Roosevelt’s aristocracy worthy of consideration

Last Sunday as I was driving home listening to WLS, I heard one of the DJs say something that summed up the longing a lot of us now have for successful national leadership with integrity and control. The DJ was reading her daily list of that day’s birthdays when she came to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.

“That’s what we need. An aristocrat. A good man who will take charge. FDR was the greatest president we’ve ever had.”

She went on for a couple of minutes about FDR and about how vastly different his administration was from the last few administrations—incompetent, vacillating or downright ignorant. The word that kept coming up was “aristocrat.” We needed an aristocrat.

In America, the closest thing to an aristocrat is a member of the wealthy class, a person who inherits a lot of money and does not have to work. An aristocrat, we can imagine, is educated in the best Ivy League schools and feels that his money and his education set him apart. Why would Americans, who believe in the equality and equal privilege of all people, want an aristocratic president? The result would be an aristocracy, not a democracy, wouldn’t it?

FDR was an aristocrat. He was the son of a wealthy investor and landowner. He went to Groton School, Harvard University and Columbia University Law School. He traveled widely in Europe before beginning a very short stint on a law firm. Then he was elected to the New York State Senate. With a short interruption brought about by an electoral defeat and a crippling attack of polio, FDR was continuously in public office for the rest of his life.

e was elected to an unprecedented four terms as president, from 1932 to 1945. Some people thought he was turning into a dictator. He had such massive support and trust that he could implement programs of economic reform and relief which would have been rejected at any other time in history. Yet, some people thought he was a socialist.

FDR’s legacy was the New Deal, the implementation of the welfare state and the acceptance by the American people of much more governmental interference in their economy. Depending on who you are, the New Deal either saved American capitalism from far worse popular upheaval, or it sounded the death knell of the free market system.

Even people who don’t like what FDR left us must agree that he was one of our greatest presidents. He was confident, bold and pragmatic. He quickly dealt with situations that would have stymied a less capable man. In fact, a lot of the personal qualities that we hoped Ronald Reagan possessed when we elected him are exactly the qualities that FDR had.

But FDR was an aristocrat. Actually, there are some things aristocrats have over ordinary folks. For one thing, they aren’t motivated by greed. Graft and corruption aren’t likely to tempt a man who is already a millionaire. For another thing, an aristocrat’s money gives him security. If all else fails, he can fall back on it. You’ll never catch an aristocrat licking someone’s boots or testing the wind. Confidence and decisiveness are easier for a man or woman whose entire life’s work is not on the line.

A well-rounded education from the best schools gives a person a different perspective on life. Someone who has gone like a demon through law or business school (like many of our leaders today) tend to be oriented to short term windfalls. They may know nothing about philosophy, literature or the arts, all of which are necessary for the subtlety of mind displayed by the greatest leaders in history. Such a person tends to see things in historical perspective and knows how to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Before the word “aristocracy” got such a bad name, it simply meant government by the best people available. Unfortunately, the best people these days aren’t the people with the most incentive to be politicians. The best people are almost always those urged into service from a sense of duty and responsibility. People back in the 30’s and 40’s didn’t seem to mind that FDR was an aristocrat. All they knew was that they needed him.