The idea of our annual making of America issue is to use history to help explain the challenges of the moment. No historical figure does that better than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This is not a new idea, of course--we did a cover image of President Obama in the guise of F.D.R. back in November. But this week, we dive deeply into F.D.R.'s Administration and discuss what the new President can learn from how F.D.R. dealt with both the Depression and a gathering international storm. As former President Bill Clinton writes in his insightful back-page essay, "Roosevelt got the big things right."
At a time when opinion polls suggest that Obama is more popular than his policies, the President can take a page from F.D.R. The first President to use private polling, Roosevelt understood that his popularity could help propel his political agenda. Personality doesn't trump policy, but it can drive it. F.D.R.'s relentless optimism (the motto that graced his office was LET UNCONQUERABLE GLADNESS DWELL) helped him sell his policies to America.
But for all his boldness and experimentation, F.D.R. never got too far out ahead of public opinion. He was pushed by some of his advisers to move further to the left on the economy and more aggressively toward getting into the war in Europe--but in both cases, he ultimately tacked closer to the center of American public opinion. He was a modern paradox: a revolutionary for stability, a political innovator who was intent on building a system that would be less risky for the American people. That's the same challenge Obama faces today.
Our package leads off with the historian David M. Kennedy--whose book about the Depression, Freedom from Fear, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000--revealing how F.D.R., like Obama, saw crisis as opportunity. Next up is Adam Cohen's illuminating piece on the dynamic launch of the Roosevelt Administration. Cohen is the author of Nothing to Fear, an account of F.D.R.'s first 100 days. To get a free-marketeer's dissenting take on F.D.R.'s policies, we turned to Amity Shlaes, whose recent book The Forgotten Man argues that the New Deal not only failed to reverse the Great Depression but in some ways worsened it. TIME contributor Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at how Roosevelt understood that he could not lead Americans into war until they understood that their vital interests were at stake, while fellow TIME contributor Amanda Ripley shows how Eleanor Roosevelt's agenda differed from her husband's.
The entire package was edited by editor-at-large Richard Lacayo, who also headed up last year's Making of America issue on Mark Twain. Deputy chief of reporters Andrea Dorfman and interns Rebecca Kaplan and Eric Dodds immersed themselves in F.D.R.'s career. Associate art director Andrée Kahlmorgan designed the package, artist Lon Tweeten produced the WW II graphic, and picture editor Deirdre Read tracked down the photographs that bring the past to life. Let unconquerable gladness dwell.
Richard Stengel MANAGING EDITOR