Richard Cohen counsels Barack Obama to abandon Lincoln and embrace FDR. Forget about embracing your rivals, he says, and grab FDR’s “willingness to try almost anything.” But, then again, Cohen concedes that “The New Deal did not end the Depression. WWII did.” (Actually, the Depression got worse under FDR, before war preparation jump-started the economy.) So what’s the point here?
There are two: one sensible and one misguided. On the sensible side: yes, optimism does help, and no one wants to see the President mope. Conservatives didn’t much like it when candidate Obama bemoaned the awful state of America, allegedly the land of defeat, deprivation, and worry. So by all means be jaunty and hopeful.
The misguided point has entranced virtually the entire MSM cheering section. The media now pictures Obama quite literally as the next FDR. Unbridled and undisciplined meddling in the U.S. economy, tax hikes, protectionism, and runaway spending — all elements of the New Deal — lead to a deepening recession. It is folly to urge Obama to repeat the errors of the past in haze of nostalgia.
So it is not just comity that might be served by a Lincoln-like employment of rivals in the Obama cabinet. It is an insurance policy against extremism. Some of those rivals may prevent him from the harmful course of action urged on by his liberal base. Some of those Clinton advisors (and Hillary Clinton herself) might implore him to refrain from racking up billions more in debt or abandoning free trade. They might urge that the tax increase be put off. A smart President hires rivals not simply to impress the country with his generosity of spirit, but to prevent himself from jumping off an ideological cliff.
So the President-elect can and should be as cheery as possible — but that’s about the only aspect of FDR he should mimic.