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Why Don’t Democrats Celebrate FDR More?


I’m working on an article that blasts some pretty big holes in some aspects of the Legend of Harry Truman, and a colleague who read a draft raises an interesting question: Why isn’t FDR a subject of more enthusiastic celebration and memorialization by Democrats? Republicans, increasingly preposterously, love to talk about “the party of Lincoln” — why aren’t Democrats the party of FDR, as opposed to the party of Jefferson-Jackson day dinners, Harry Truman nostalgia, JFK worship etc?

Indeed the nostalgia industries that sprung up around Truman and JFK in the 1970s seem to have no real parallel in regard to a vastly greater president — by historical consensus one of the three greatest in the nation’s history. The other two members of that pantheon — Washington and Lincoln — each have about 50,000 places named after them. What’s named after FDR?

Leaving aside that kind of symbolism, which is nevertheless important, why don’t Democrats talk about FDR more? Reactionaries in his time hated him with the heat of 10,000 suns, and with good reason. Their heirs, who now completely control the Republican party, hate him if possible even more.

FDR was of course not a flawless president or man (a category that includes zero members), but if you judge a president both by what he accomplished and by his enemies, then and now, he’s arguably the greatest president in American history. Yet celebrations of his legacy by Democrats in particular and progressives in general over the past seven decades have seemed oddly muted and far too intermittent.

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