[Paleopsych] Robert Higgs: Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush: Some Unsettling Similarities

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Robert Higgs: Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush: Some Unsettling 
The Independent Institute

January 23, 2005

    In view of the ideological chasm that seems to separate the admirers
    of Franklin D. Roosevelt from those of George W. Bush, one might
    suppose that these two presidents exhibited completely different
    character and conduct, yet a close examination reveals that they
    actually have much in common. The similarities, however, are scarcely
    reassuring to those who are worried about what President Bush might do

    Roosevelt and Bush came from similar class backgrounds, each being the
    scion of a wealthy, well established Northeastern family. After early
    schooling at home, Roosevelt went to the elite Groton School in
    Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College, and attended Columbia
    Law School. Bush, the grandson of a U.S. senator and the son of a U.S.
    president, went to the elite Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and
    graduated from Yale University and from Harvard Business School.
    Neither man ever achieved any notable success on his own in the
    private sector, and both leaped at opportunities to trade on their
    family background and social connections by involving themselves in
    politics at an early age.

    Despite the advantages of study at premier educational institutions,
    neither man possessed much interest in or capacity for deep thinking,
    specializing instead in conducting themselves as bon vivants and
    backslappers. In a biography of Roosevelt, John T. Flynn remarked on
    "the free and easy manner in which [Roosevelt] could confront problems
    about which he knew very little." Indeed, Roosevelt affected complete
    insouciance about his lack of understanding of many matters for which
    he had responsibility as president. Of Bush's intellectual caliber,
    obviously, the less said the better. Neither had to dwell on the
    concerns that cause ordinary people to lose sleep, such as earning an
    honest living or meeting the challenges of an occupation, trade, or
    profession. The old adage "it's who you know" must have had special
    resonance for both men.

    Neither possessed sterling personal character. Roosevelt was an
    inveterate liar. His "first instinct," according to New York Times
    reporter Turner Catledge, "was always to lie," although "sometimes in
    midsentence he would switch to accuracy because he realized he could
    get away with the truth in that particular instance." Bush, too, in
    the view of his legions of enemies and detractors, has resorted
    frequently to lies, most notably in his series of shifting prewar and
    subsequent justifications for the U.S. invasion and occupation of
    Iraq. His critics may be wrong, however, that he has--in the strictest
    sense--lied in these pronouncements. It may be that he simply does not
    distinguish truth from falsehood, and rather than making the effort to
    do so, he prefers to float along on his arrogance in a sea of
    delusions. Many observers have remarked on Bush's astonishing
    insulation from information that might contradict his bizarre
    interpretations of events in the outside world. Evidently, he does not
    read newspapers or even watch much news on television, relying instead
    on the briefing papers and verbal reports fed to him by his aides and
    on the opinions expressed by the sycophants with whom he surrounds
    himself. Roosevelt seems to have had the wit to know that he was
    lying; Bush seems content to live in a reality-free environment,
    confidently awaiting the divine intervention that will transform his
    fantasies and wishful thinking into facts on the ground.

    Both men sought successfully to plunge the nation into war, and having
    done so, both then gained stature from serving as a "war president,"
    although Roosevelt's war was the greatest cataclysm of all time,
    whereas Bush's is a much smaller conflict, albeit one replete with
    important global consequences. Both men engaged in war with cavalier
    disregard for constitutional scruples. In 1940 and 1941, Roosevelt
    made the United States an undeclared belligerent working hand in hand
    with the British, even going so far as to give away a substantial
    chunk of the U.S. Navy to a foreign power wholly on his own authority
    in the so-called "destroyer deal." Bush, despite having sworn to
    "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," eschewed the clear
    constitutional requirement of a congressional declaration of war and
    sent U.S. forces to attack Iraq as if he were a Caesar beyond earthly
    restraint. Both men preferred, especially in the conduct of foreign
    policy, to do as they wished, taking Congress or the courts into
    account only as a courtesy or in pro forma consultations and hearings.
    Before Roosevelt transformed himself from Dr. New Deal to Dr. Win the
    War, his administration had run out of steam and faced mounting
    opposition in Congress and among the general public. Similarly, Bush's
    administration was drifting and pointless until the 9/11 attacks
    elevated the president to the status of "great leader" and changed his
    uncertain gait into "bring 'em on" swagger.

    Neither man learned anything from political opponents or from the
    failure of his polices to pan out, lapsing instinctively into an "us
    against them" mentality for dealing with differences of opinion,
    interpretation, or moral judgment. When the New Deal failed to bring
    the economy fully out of the Great Depression and then, in 1937-1938,
    knocked it into a "depression within a depression," Roosevelt could
    only sputter that his enemies among the "economic royalists" had
    mounted a strike of capital to sabotage his presidency. Bush,
    confronted with the manifest catastrophe of the U.S. occupation of
    Iraq, finds nothing to fault and no one in his administration to hold
    accountable for the debacle. Those such as Colin Powell, who recently
    mustered the courage to tell the president that "we are losing," the
    president prefers to send packing, perceiving in their honesty only
    disloyalty to his noble quest, with its patient willingness to prolong
    the pointless savagery and slaughter indefinitely.

    Both Roosevelt and Bush presided over a huge spurt in the growth of
    government financed in substantial part by running up debt. Under
    Roosevelt, domestic spending and economic regulation mushroomed prior
    to the gargantuan military buildup of the war years; under Bush,
    domestic and military spending and regulation all have zoomed upward.
    Although Roosevelt's sweeping regulatory measures bulked far larger
    than Bush's, the current president did make the largest addition in
    decades to the government's welfare apparatus--the prescription-drug
    benefit attached to Medicare, which is sure to exceed its already
    enormous cost estimates before long. Bush's spending increases have
    been at the fastest rate since the guns-and-butter heyday of Lyndon B.
    Johnson's administration, and Bush has not seen fit to veto a single
    spending bill, no matter how outrageously packed with pork it might

    No doubt other parallels might also be mentioned, but the foregoing
    remarks suffice to establish my main point. In government, as many
    commentators have noted, no failure goes unrewarded. Indeed, the
    greater the failure, the greater the reward. Franklin D. Roosevelt and
    George W. Bush exemplify in strikingly similar ways the veracity of
    this observation.

    [3]Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The
    Independent Institute, author of [4]Against Leviathan and [5]Crisis
    and Leviathan, and editor of the scholarly quarterly journal, [6]The
    Independent Review.

    [7]The Empire Has No Clothes New from Robert Higgs!
    [8]AGAINST LEVIATHAN: Government Power and a Free Society
    Against Leviathan offers an unflinchingly critical analysis of
    government power. Topics include Social Security, the paternalism of
    the FDA, the "War on Drugs", the nature of political leadership, civil
    liberties, the conduct of the national surveillance state, and
    governmental responses to a continuing stream of "crises," including
    domestic economic busts and foreign wars both hot and cold.


    3. http://www.independent.org/aboutus/person_detail.asp?id=489
    4. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=53
    5. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=15
    6. http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/
    7. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=53
    8. http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=53

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