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Obama is Reading the Wrong Book

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Put aside "Team of Rivals" and study FDR and JFK

While he was selecting his first cabinet, Barack Obama made a distinct effort to illustrate that he was using Team of Rivals as a template.

Team of Rivals is an outstanding biography of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In it she explains how Lincoln brought his opponents on the campaign trail into his administration.

However, Obama's reliance upon Lincoln should be scrapped, and the president should start reading the tales of two courageous Democrats: Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

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Kearns Goodwin won a Pulitzer Prize in history for another superb biography, this one Franklin D. Roosevelt in "No Ordinary Time," which focused on the homeland during World War II. The author details Roosevelt's experiences in the early years of his administration during the 1930s. That information could illustrate what Obama needs to accomplish in the remaining years of his first term.

To understand how FDR succeeded on many fronts, Obama should peruse a current essay by Dr. David Woolner about the economic policies introduced during the early years of the Roosevelt administration. This essay on the website New Deal 2.0 is entitled "As we inch our way toward recovery, this is no time for caution." Woolner is an associate professor of history at Marist College (N.Y.) and is the senior vice president of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park.

Woolner indicated that Roosevelt made some major economic mistakes in his first two terms. "In keeping with the fiscal orthodoxy of the time, he called for a balanced budget during his campaign, was reluctant to deficit spend once in office," Woolner wrote about FDR. "The unprecedented nature of the economic crisis facing the nation, however, soon led the President to seek additional expenditures in support of recovery programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) ... "

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However, Roosevelt became concerned about the deficit that the country was building. After winning reelection in 1936, he decided to cut spending. Consequently, the country experienced the "Roosevelt recession" in 1937 and 1938. At that point, Woolner notes, Roosevelt finally embraced the concepts espoused by economist John Maynard Keynes, who argued that free markets will not automatically correct themselves. Instead, countries should devise economic policies that will take the bite out of adverse business cycles, particularly during recessions and depressions.

Obama needs to evaluate the FDR experience and ignore supply-side Democrats like his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, and the Blue Dogs in the Senate like (soon to be ex-Sen.) Evan Bayh and Max Baucus. Instead, the president should embrace Keynesian concepts, at least until the recession is tamed.

Another important lesson that Obama should learn can be gleaned from Robert Dallek's excellent biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963." Dallek illustrates how JFK was able to overcome the worst decision of his presidency: the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, one that was advocated by Republican CIA Director Allen Dulles (whom JFK eventually fired).

After experiencing the ignominy of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy used his intellect and his courage when he confronted the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis, ignoring the calls of his generals and right-wing commentators who called for a nucleur attack on Cuba.

Kennedy studied the situation diligently and talked with his brother, Robert. Together they devised a wise course in foreign policy. That approach illustrated that JFK had matured and had become a courageous man, something that Obama needs at this time.

Studying the stories of Roosevelt and Kennedy will teach Obama valuable lessons in the current climate: Forget bipartisanship and do what you think is best for the country.

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Hugh Conrad lives in Western Pennsylvania and is a person who fervently believes in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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