Expert Sees Hints Of FDR In Obama Speech Historian William E. Leuchtenburg, author of Franklin D. Roosevelt And The New Deal, talks about the echoes of FDR in President Barack Obama's inaugural speech. Leuchtenburg says even though Obama did not mention FDR by name, or quote him directly, he was struck by how he evoked the crisis of 1933.
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Expert Sees Hints Of FDR In Obama Speech

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Expert Sees Hints Of FDR In Obama Speech

Expert Sees Hints Of FDR In Obama Speech

Expert Sees Hints Of FDR In Obama Speech

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Historian William E. Leuchtenburg, author of Franklin D. Roosevelt And The New Deal, talks about the echoes of FDR in President Barack Obama's inaugural speech. Leuchtenburg says even though Obama did not mention FDR by name, or quote him directly, he was struck by how he evoked the crisis of 1933.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I read some past inaugural addresses to prepare for listening to this one, and for me, there were some historical echoes.

(Soundbite of inaugural address)

President BARACK OBAMA: That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.

SIEGEL: Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

(Soundbite of inaugural address)

President OBAMA: Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shattered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

SIEGEL: Values have shrunken to fantastic levels, taxes have risen, our ability to pay has fallen. Government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income. The means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade. The withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side.

(Soundbite of inaugural address)

President OBAMA: The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity.

SIEGEL: And the measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values, more noble than mere monetary profit. Well, the lines that I recited are all from the inaugural address that Franklin Delano Roosevelt made in 1933 as the country faced a Great Depression. A speech that Barack Obama told U.S.A. Today he found kind of clunky. Those were his words. Historian William Leuchtenburg is the author of "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal." Welcome to the program.

Professor WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG (Author, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal"): Good to talk to you again.

SIEGEL: And I wonder, did you hear any echoes of FDR in today's speech?

Prof. LEUCHTENBURG: Oh, I do. And I was a little bit surprised to hear that reference to clunky because during the campaign and in his writings, Obama has gone out of his way to quote Roosevelt directly, but in fact he quoted no president by name in the address. But certainly, when Franklin Roosevelt took office at a time of some 15 millions unemployed, almost all the banks in the country closed, there was a sense of crisis to which he eluded that Obama was clearly making reference to without spelling that out in his inaugural address.

SIEGEL: At the beginning of Roosevelt's presidency, was it widely evident? I guess that's impossible, but would people have been greatly surprised to learn how dominant a figure this man would be in our national politics?

Prof. LEUCHTENBURG: Oh, absolutely astonished. He was regarded - there was a famous phrase of a leading columnist of the day, Walter Lippmann, that this was a charming man of no particular talent or ability. And after that inaugural address, and more particularly after the end of the first 100 days in June of 1933, one commentator after another said, was I mistaken about him all along? I thought he was a kind of a run-of-the-mill pretty good governor of whom we've seen many in the past, but not that kind of outstanding leader that we've been witnessing.

SIEGEL: So by way of contrast, Mr. Obama took the oath of office today, it's almost impossible to say that he'll be underestimated as president.

Prof. LEUCHTENBURG: I cannot recall any time in my lifetime - and I can barely remember FDR's inaugural in 1933 - anyone's entering office, whose election created such a sense of national exhilaration and who carried such a hopes and expectations with him. So this is a great advantage for Obama, and at the same time it's a great burden that he is carrying into office.

SIEGEL: Well, Professor Leuchtenburg, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. LEUCHTENBURG: Good to talk to you again, Robert.

SIEGEL: William Leuchtenburg who is the author of "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal" spoke to us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

All Things Considered continues in a moment.

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