Friday, June 26, 2009
My grandfather was a dirt farmer with only a sixth-grade education. During the Depression, he eked out a living selling blocks of ice. But in those days, even though he was poor, he knew someone special: from listening to the fireside chats on the radio, he knew Franklin Roosevelt. And he believed that Roosevelt knew what his life was like — and cared about it too.
I grew up listening to my grandfather's tales of what it was like to live through the Depression and the war and what Roosevelt meant to him. When I was President, in another time of change and uncertainty, I often looked at the portrait of F.D.R. in the Roosevelt Room and remembered my grandfather's stories.
Besides having a deep personal connection to ordinary citizens, Roosevelt got the big things right. When he came into office during the Depression, he saw that the ills of the country could not be addressed without more aggressive involvement by the government. He ran for President as a fiscal conservative, promising to balance the budget. But unlike his predecessor, he quickly realized that, with prices collapsing and unemployment exploding, only the Federal Government could step into the breach and restart the economy.
Roosevelt also knew that in a highly dynamic time like his — or the one we're in now — you have to do a lot more than one thing at a time. I was often criticized, just as President Obama is now, for trying to do too many things at once. Roosevelt understood that in a complex and perilous situation, you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and he was masterful in doing a variety of difficult things simultaneously. ...(Remainder.)