Pat and I have been watching, on Amazon, Ken Burns' documentary series about the Roosevelts (Teddy and Franklin and Eleanor and all them others in between). This morning I find myself wanting to share some thoughts about President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR was a man for his time. He was, as we readers of the Bible like to say, a person who had been born "for such a time as this."
"This" time being that time-- the time that he was born into, and destined to have a great impact on: the 1930s.
Through the long course of Ken Burns' biographical film-depiction of FDR, any viewer can ascertain many attributes of true leadership that Mr. Roosevelt manifested in his personality.
Most notable among those attributes is a thoroughly positive attitude: We can do this, he exuded, and we can do it with great joy and a good attitude. Watching the old newsreel clips of FDR I am reminded, strangely enough, of another great President, Ronald Reagan, who possessed a similarly positive outlook on life. Mr. Roosevelt's jovial optimism also reminds me of the first pastor I ever had after becoming a Christian at age 27. That was a fellow named Tom Gable, about 35 years ago.
But Mr. Roosevelt's unique leadership was not an attribute that was easily acquired. His gift of joyful positivism was shaped by God, through the terrible crucible of suffering. It was thereby crafted into a finely-honed treasure. His crucible of suffering was a disease: polio.
We all have, as we Christians say, our "cross to bear." Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "cross" was a dreaded, debilitating disease.
I daresay if Mr. Roosevelt had had no such impediment-- with as much class privilege and intelligence as he had going for him-- he would have been as arrogant as the day is long, and his great leadership skills would never have been manifested in any truly effective way.
Just sayin'. No way to prove such a statement.
Smiling and displaying great confidence has a lot to do with this. Confidence in himself, of course, but more importantly, confidence in us.
Now I know that among my circle of friends, most of whom are conservative southerners generally espousing Republican principles, to admire Mr. Roosevelt, especially in a public way, is anathema, because he was, you know, the guy who got us going down the terrible road of socialism that eventually led to LBJ and Obama and our current entitlement-driven welfare state and so forth and so on.
But here's the thought I want to explore on this beautiful Friday morning in June, 2015: Sure, Mr. Roosevelt was perhaps, a "socialist" by some definitions, but look what stupendous works got done in the 1930s under his leadership: dams, rural electrification projects, conservation projects, millions of trees planted, post offices all over the country with artistic murals, bridges, roads. And in my neck of the woods here in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway was built. Fifty years after that project, I worked on its final phase. I got hired in 1981 as a steel-tieing rodbuster. This was a job I took on-- liberal arts college graduate that I am-- for a few years, to feed my wife and young'uns back in the early days of our marriage, in order to complete the Parkway's missing link, the Linn Cove Viaduct--the section that was never finished back in the '30s--because it was in the shadow of rough, rocky Appalachian terrain, a mountain that we call, around here, Grandfather.
So there we were last night watching Ken Burns' masterful documentary-style story-tellin' about Roosevelt and the WPA, CCC, NRA, etc. And we see all those workin' folks on them grainy old blackn'white newsreels. The workers were performing great feats of mastery over nature, staying busy and out of trouble, getting significant legacy edifices erected, while our great capital-breathing nation recovered from a blown-up 1920s Wall Street bubble. Sound familiar?
But here's the thing. If you'll look at all them old and young codgers on them newsreels back in the day, you can discern that they knew how to work.
"Shovel ready" is what I'm talking about. Literally, men-- and many a woman too--knew how to use shovels back then. They knew how to do physical work, in order to construct all them great projects and assure future wilderness and national parks and so on and so forth, and in so doing, implant within our national heritage many great infrastructure and/or numerous national treasure wonders that are still with us today.
But here's the rub. I don't think folks these days are like those crusty Americans from back in the day. There's no way we can do what they did.
That was then and this is now.
Back in the day, during the '30s, fellas were just three steps off the farm anyway, and they knew how to really use a shovel. Workers these days are more likely to be texting or checking email on their mobile device while leaning on the shovel, and so I don't see us really able to dig our way out of this hole we're in.
So if there were a Roosevelt kind of person around today to lead us out of this mess, God only knows who it would be. I certainly see anyone like that on the horizon.
Mobile-device-ready doesn't exactly carry the same weight as shovel-ready. Nevertheless. . .take a look around at America. While we are trying to find make-work for folks, what needs doin'?