Via the Washington Times:
For the fifth time in five surveys, Franklin D. Roosevelt tops a Siena College survey of the best U.S. presidents, the school said Thursday. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson — the four faces of Mount Rushmore — are all runner-ups, according to 238 historians, presidential scholars and political scientists who participated in the Siena College Research Institute Survey of U.S. Presidents.
Since 1982, the Loudonville, N.Y., college has periodically asked scholars to rank American presidents on 20 categories, including imagination, foreign policy accomplishments, and ability to avoid crucial mistakes.
How could any thinking person rank Franklin Delano Roosevelt over Lincoln? The latter saw the country through an existential crisis perhaps more urgent than WWII. And he devoted a career to the abolition of the worst humanitarian crisis the world had yet seen, and perhaps will ever see, Atlantic slavery. Roosevelt failed to act decisively against either of the gross human disasters of his world. I am speaking of his silence on “Uncle Joe” Stalin’s war against his own serfs, and the Shoah.
FDR ignored the Holocaust for many years, for no other reason than the placation of anti-Semitic New Deal critics. Internally, Roosevelt half-heartedly suggested the State Department coordinate relocation of German Jews to Central America, but nothing became of the program, and he staunchly refused to grant asylum to refugees in the US. In 1939, he did nothing to answer the telegraphed requests for protection from thousands of Ashkenazis seeking to land the passanger freighter St. Louis in Florida. Those thousands were denied entry into the US, deported, and shipped back to Europe. Many would die in Nazi extermination facilities.
For his record on the Holocaust alone, Roosevelt’s name deserves connotations of infamy. Some of his apologists will acknowledge this, and change the subject to talk about the success of his economic programmes. Then, of course, there is the mobilization of industry for victory in WWII. But, regardless of whatever material benefits the New Deal might have affected, and regardless to the ultimate success of military Keynsianism, his approach to domestic politics should not be taken as a model by the liberal-minded. For Roosevelt also showed what might be called a flexible attitude towards autocracy. There are, of course, the unprecedented five terms he served and ran for. And it is commonly known that he tried to “pack” the Supreme Court with an additional three justices after certain policies of the New Deal were found to be unconstitutional. Then there is the United States Executive Order 9066, which mandated the indefinite interment of Japanese Americans on no charge but ethnicity.
Roosevelt is not even among my forgivable presidents. To call him even a “good one,” let alone the best among the good, seems to me a surrender to cultural relativism. Vindicating Roosevelt not only forgives the racism and anti-Semitism of his culture, but absolves it of its sins.
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