F.D.R.'s Disputed Legacy

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words NEW DEAL. It was a message of hope at a time when a naturally optimistic people seemed to be slipping into despair, and with good reason. In the three years since the great stock market crash of 1929, national income had plunged by more than half, from $87.4 billion to $41.7 billion. Unemployment had soared to 4 million in 1930, 8 million in 1931, 12 million in 1932—one-quarter of the entire work force—and in stricken cities like Chicago the figure went as high as one-half. FORTUNE magazine estimated that 27.5 million Americans had no regular income at all. More than a million of the jobless roamed the country as hobos. Ugly clusters of tin-can shanties known as "Hoovervilles" sprouted in the midst of New York City's Central Park. Penniless men tried to sell apples on street corners. Many talked of revolution.

And now there came before the Democratic Convention of 1932 a man who was so wasted by polio that he could not stand erect without leg braces, but who promised his stricken nation "a new order of competence and courage," and who declared: "This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms."

It was exactly half a century ago this summer that the call to arms was sounded, and half a century ago this fall that it was answered. Roosevelt swept the bewildered Herbert Hoover out of the White House by a landslide of 472 electoral votes to 59. The new Congress too was ready for bold leadership—ready indeed to give up much of its own authority—and in Roosevelt's legendary first hundred days he won approval of 15 major legislative innovations. Many of the New Deal's experiments failed or faltered into limbo, but others became part of the steely armature of American life. Social Security, minimum wages, insured bank savings, the right to join labor unions—these are just a few of the lasting results of Roosevelt's New Deal. For better or for worse, Washington took on a basic responsibility for planning and managing society, for maintaining the nation's prosperity, and for the equitable sharing of that prosperity. What Roosevelt called the "forgotten man" would be forgotten no longer.

It was exactly a century ago, on Jan. 30, 1882, that the man who worked this transformation was born to wealth and ease in a Hudson River estate at Hyde Park, N.Y. Destined for Groton, Harvard, the law and a life of comfortable obscurity, he became instead not only the President and creator of the New Deal but also the architect of a new political coalition that elected him to four terms and remained in control of Washington for more than two decades. As commander of the Grand Alliance that won World War II, he established the U.S. as the unchallenged leader of the free world. He was, says one young admirer named Peter Kovler, "as great a hero as a nation ever gets."

Kovler, 29, a distillery heir who sports a bushy mustache and bushy optimism, was born seven years after Roosevelt's death. When a friend, who happened to have been born on Roosevelt's birthday, told him last summer that it would soon be the F.D.R. centennial, Kovler began asking what celebrations were being planned. To his amazement he learned that virtually nothing was being done. The U.S. seemed to be suffering what Kovler calls a "collective amnesia." Says he: "It has been so

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