Is It Time to Cancel FDR?

Michael Lind nails it again. The Democrats are now the new Rockefeller Republicans, and the Republicans are now Jacksonian Democrats (as was FDR).

By Michael Lind, Tablet

Seventy-six years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, serving his fourth term in office, died in his “little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. The anniversary of FDR’s death raises the question: Why hasn’t the Democratic Party canceled him yet?

The political ancestors of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, have already been repudiated for being slaveowners and racists by 21st-century Democrats who have canceled or renamed the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day party dinners. Many contemporary Democrats would like to detach Franklin Roosevelt and his protégé Lyndon Johnson from the older Jefferson-Jackson tradition and honor them as founders of today’s Democratic Party, which celebrates New Deal programs like Social Security, and civil rights, Medicare, and Medicaid from the Johnson era. But separating them from their 19th-century forerunners is not that easy. In fact, Roosevelt and Johnson went out of their way to identify with the tradition of Jacksonian populism that modern-day progressives abhor.

In his second inauguration on Jan. 20, 1937, Roosevelt reviewed the inaugural parade from the Hermitage, a replica of Andrew Jackson’s plantation house that had been built in front of the White House. President Johnson hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office alongside portraits of FDR and Washington. After Johnson, the next president to display a portrait of Old Hickory in the Oval Office was Donald Trump.

Contemporary historians and journalists seldom think of FDR and the New Dealers as latter-day Jacksonians. But the electoral base of the New Deal Democratic coalition from the 1930s to the 1970s remained the generations-old Jacksonian alliance between white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics,” particularly Irish Americans, symbolized by the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960. Until the last generation, college-educated professionals and executives in America tended to vote Republican, while Democrats received most of the votes of the high school-educated working class. The kinds of voters who supported populist candidates from Jackson to Jimmy Carter are now the backbone of the Republican Party.


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