You know the narrative. He came to office in a financial crisis and proceeded to take government action to revive the economy and expand government to help the little guy.
That narrative was developed by great New Deal historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and has been an article of faith among liberal Democrats ever since. Expand government, and the people will love you.
Except that it hasn't worked out exactly that way. Most Americans don't much love the stimulus package or Obamacare. That's why you didn't hear much about them at the Democratic National Convention.
The economy has not responded as Obama's economists predicted, to say the least. Job growth has been sluggish, investment even more so, and inflation may be starting to rear its ugly head.
Obama's term does resemble Roosevelt's -- but his second term in office, not the first.
If you look at the unemployment numbers for FDR's first term, you can see why his party (unlike Obama's Democrats) gained seats in the off-year election and why the president was resoundingly re-elected in 1936.
The unemployment percentages for successive years, rounded off, were 25 percent, 22 percent, 20 percent, 17 percent. Awfully high, but steady and heartening progress.
The numbers for the second Roosevelt term were not so nice. Rounded off they were 14 percent, 19 percent, 17 percent, 15 percent -- higher at the end than after the first year, with a spike in between. More like Obama's numbers than like the first Roosevelt term.
The second Roosevelt term was so dismal that many New Deal historians glossed over it or avoided it altogether.
Schlesinger's first three volumes of "The Age of Roosevelt" were bestsellers. The third, running up to the 1936 election, was published in 1960. Schlesinger lived another 47 years, active to the end. In that time, he wrote numerous books and probably millions of words of beautiful prose.
But he never got around to Roosevelt's second term. The reason, I suspect, is that he found the subject depressing, at least up until 1940, when Roosevelt rallied to aid Winston Churchill's Britain at a time of world crisis.
Why did Roosevelt's second term turn out so poorly? Basically, because his policies were so unpopular. His 1935 labor act led to violent sitdown strikes in auto, steel and rubber factories, in which union victories were resented by the wider public.
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