(I posted this at The American Catholic on January 30, 2015, and I thought the History mavens of Almost Chosen People would enjoy it.)
Today is my bride’s birthday, a birthday she shares with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On this day, I think the remarks of President Reagan on the centennial of FDR’s birth need to be recalled. Reagan of course supported FDR when Reagan was a New Deal Democrat. As a Republican he attempted to correct the mistakes of the New Deal, but he never lost his admiration for the leadership shown by Roosevelt, many aspects of which Reagan during his Presidency shared. Here are an excerpt of Reagan’s remarks:
We’re all here today to mark the centennial of one of history’s truly monumental figures, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Historians still debate the details of his intentions, his policies and their impact. But all agree that, like the Founding Fathers before him, F. D. R. was an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times. He meant many different things to many different people. He could reach out to men and women of diverse races and backgrounds and inspire them with new hope and new confidence in war and peace.
Franklin Roosevelt was the first President I ever saw. I remember the moment vividly. It was in 1936, a campaign parade in Des Moines, Iowa. What a wave of affection and pride swept through that crowd as he passed by in an open car—which we haven’t seen a President able to do for a long time—a familiar smile on his lips, jaunty and confident, drawing from us reservoirs of confidence and enthusiasm some of us had forgotten we had during those hard years. Maybe that was F. D. R.’s greatest gift to us. He really did convince us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.
One of our guests today, Senator Jennings Randolph, who served in the Congress during the New Deal, summed it up very well in a recent interview. Senator Randolph recalled of Franklin Roosevelt, “He lifted us up with a sense of joy. But I think his greatest contribution was that we discovered ourselves as individuals. I count. That was his contribution. Each of us could say, ‘I count.'”
But, of course, not quite everybody agreed at the time. How well I recall the criticisms from F. D. R.’s first campaign for the nomination to the end of his last term. No less a pundit than Walter Lippmann wrote Franklin Roosevelt off at the starting line, dismissing him as, “a pleasant man, who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.” Forgive me but now and then I think I’ve been hearing an echo. [Laughter]
F. D. R. was denounced by some as a traitor to his class. But people who said that missed the whole point of what he believed in and what this country’s all about. There’s only one class and that’s “We, the People.”
Woe unto those foreign or domestic who try to divide us. They’ve never succeeded yet. I think there’s a basic reason for this, one that Franklin Roosevelt understood as well as anyone. “The overwhelming majority of Americans,” he said, “are possessed of two great qualities, a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.”
This great nation of ours is a caring, loving land. Its people have a zest for life and laughter, and Franklin Roosevelt shared those qualities. But we’re also a practical people with an inborn sense of proportion. We sense when things have gone too far, when the time has come to make fundamental changes. Franklin Roosevelt was that kind of a person, too.
Every generation of Americans has faced problems and every generation has overcome them. Like Franklin Roosevelt we know that for free men hope will always be a stronger force than fear, that we only fail when we allow ourselves to be boxed in by the limitations and errors of the past.
This is not a political gathering. It’s a celebration of a great man who led our nation through historic times. It’s a celebration shared here today by many who knew and loved him well. Friends, colleagues, and relatives—and for my part, a young sportscaster who first felt the awe and majesty of this office when that familiar caped figure drove down the avenue in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1936, the figure who proved to us all that “Happy Days” could and would come again.
In that spirit I can think of no better way to conclude these brief remarks than to ask you all to join me in a toast—and I think he would join—a toast to “Happy Days” now, again, and always.
To “Happy Days.”