Victor Shih 6064
1. Did Roosevelt’s upbringing, background and character make it easy for him to understand the concerns and fears of ordinary Americans? Explain your answer.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States of America, was often referred to as the “Greatest Man in the World”. However, it would seem that his upbringing and background would not have qualified him for that title until he was stricken with polio in 1921 when he was able to empathize with ordinary Americans and understand their fears and concerns.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born into a very wealthy family. He was an only child and he was spoiled by his mother, whilst living in a 188 acre family estate, enjoyed playing polo and going sailing. He had been to Europe 15 times and lived an extremely luxurious lifestyle, something ordinary Americans would all envy. As a child, he was educated by private tutors until the age of fourteen, when he attended the famous public school of Groton and later furthered his studies at the prestigious Harvard University, where he studied history and law. However, he was more inclined towards his social life than his studies, for instance, during his university years, while everyone at Harvard was hard at work, he spent his time sailing and enjoying life, so he was popular without needing to excel himself academically. After finishing his studies he worked briefly for a law firm and later, he entered politics as a Democrat in 1910. He was able to find his own election and had a recognizable name due to his relations with the former 26th American president Theodore Roosevelt, and gradually climbed the pole of state politics and finally became a part of the New York Senate. Despite his high standing position in society, people who met him saw him as “serious” and “not particularly charming” as he rarely smiled. He also had the unfortunate habit of throwing his head up, this plus his towering figure, gave everyone the impression that he was looking down at them which showed a sign of arrogance. In spite of all this, Roosevelt was still living a happy life and there was nothing to trouble him as he never witnessed or experienced what it was like to be living the life of “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid”. He was a high standing person in society and therefore only mingled with other privileged and rich Americans who were also living good lives so he would not be able to relate to the problems and fears of ordinary Americans at this point in his life.
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The turning point of his life came in 1921 when he was stricken with the deadly disease of polio which paralyzed him from the waist down. Throughout his life, Roosevelt had always been rich and happy and lived a luxurious life. When he caught polio, he finally realized and went through the hardships and suffering of ordinary Americans who were in poverty. This was because polio paralyzed him and he lost control over his legs so he could not move and do whatever he wanted anymore. This did not discourage him however, in fact, this experience allowed him to empathize with normal Americans who were going through poverty and hardships which sparked his determination and dynamism to make things right for all Americans. He later wrote “I spent two years in bed trying to move my big toe” which displays his enthusiasm and his eagerness to overcome this disability and he later brought the same determination and dynamism to get America out of the Depression. Five years later, with extreme perseverance and a lot of support from his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt was finally able to walk again, but he had to be aided with metal braces. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable recovery.
By 1928, Roosevelt had recovered enough and finally re-entered politics. He stood for the office of Governor of New York and won the election; a large surprise is a historically Republican state. It was the time of the Great Depression when he took the post as Governor of New York and New York was one of the states that was worst hit by the Depression so Roosevelt realized that the government could not continue the “Laissez-Faire” policy and with his determination and dynamism, he begun to help the homeless and poor. He set up the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration in 1932 and spent $20 million of the government’s tax money to support this which in turn, create jobs for the unemployed. Roosevelt was the first state Governor to implement policies of this sort, showing his determination to take action.
Another one of Roosevelt’s famous qualities was that he was an excellent public speaker. He started making public speeches on the radio in his “Fireside Chats” which inspired confidence amongst all Americans that heard him. He also went out on tours and made around 20 speeches a day. He shook hands with local people, talked to them and saw that their condition was indecent and they desperately needed help, which made him want to take action right away. This was good for his image because this allowed people to feel connected with Roosevelt and people saw him as caring, and a man of action which was exactly what ordinary Americans, who were going through poverty, needed: a president who cared for them and gave them confidence. In one of his speeches, he said that “These unhappy times call for the building of plans…” which made ordinary Americans see him as a man of action and confidence. In 1932, Roosevelt won the presidential election with a landslide victory and this was largely due to votes from ordinary Americans who were the “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” because almost all ordinary Americans hoped he was going to turn things around for them.
Thus, despite not having the life of an ordinary American and having a wealthy and luxurious upbringing and background which did not allow him to understand the concerns and fears of ordinary Americans, the onset of polio transformed the arrogant and unpleasant Roosevelt into a caring and understanding American president; one who could and would understand, motivate and help those ‘forgotten’ men.
(Word Count: 1020 words.)