Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 11

FDR, Walter Brogan, and Floyd Lovell

As I make my way through to the end of Stud Terkel's lengthy oral history of the Depression called "Hard Times", there is a great deal there to consider and muse on, but some things come through more strongly than others in reading about the stories of so many different Americans. One of those things is that the views people had of the President of the United States through most of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were ALL OVER THE MAP. The opinions of this man seemed to vary so widely across the United States, even though he was popularly elected four times, that you can't possibly conclude anything other than that he was a complicated, ambitious, enigmatic man. Depending on who Terkel was talking to, I have been reading about him as a savior, Communist, hero, criminal, devil, angel, visionary, complete buffoon, savvy politician, outright lunatic, or just about anything else. Kind of reminds me of what people say about Ronald Reagan too, closer to my generation.

Roosevelt was a man whose fate led him to the perfect moment in time when the nation needed someone, ANYONE, to step up with some fresh ideas and provide enthusiasm and optimism, and he had the ability to see the moment for what it was and seize it. He was the Democratic governor of New York who rose from relative obscurity on the basis of his observation that the people wanted their government to take ACTION, and they were not getting any of it from the guy sitting in the White House (Herbert Hoover). Hoover exacerbated the problem by assuring people that brighter days were "just around the corner" and that they should basically hang in there and stay the course and the ship would right itself if you allowed the system to work. His famous "chicken in every pot" comment came back to bite him when people were all out of work and something that looked a lot like poverty descended on much of the country. FDR stood up in Chicago in July 1932 to accept the Democratic nomination for President and said he was propsing a "new deal" to the American people, and the rest has become history.

This is the guy that made my Dad into a lifelong Democrat, I would guess, a guy who came in and took some steps to make things better rather than what the Republicans of the time were doing, which was not a whole lot. It's interesting how there were similarities between the philosophies of the respective parties towards the role of government to what you find today: Democrats were for broad, large-scale government intervention to the point where the Federal Government played an every day role in people's lives. This is the period that Social Security and Welfare came from. Republicans, on the other hand, wanted the government to interfere with people's lives as little as possible, and to leave as much as they could in the hands of the working men and women of the country to guide their own lives. The problem was, nobody was working. And this was a case in time where the government, in hindsight, clearly HAD to intervene. They did, passing tons of legislation in the first 100 days of Roosevelt's presidency and essentially putting millions of people back to work. From this era the Democratic party came to be seen as "on the side of the little man" by rescuing a great number of people from poverty and unemployment. From the time my Dad was 2 years old to his early 20s, Democrats ran the country and led us through Depression and colossal World War.

Thinking about all of this made me wonder which side of the fence my grandfather, Floyd, would have been on, and hence to try to imagine what sort of view a guy like Walter Brogan might have towards FDR and politics in general. I don't really know the answer. My grandfather wasn't a farmer, and it doesn't seem like he ever suffered from unemployment outright, even in the 1930s, so it's tough to say whether he directly benefitted from any New Deal programs. He seemed to have steady employment in the oil industry throughout the 1930s and early 40s. And the oil industry itself went through a massive boom in the 1920s, moreso in states like Oklahoma and Texas than Indiana, but I don't think that industry in particular ever had it very rough because of the industrialization of the country and the emergence of the automobile. So he had a job. He didn't have to apply for federal relief that I know of, and he never had to stand in a bread line. I doubt there were any bread lines in a small town like Fowler, Indiana, and I don't know if any other grand sign of the Depression hit in that town such as the failure of local banks. But did Floyd feel sympathetic to those who DID have to stand in lines, or did he think more down Republican lines that Federal relief was a hand-out, a free ride, and one that eventually would steal away the fight and spirit of the American worker, to the point where they expected it? The Welfare State, in other words - which DID come to pass in some places and in some times. What did Floyd think of the New Deal? Did he even think about it at all or simply try to get by and provide for his family and roll with the times?

Something makes me feel like he might not have liked FDR much, that he might have been disillusioned by his charismatic speeches, his "fireside chats", but I really don't know if that's the case. Perhaps he saw him as the hero others did. It would not surprise me if he would not have agreed with the politics his eldest son would, but I seroiusly doubt they ever got into it very much. They seemed to have little to talk about whenever they were together, which, after my Dad turned 18, was not very often, from what I can tell.

If Brogan was in the oil industry, keeping a steady job, trying to keep his company in the black in a time when the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, was given unprecedented powers to regulate the oil industry so as to keep the economy rolling steady, then it seems to me that there might be a good chance that he wasn't a big fan of Roosevelt or the New Deal. But was he necessarily a Republican? Would he have voted for someone like Alf Landon in 1936 (Governor of Kansas, who got severely pummeled)? Or would he have been attracted to more radical points of view, such as socialism? Remember, this was a time when many people thought that the "American system" was in its death throes, and bound to collapse entirely.....people were becoming organized, radicalized.......

I am going to have to question my Dad about what he knows about Floyd's politics. It seems to be some crucial background for the formation of the character of Walter Brogan. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

Fascinating post... guess that reading is starting to pay off! I was particularly intrigued by the surprisingly unchanged philosophies dividing the Democratic and Republican parties at the time, at how similar that situation still is to that which we still (in some ways) find ourselves in now.

Yeah I was going to say, I bet our ol' man would have a pretty good idea of where Floyd stood politically, and to what extent he was interested/got involved. I tend to think he wouldn't have gotten too involved and was probably not that interested, but for some reason I find myself thinking he would have leaned the opposite way from what you mentioned -- that he would have sided with whatever party was perceived to be more in tune with the needs of the working man. Seems to me that this position would have been consistent with a man who tried to extend some grace to others who couldn't afford to pay their bills... but then I have no idea. This is pure and total speculation. As most of this stuff is, you yourself have acknowledged...

Of course this post also raises some broader questions that make one stop and think, as I suspect the fiction you create might (at some level) do as well... such as, if I were alive then, which "side" would I have been on? What would have been my position on how to deal with the rise of poverty in the U.S.? And of course, the next logical question: what "side" am I on now, and why? What to do about current poverty concerns? Makes you wonder...