Jay Winik on the President’s Erratic Style

He writes,

Often he acted not by following any grand design but by sheer instinct, hastily improvising. . .He deliberately fostered disarray among his own people. . .Disorder, delays, and muddle were frequently the watchwords; problems were met principally by improvisation, not long-term strategy.

He is referring, of course to FDR. FDR was also a wealthy man who was highly regarded by non-affluent voters. He used new media effectively (radio was new at the time). And some of his political opponents really, really hated him.

The book is 1944.

12 thoughts on “Jay Winik on the President’s Erratic Style

  1. Do you think its possible anymore for a leader to come along and win the way FDR or Reagen did? So much of the electorate isn’t up for grabs, they are set on supporting their particular interest/identity group. FDR and Reagen won in huge landslides with broad based messages that appealed to most people (whatever you thought on the content). Could either of them have won more then low 50s in an election today? I remember reading awhile back that with 2012 demographics Reagan wouldn’t have even won the presidency.

  2. It has been pointed out (oddly, it seems, by people who dislike Trump but like FDR) he also turned away refugees and rounded up people because of their ethnicity. The difference is that he actually did those things whereas, as of now, Trump has only hinted at them rhetorically.

    The nation also remained mired in a depression for his entire presidency of more than a decade, yet somehow he is cast as a hero.

    • Well every Republican grand-parent I had, referred to FDR in a very positive way and he won 3 true elections by wide margins. (I am assuming 1944 was not real election.) To a lot people the lowpoint of the Depression was the Bank Holiday in 1933 and somehow the economy bounced back after that. There was a lot things wrong during the Depression but the economy did turn in 1933 and there was no President who enacted a war program as well as FDR did. (Yes we hum the Japan internment camps pushbacks.)

      Other points:
      1) All Presidents have to improvise a lot (FDR even more so) and they have to realize events dictate their administrations.
      2) From all opinions, FDR had an incredible calm temperament and took setbacks unusually well. (This was probably Obama’s strength.) We will have to see how Trump reacts to setbacks which will happen.
      3) Considering he set up his first trip to Mexican next week, it appears Trump efforts against trade are going to be much larger than you assumed. Have a nice day!

    • I was about to say the same thing: Roosevelt’s by-the-seat-of-his-paints style was part of what made the Great Depression, well…Great. Let’s hope the Trump parallels end there, no?

  3. I often wish we had an agreed-upon ranking of presidents. When someone tells me that Obama, or George W. Bush, was the “worst president ever” or “a great president” I don’t know what to think. I feel like I’m learning more about the person who makes the statement than I’m learning about Obama or George W. Bush.

    It gets more complicated–ever since I read Paul Johnson’s _Modern Times_ and learned of Eisenhower’s “hidden hand” style, I’m about at the point where I feel like I can hardly evaluate presidents at all. At the minimum, it seems we often benefit from waiting for the documents to get declassified and for a few decades of perspective.

    Conrad Black is worth reading for a lark on this regard. Whether this ranking is merit-worthy escapes me.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/398719/day-rating-presidents-conrad-black

      • I’m not sure. I don’t think there is anything canonical.

        It changes over time, and there is a big bias as a function of what family you grow up in, what media you consume, and perhaps your personality.

  4. “The question is often asked in America and in Europe just how much ‘Fascism’ the American President’s program contains. We need to be careful about overgeneralizing. Reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices, having recognized that the welfare of the economy is identical with the welfare of the people. Without question, the mood accompanying this sea change resembles that of Fascism. More than that cannot be said at the moment.”

    That’s Mussolini’s view.