Who is the best president of all time? Most polls I have seen put FDR in the prestigious top spot, but does he really deserve such a distinction. It seems that merely being president during trying times regardless of how the president’s policies affect the country is what matters the most. The legend is that FDR came riding in on his white horse after Hoover ruined the economy, and FDR made the people feel safe and secure under wing. He cared, he felt their pain, and he did everything within his power to make their lives better—his intentions were noble and gracious. Well, let’s consider a few facts. Unemployment during his terms stayed between 15 and 20% except for a brief drop to around 14% in early1937 which was the result of massive government spending in order to buy the 1936 elections. The unemployment rate just before the war was around 18%. Does this sound like a successful presidency? Are intentions all that matter, or do results ever come into play? If you intend to give a man a free hair cut and end up cutting off his ear would the haircut be judged a success? The only way to judge the success of any policy or individual is by judging the overall results, and the overall results of the Roosevelt presidency were disastrous.
Hoover has received the blame for the Great Depression by most while FDR has skated. How is it that FDR could take Hoover’s policies, put them on steroids, and not receive any of the blame for the depression? I would say that Hoover created the depression, but that FDR created the Great Depression. FDR’s policy of attacking business, meddling in the private sector with his business cartels, his meddling in the agriculture sector via the AAA, and his tax raising propensities created an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and uncertainty. How can business operate in such an environment? Does any of this sound familiar? The simple answer is that it can’t. This is a lesson that President Obama will certainly learn, for he has fashioned his presidency after that of FDR, even lifting some of FDR’s phrases such as he did with Deval Patrick’s “just words” passage.
Hoover and FDR deserve equal credit for creating the Great Depression. They both meddled in the economy, by setting wage and price levels, production levels, spending oodles of money on public works programs, and involving the federal government in unconstitutional activities other than those previously mentioned—they both did it. If we were to make a movie about the presidencies of Hoover and Roosevelt it would be named “Dumb and Dumber”—Hoover being Dumb, and FDR being Dumber. Hoover did exercise a little restraint, but FDR was as free as a bird when it came to exercising power over the private sector. FDR was the closest this country has ever come to being a centrally planned economy, after all, that was the fad of the time with Mussolini and Stalin being admired adoringly by some in FDR’s administration and his brains trust.
It is said by many that the war ended the Great Depression because of massive government spending, and they will point out the low unemployment rates of the time. Removing many millions of men from the work force by conscripting them into military service will reduce the unemployment rate, but merely having a low unemployment rate is not necessarily a sign of prosperity. You will have a difficult time convincing a soldier who is standing in a fox hole reeking of urine and feces and with the body of his dead buddy lying next to him that he is somehow standing in prosperity. Building ships to be sank, planes to be blown out of the sky, and bombs to be blown into a million pieces is not a good use of resources, and does not create prosperity. FDR, I think put it perfectly when he said that Dr. New Deal was replaced with Dr. Win the War. Very simply, the war distracted him from his destructive domestic policies, and his timely death meant that the United States would no longer be victimized by him.