The Right Coast

August 26, 2005
Channelling FDR
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Michael Barone -- oracle of practical American politics -- posts on FDR's "fireside chats", and whether Bush ought to be doing something similar:
Roosevelt was not afraid to take some pretty rough shots at his domestic political enemies. It is generally assumed today that there was some kind of unanimity about World War II. Not really. Roosevelt was criticized for putting a priority on the European Theater over the Pacific; after all, some said, hadn't it been the Japanese who attacked us? Not everyone forgot that many of his opponents charged before Pearl Harbor that he was provoking the Germans and the Japanese to attack us (indeed a strong case can be made that he was). The media of the day was mostly controlled and run by Republicans—some of them like Henry Luce of Time were supporters of Roosevelt's war policies, but others like Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune (then the biggest-circulation broadsheet in the country) bitter critics.

Roosevelt clearly kept an eye on his enemies [in the Fireside Chats]. In May 1940, as resistance to Hitler was collapsing in Western Europe, he noted that "there are a few among us who have deliberately and consciously closed their eyes [to foreign threats] because they were determined to be opposed to their government, its foreign policy, and every other policy, to be partisan, and to believe that anything that the government did was wholly wrong." Later in that chat he warned of a "fifth column that betrays a nation unprepared for treachery."
Barone questions whether Fireside Chats are possible today. For one thing, with a hundred cable channels to choose from, it is not clear that people would sit still and listen. But Bush plainly needs to find a way to make his points to the public, notwithstanding the newsrooms, networks, and news magazines almost all vehemently and relentlessly campaigning against him.