Jonah Goldberg

Mussolini reviewed FDR's book, "Looking Forward," proclaiming the author a kindred spirit. The way Roosevelt "calls his readers to battle," he wrote, "is reminiscent of the ways and means by which fascism awakened the Italian people." "Without question," he continued, the "sea change" in America "resembles that of fascism." Indeed, the comparisons were so commonplace, Mussolini's press office banned the practice. "It is not to be emphasized that Roosevelt's policy is fascist because these comments are immediately cabled to the United States and are used by his foes to attack him."

In Germany, the newly empowered National Socialists were equally eager to claim FDR's New Deal as an endorsement of "Hitler's New Deal" - in historian David Schoenbaum's phrase. The German press adored FDR. In 1934, the "Vlkischer Beobachter," the Nazi Party's official newspaper, described Roosevelt as a man of "irreproachable, extremely responsible character and immovable will" and a "warm-hearted leader of the people with a profound understanding of social needs." A review of "Looking Forward" noted that "many passages ... could have been written by a National Socialist. In any case, one can assume that (FDR) feels considerable affinity with the National Socialist philosophy." Hitler sent FDR a letter celebrating his "heroic efforts" and "successful battle against economic distress." Hitler informed the U.S. ambassador, William Dodd, that New Dealism was also "the quintessence of the German state philosophy."

Obviously, one can only credit the opinions of Nazis so far. And it should go without saying that FDR led the way to crush Nazism and fascism in Europe in the name of democracy. Even so, we forget how (BEGIN ITALICS)martial(END ITALICS) FDR was, long before World War II loomed on the horizon. Almost every New Deal program was rooted in the logic of Woodrow Wilson's "war socialism." The dubious constitutionality of the New Deal was rationalized under the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act. In his first inaugural, FDR dubs all of America a single "great Army" he would lead in a "disciplined attack upon our common problems." In fireside chats, he'd call for such things as a great "summer offensive against unemployment."

Meanwhile, some in FDR's administration admired fascism. Gen. Hugh Johnson, head of the National Recovery Administration and Time's Man of the Year in 1933, had an abiding fondness for Mussolini's Italy. He distributed "The Corporate State," an Italian fascist tract, to his colleagues and hung Il Duce's portrait on his wall. The Blue Eagle - the symbol of the National Recovery Administration, often compared to the Nazi eagle and the swastika - was, according to Roosevelt, like the "bright badge" soldiers wore "in war, in the gloom of night" so that "comrades do not fire on comrades." "On that principle," FDR told the country, "those who cooperate in this program must know each other at a glance." At one point, FDR aide Harold Ickes had to warn the boss that Americans had started to "to unconsciously group four names, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Roosevelt."

Back in the here and now, GWB has done nothing remotely like what FDR did (for good or for ill, some might say). Despite the constant bleating about his hostility to the rule of law and civil liberties, he hasn't tried to, say, pack the Supreme Court, or round up hundreds of thousands of Japanese (or Muslim) people.

Bush's critics certainly have a point that our leaders need to think about the example we set. It's advice liberals should have heeded long ago.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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