Harry Reid's "God and Intimate Friend"--Franklin D. Roosevelt

In a speech at BYU, Harry Reid spoke of his reverence for Franklin D. Roosevelt. I didn't realize, until reading the book Liberal Fascism, just how pervasive FDR-worship was in the 1930's and 1940's--not to mention in our current century. Nor did I understand just how that worship could color the politics of Harry Reid.

When Harry Reid was a child, his family had a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the wall of their home. He spoke very fondly of FDR and how--to this day--he agrees with FDR's policies.

What I didn't realize is just how big of a phenomenon FDR was in his time (although it was in my family--see below). Understanding this issue helps us to understand not only how FDR can still be revered today, but how he could be so successful with his implementation of plans that so clearly spat upon the Constitution of the United States.

(Incidentally, to understand the fervor of socialist hero worship in the early part of the 20th century, one need only look at my family tree. My grandfather was named Woodrow Wilson Staheli, and my father was named Franklin H Staheli--after Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was born in 1935.)

Shortly after FDR came to power, the British Ambassador notified the British government about a hysteria that was spreading among Americans. As chronicled in Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, the leader expressed that
The "starved loyalties and repressed hero worship of the country have found in [Roosevelt] an outlet and a symbol." Liberal Fascism, p. 121
Visiting the rural hinterlands, an aide reported back on the brewing cult of personality: "Every house I visited--mill worker or unemployed--had a picture of the President...He is at once God and their intimate friend; he knows them all by name, he knows their little town and mill, their little lives and problems. And though everything else fails, he is there, and will not let them down."
In retrospect, I remember hearing and feeling a similar devotion from Harry Reid when he spoke last October at BYU. He spent somewhat of a disproportionate amount of his time paying obeisance to FDR as a springboard to explaining how his own brand of politics are Christlike. Harry Reid would have been a progressive had he been alive 100 years ago.

It makes me wonder if Harry Reid has really ever been his own person? Reid's first political memory is that of FDR, and obviously that memory is of particular poignancy. If Reid, to this day, expresses such a reverence for his "God and []intimate friend", is it likely that he would ever give his own politics a good, honest questioning? What are the chances that Reid would turn against his God and intimate friend?

Moreover, has Reid really ever stopped to see not only how devastating still are the effects of FDR's legacy, but how he himself now contributes to the American malaise that is tending toward total government control over society?

I don't think so.


  1. As a former Reid constituent, I can firmly say that he's reprehensible. He consistently failed to stand up for Nevada issues (Yucca Mountain, anyone?), he was repeatedly entangled in shady land deals (as was his son, Rory, who sits on the Clark County Commission) and every election, like clockwork and like Orrin Hatch, he whips out his MormonCard for guaranteed votes to coast to an easy victory at the polls.

    Reid is just another dirty politician who's totally out-of-touch with his state. He may like to play up the "born in a small Nevada town" image, but he's the consummate insider. I wish Nevadans were collectively smart enough to realize it and get rid of him.

  2. I think your assessment of FDR is unfair. It is true that FDR gave people hope during a dark and troubling period in our history, and many came to see him as a hero. However, there were also those who reviled him and questioned his democratic principles out of fear that he harbored the desire to end segregation.

    Exactly what policies that FDR put in place are you opposed to? I think many of FDR's policies were remarkably effective and you could make a case that the New Deal laid down the foundation for an unprecedented period of increase in American standards of living.

    My great grandfather was a big fan of FDR as well. In fact, he was elected a Democratic legislator in Idaho in his district for the first and only time during Roosevelt's administration. But as he would caustically say later, that after FDR saved everyone's farm, they went back to voting Republican.

  3. The NRA was one of FRD's most egregious programs, and I'm sure it's one that Frank would oppose. It was definitely fascist, in the true sense of the word, in that it stove to create a planned economy. Fortunately, it was struck down.

  4. FDR "saved" Idaho's farms by paying farmers to throw away their crops and plow under their planted land. He instituted the bloated agriculture subsidy program that is a monstrosity today.

  5. FDR was highly heralded throughought heavily LDS areas of Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. Democrats that came in on FDR's coattails held firm power in Utah for two decades before the culture wars of the 60s caused moral conservatives to flee to the GOP.

    I used to think that political hero worship was the domain of the irreligious, hungering for some kind of religious transcendency. But the way many Mormons regarded FDR has made me rethink that premise to some degree.

    I shudder whenever I see massive pictures of third-world thug dictators adorning buildings or being carried in parades. Americans should never resort to this kind of political leader worship. We are a nation (at least in theory) ruled by the laws we make rather than a nation ruled by men. We should act like it.

  6. This is why I refer to Harry Reid as a MINO, Mormon in Name Only.

  7. Obi Wan,

    I appreciate your perspective, especially pointing out that not everyone agreed with him. But the truth is that thousands of Americans revered him in much the same way the Italians initially loved Mussolini and as the Germans' initial infatuation with Hitler. I agree with Reach Upward. The fact that so many people were swayed by FDR's charisma is the first thing that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    Craig listed the NRA. The CCC was another program that short-circuited the rebound of the American economy. The Social security program could not possibly have been seen as anything other than the long-term bankrupting of America. It is a farce of history that FDR brought the depression to an end--in truth he and his cronies caused an extension of it.

    Like nearly all the economic and social problems we have today--imagine what our standard of living would be if FDR hadn't thought that government should be the savior of American mankind.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I guess I disagree with your assessment Frank regarding the effects on our economy. The CCC undoubtedly gave a demand-side boost to the economy and to what extent certain programs created a supply-side backlash is a matter of economic debate to this day.

    As for Social Security, the concept has provided a certain degree of economic security for the elderly that should not be underestimated. The fact that Presidents like Reagan decided to undermine those programs by dipping into social security dollars or in cutting taxes without having the political will to cut spending is not something FDR should have anticipated.

    The cult of FDR certainly had it's impact on our society. FDR reassured a nation in some it's darkest hours, and didn't prey upon their fears to undermine our Republic the way our current President has. And though FDR expanded the role of government, much of that was long overdue. FDR policies has resulted in greater economic stability than would have occured otherwise. And though FDR may have gone to far in some areas, I think his legacy should be appreciated even if he shouldn't be worshipped as a cult hero.

    I'll take FDR over Ronald Reagan any day.

  10. What's with all the Reagan-invoking? I did a quick search of Frank's blog and can't find a whole lot of praise for that former President. It's dishonest to make the implication that Frank's a Reagan fan when the evidence speaks to the contrary and that if you don't like FDR, you automatically like Reagan. Give me a break, guys.

  11. Obi wan,

    I appreciate that we're in agreement that neither FDR nor anyone should be worshiped as a cult hero.

    I appreciate Jesse's point, not so much to Obi wan, but to the sender of the (moderately inflammatory) comment to this article that was "deleted by the author" (I saw it in my e-mail) about Reagan. I do not worship Reagan. He had several warts, including the ones you listed.

    My perspective is this: The United States was built upon the premise that all people are created equal and are endowed with liberty. FDR's (and Woodrow Wilson's as a precursor) policies had the effect of saying "You people don't know how to use your liberties correctly, so we'll take care of you instead, but we'll take away some of your liberties in the process." As an example, my feeling is that the Social Security program as it exists today has been very detrimental to the family, tacitly encouraging it to not take care of its members as fully as it should--because they can rely on government.


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