In just 180 days, FDR has managed to completely transform the office of the presidency.
The President has passed the first important milestone of his four-year term. Six months have passed since he assumed power, and it is now a trite fact that more has been crowded into that brief period than into any other peace-time Administration in Washington. It may even be contended that the first six months of Wilson’s war Administration were not so momentous so far as legislation is concerned. Beyond question no man is able to visualize, or even to guess, how far the New Deal may take us. It is like war. You begin a war in Cuba and end on the other side of the globe in the Philippines, which scarcely an American had ever heard of before. You begin to battle in Belgium and you fight in Asia, Africa and all over Europe before you are through. The country has started on a new path of controlled industry and economics and no one knows what the outcome will be–whether we shall hold on to our institutions, or whether we shall end completely socialized, or with a fascist dictatorship.
But that uncertainty need not keep us from trying to evaluate today what Mr. Roosevelt has accomplished and his manner of doing it, for that frequently counts for more than the actual achievement. Nor need we be deterred by the fact that the President has been actuated by no predetermined policy or program. He has not moved in accordance with any deep-seated political or economic philosophy. I still feel this even though, in his acceptance of Mr. Moley’s resignation, he spoke of the latter’s “participation during these two years in the development of policies based on our common ideals.” During his term as Governor of New York there was not the slightest sign of advocacy of, or adherence to, any far-reaching policy of social reorganization. Nor did his speeches during his campaign in any way mark him as a radical reformer. Indubitably he has been governed, since he has been in Washington, by the immediate needs of the hour, especially at the very outset, when the banking collapse was upon us. To a certain extent that was inevitable; but to go on through three and one-half more years without a definite, clear-cut vision of the goal, or goals, to be achieved may easily prove to be a very different matter. The day may come, sooner than the President now realizes, when he will be faced with the question, “Under which king, Bezonian?” and have to decide once for all.
But today it is proper to pass judgment upon what Mr. Roosevelt has so far done without stopping to consider the remoter implications. I think we can all agree that his unbounded courage and cheerful self-confidence have had a vital effect upon the public. He has carried his tremendous burden almost jauntily–perhaps because of a certain streak of incurable youthfulness in him. In any event this attitude of his has helped to ease the national strain and to change the American mentality, and that, as I have already said on this page, is one of his greatest achievements. That we can today discuss and authorize radical measures without being called Bolsheviks is, I repeat, a tremendous step forward, for which we cannot feel too grateful. Side by side with that let me put the extraordinary spectacle of our greatest steel, coal, oil, and other magnates coming down to Washington, not to give orders as has been the habit of these privileged masters of capital, our real rulers in America for decades, but to sit like schoolboys before General Johnson, to be rudely lectured and told what they have got to do. What a reversal of roles! What a New Freedom for our government! Woodrow Wilson, the author of the New Freedom slogan, it will be remembered, undertook to do this very thing. His Assistant Secretary of the Navy has accomplished vastly more in six months in this respect–with the vital aid of an economic collapse and panic–than Mr. Wilson achieved during his entire term.