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 The Stepfather 

July 26, 2007 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, May 19, 1998]
paragraph indent for 
The StepfatherWhen I was a boy, all the adults in my family agreed on one thing: Franklin Roosevelt was a near-divinity — all-wise, all-compassionate and practically almighty. I was born just after Roosevelt died, so I had to judge him by his reputation in our tribe. I was nearly an adult before I started taking a different view of him.

Today's column is "The Stepfather" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.paragraph indent for The StepfatherI thought of him again the other day, when India defied the American hegemony by testing nuclear weapons. During World War II Roosevelt initiated the development of the A-bomb, as we used to call it, for the purpose of defeating Japan and Germany.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherIt must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Roosevelt didn’t stop to think that other governments might find their own uses for nuclear weapons someday. Only a few years after he died, his friend Joseph Stalin acquired a nuclear arsenal with which to threaten the United States and its European allies.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherFew imagined China, India, and other countries getting these weapons. Roosevelt sired them in the assumption that the good guys would continue to monopolize them more or less indefinitely, an assumption that looks even more fatuous considering that he thought of Stalin as one of the good guys.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherIt was also Roosevelt, of course, who saddled us with the Social Security program. Here he showed a little more foresight, boasting that “no damn politician” would ever be able to dismantle “my Social Security system.” Too true. Nor can anyone figure out how to pay for it. It’s a program we’ve inherited, difficult to reform and nearly impossible to get rid of.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherIn fact it’s easier to amend the Constitution than to abolish Social Security, which is something to ponder, inasmuch as there’s no constitutional authorization for Social Security. It’s not just that the tail wags the dog, but that it isn’t really the dog’s own tail.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherWhen the Constitution got in Roosevelt’s way (he dismissed it as a document for “horse and buggy days”), he tried to overload the Supreme Court with justices who would see things his way. This shocked even his allies in Congress, but he eventually got the results he wanted. Today the Court still reads the Constitution not as the Framers wrote it, but as Roosevelt desired it.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherDuring Roosevelt’s dozen years in the White House, the U.S. government also adopted the faddish idea that deficit spending is an enlightened policy. Today it’s an addiction, as each generation of taxpayers gets the bill for the last.

[Breaker quote for The Stepfather: We're still paying for FDR's bright ideas.]paragraph indent for The StepfatherThrow in the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the rest of the apparatus of the “international community,” and you’ve got a fair idea of the Roosevelt legacy. Some people like it, some people don’t, but one thing is clear: It’s a legacy. We didn’t choose it; we inherited it. And we’re stuck with it.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherLike Bill Clinton, Roosevelt was a master of improvisation rather than a serious thinker. He could nearly always outperform his opponents in the short term. He had a genius for the theater of politics, using emotion, eloquence, invective and wit, from the coziness of the “fireside chat” to the humor of “my little dog Fala.” He knew how to exploit the entertainment industry: He induced Warner Bros. to film Mission to Moscow to glorify the Soviets, and young Frank Sinatra campaigned for him in 1944.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherBut a man with such theatrical gifts is almost bound to ignore long-term consequences. So Roosevelt, flummoxing the Republicans and defeating the Axis, made a world, and bequeathed it to us, without fully meaning to. (One of the things he did intend was that the Soviet Union should be a full partner of the United States in supervising the postwar world.)

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherBeing stuck with the bills of an earlier generation isn’t exactly what the Founding Fathers envisioned as self-government. They thought that a free people should be to some extent free even of its own ancestors. They’d certainly have condemned the practice of imposing debts and “programs” (the word was alien to them) on voters still unborn.

paragraph indent for The 
StepfatherRoosevelt reshaped America. He might be called the stepfather of his country, which, forgetting its real fathers, has adopted so many of his shortsighted habits.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
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