of a conservative writer and conservative readers joining to glorify FDR marks the book’s publication as a significant event in the evolution of this political movement. It suggests that with all branches of the government in Republican control, conservatives may be shedding one of their most salient characteristics: distrust of government. That distrust has been the mainspring of conservative intellectual creativity. Without that distrust, conservatism may atrophy intellectually, ever vigilant about preserving power but increasingly forgetful about why it sought that power to begin with. Contributing Writer Lawrence J. Siskind, of San Francisco’s Harvey Siskind Jacobs LLP, specializes in intellectual property law. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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