April 12, 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the death of the leader who spearheaded the twentieth century progressive movement, righting the economic ship during perilous times, giving Americans hope at a time when it was desperately needed while changing the face of the Democratic Party in the process.
Perhaps the key personal ingredient that propelled Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the ranks of the nation's and world's great leaders was his handling of adversity. Overcoming adversity is a hallmark of so many great achievers. In the political sphere it can serve as both an instructive and motivational shaping tool.
The Roosevelts were a Dutch aristocratic family that settled in New York's affluent Hudson Valley region. FDR had earned a law degree from Harvard. He followed along the same lines as his cousin President Theodore Roosevelt by securing as a young lawyer a position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels in the Woodrow Wilson Administration.
A handsome, articulate, highly ambitious young aristocrat such as Roosevelt, a young man in a hurry in sprinting toward success, is bound to garner notice. With such notice comes opportunity.
While it was a campaign that appeared destined for inevitable defeat, which occurred, Franklin Delano Roosevelt enhanced his national visibility and party credentials when he was selected as vice presidential running mate to Democratic Party presidential nominee Governor James M. Cox at the 1920 convention in San Francisco.
Roosevelt was not blamed for a seemingly pre-ordained Republican landslide which swept Warren G. Harding into office. Indeed, as an energetic young man of 38 he undertook a robust campaign schedule and introduced himself to Democratic Party stalwarts throughout America who would later prove beneficial when he ran for and became president.
Just when Roosevelt appeared to have everything going his way there was that moment of tragedy. It was depicted movingly on stage and later adapted to the screen in the work "Sunrise at Campobello," which was written by Hollywood studio chieftain and Roosevelt admirer Dore Schary.
Roosevelt suffered an attack of infantile paralysis that thereafter deprived him of the ability to walk. In place of allowing defeat to set in he became more determined than ever to overcome adversity with his ultimate achievement becoming the only figure in American history to be elected president four times.
When Roosevelt would visit Warm Springs, Georgia, taking advantage of its soothing waters along with others similarly afflicted, he would happily refer to them as "my people." Tragedy had molded Roosevelt, enhancing his perspective, making him more readily able to relate to Depression hard times and people seeking to overcome adversity.
The same element occurred in the case of Roosevelt admirer and grassroots liberal John F. Kennedy. Reporters covering then Senator Kennedy's successful presidential campaign of 1960 noted that the young Bostonian of privilege was profoundly moved by images of poverty he observed in West Virginia.
Kennedy achieved victory in West Virginia, knocking liberal rival Senator Hubert Humphrey out of the presidential race. He pledged to do all he could for West Virginians once he became president.
Roosevelt was an inspiration to Kennedy and numerous other American progressives who followed him. He gave America hope during a dark period of history and exercised resourceful pragmatism to bring the nation back to a solider economic foundation.
More will be written in subsequent articles about Roosevelt's grand progressive legacy as we reach the 65th anniversary of his death.