By Andrés Lozano
As we mourn the passing away of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, comparisons with the 32nd, Franklin D. Roosevelt, are inevitable and irresistible. After all, these two larger than life men mostly define, as no one else, the American experience during the 20th century. There is a before and an after America surrounding both administrations. Roosevelt’s America expands from 1932, until 1980 and Reagan’s, since then. Roosevelt’s legacy is tied with the fight against recession, which he did not sort out; World War II did, winning said war, and losing the peace for half a century almost to the date. A fifty years span covers the sneak Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the demise of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.
Both presidents left their imprint at the national and international level with a caveat: FDR expanded his predecessor’s liking for government tinkering in the economy. While the conventional wisdom attributes FDR with meddling in the economy, it was Herbert H. Hoover, ‘wonder boy’ in Calvin Coolidge’s dictum, the first president prone to intrude it at the drop of a hat. The Great Depression, or the downward phase of the business cycle, lasted twelve years, from 1929 until 1941, due to man-made policies. Before and after, downward business cycles corrected themselves without government interference or a very restrained one. The flawed lesson of the great depression was the idea that resorting to public expenditure was the way out of recession. By the Carter years, stagflation, stagnation with inflation, had become a standard inbuilt economic feature. It took Reagan’s bold and decisive leadership to behead the twin headed malaise, declaring government was the problem, not the solution and acting accordingly to curb bureaucratic hindrances.
Equally, Roosevelt and Reagan were optimistic leaders, rated second-class thinkers by their contemporary intellectuals, whilst their predecessors, the ineffective Hoover and Carter, were considered intellectually gifted. Roosevelt believed in the ability of government to fix people’s lives, while Reagan simply believed in the wisdom of the American people to extricate itself from hardship. The New Deal was a net transfer of power from the people to bureaucrats and pull peddlers, to those expecting something from government. Reagan’s revolution returned the decision-making ability to individual Americans at the same time it denied servitude to big brother. Roosevelt instituted hope through compliance and reliance Reagan simply empowered the people again to dare and achieve. Roosevelt is an icon figure for egalitarians and Reagan for libertarians.
A child of his generation, FDR believed in the nonsense of the decline of the West. In his heart of hearts granted moral equivalence to the collectivist dogma with the thousand-year-old western pursuit of freedom. He also considered classical liberalism as inferior to the command economy. Sensing this ambiguity, Stalin snatched for slavery half of Europe for half a century. The roots of the cold war were sown at Yalta out of Roosevelt’s ignorance of history and a flippant personality. Ahead of his generation, Reagan called communism’s bluff, challenged it finding it void and wanting and vanquished it without firing a shot. FDR was great at war and compromise, RR at peace and deliverance.
A child of privilege and inherited wealth, FDR was ready to compromise progress attained by previous generations. A graduate of the school of hard knocks, RR knew how hard liberty and prosperity come by and defended them passionately without hesitation. He, after all, was the mason of his own success story. FDR knew no better and lacked the spark of inspiration. His unilateral concessions to communism were the result of an ingrained belief in Marxism’s final overcoming capacity. RR saw it precisely in the opposite way. Thus, FDR left a legacy of misgivings lasting almost two full generations, while RR left a shining city on the hill, an unassailable beacon of liberty.
Andrés Lozano firstname.lastname@example.org