Without a doubt, both Barack Obama and Franklin Roosevelt inherited very difficult economic conditions. But first it is important to note that it was those conditions that enabled to win their elections. And without question Roosevelt inherited a much worse mess than Obama. However, it is interesting to compare and contrast how the two handled the economy because they resided over the two worst recessions / depressions over the past 80 years in U.S. history. And there is no doubt that Obama and Roosevelt economic policies kept the U.S. economy depressed longer than it needed. Keep in mind the average U.S. recession lasts about 9 to 15 months. The Great Depression lasted about 12 years and the Great Recession has lasted 6 years and counting. A vast majority of history books and instructors say the FDR presidency was successful. But the stock market never recovered to pre-market levels until the 1950’s (Roosevelt died in 1945)! And unemployment never recovered to pre-crash levels until the U.S. got involved in WWII in the 1940’s. Therefore, Obama felt he was mimicking a successful and popular FDR model for economic recessions when he took office. The bottom line is that both the Obama and FDR recession recoveries were jobless ones. They both saw the jobless rates improve, but until WWII unemployment was over 10% and although the unemployment rate under Obama has gotten down to 6% from 10%, but the fact remains that labor market has shrunk by several percentage points and the number of people working part-time jobs have increased. In other words, many people are underemployed, got on disability, or have simply given up looking for work.
Roosevelt’s 1932 inauguration speech claimed that America needed to be modernized because capitalism can no longer work – it died when the western frontier was conquered. Obviously, this has been proven false. Obama campaigned on “Hope and Change” and spoke about “fundamentally” changing the United States. Both FDR and Obama miss a glaring point about the U.S. and its populous – it had always fought through adversity in the past and eventually prevailing. Instead, they both campaigned on the negative that the U.S. is broken and it will never be fixed unless massive changes are made.
One major difference in their Presidencies is how they handled the transition period. While Hoover wanted him and FDR to work together and make joint decisions, FDR was uncooperative. During these four months, hundreds of banks failed and the Depression worsened. Meanwhile Obama backed a Bush decision for the federal government to bailout large failing banks. Obama continued the policy once he took office. This probably helped to stabilize the financial markets.
The first and most obvious similarity between Obama and FDR was their orator skills – they were both true politicians. Both men were able to captivate crowds and mesmerize them to follow their vision. It is this skill that will enable them both to get reelected even when the economies failed to recover. The first mistake both men made is when choosing a cabinet. Both surround themselves with intellectuals / elitists. These are educators without any practical private sector experience outside teaching (few people with business backgrounds were included). Many of these cabinet members could be called socialists. Obama created Czar positions so appointees avoided congressional approval. Cass Sunstein (Regulatory Czar), Todd Stern (Climate Czar), John Holdren (Science Czar), Mark Lloyd (Diversity Czar), Van Jones (Green Jobs Czar), Eric Holder (Attorney General), and Arne Duncan (Department of Education) to name a few. Obama placed radicals around him at the White House like Valarie Jarrett and David Axelrod. Many in the FDR cabinet sympathized with Russia. In fact, many visited Russia in 1927 (such as Rex Tugwell and Stuart Chase) to idolize the economic model run by Stalin. Two Progressive Republicans – Harold Ickes (Department of Interior) and Henry Wallace (Department of Agriculture) became two socialist minded cogs for FDR (former progressive Hoover supporters). Frances Perkins who headed the Labor Department was also a key socialist figure in his administration. FDR and many of his cabinet members were influenced by socialist Felix Frankfurter when they attended Harvard Law School. Frankfurter will later be nominated and serve on the Supreme Court for 23 years. The New Deal was named after a book written by Stuart Chase about his visit to Russia in 1927.