Biden & FDR & Walter Lippmann


Watching some progressives [fill in verb of your choice] online about Biden while others, for instance here, are kvelling at the same time about Cuomo. This little bit here at Politico about political resilience and adaptability with reference to Walter Lippmann and FDR caught my attention. Against the rigid binaries of radical thought, thinking in particular about liberal resilience and the capacity to meet political challenges in situ.

“Ambition and anxiety both gnaw at him constantly,” the columnist Walter Lippmann wrote Felix Frankfurter, then a law professor and later a Supreme Court justice, as Hoover floundered desperately during the early days of the Great Depression. “He has no resiliency. And if things continue to break badly for him, I think the chances are against his being able to avoid a breakdown. When men of his temperament get to his age without ever having had real opposition, and then meet it in its most dramatic form, it’s quite dangerous.”


The phenomenon works in reverse: presidents who displayed leadership dimensions that were unseen by most observers, and possibly by the presidents themselves, until crisis summoned greatness. Lippmann famously described the man campaigning to be Hoover’s successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as “an amiable boy scout,” and “a pleasant man, who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.”

As Lippmann’s biographer, Ronald Steel, explained, the columnist’s critics never stopped rubbing his nose in that quote. But Lippmann lived for more four decades insisting, accurately, “That I will maintain to my dying day was true of the Franklin Roosevelt of 1932.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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