Character Above All: Ten presidents from FDR to George Bush

Wilson, Robert A., ed., Doris Kearns Goodwin, “FDR”

Simon & Schuster, 1995

pp. 13-24

FDR had the toughest and biggest job in the world, but he didn’t toss and turn at night. He “would go to bed, lay his head on the pillow, briefly review the big things that had come before him that day, and then say to himself, ‘Well, I have done the best I could,’ and then turn over and go to sleep. He had ‘an inner well of serenity.’” P. 14: He grew up at Hyde Park “in an atmosphere where affection and respect were plentiful, where the discipline was fair and loving, and the opportunity for self-expression abundant.” He was loved so whole-heartedly as a child. At age 39 he contracted polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. His wife Eleanor said simply that FDR mastered polio. “’I never heard him complain.’ He took courage in the face of polio as a discipline. P. 15: “After his struggle with polio, he seemed less arrogant, less smug, less superficial, more focused, more complex, more interesting. ‘There had been a plowing up of his nature,’ Francis Perkins commented. ‘The man emerged completely warm-hearted, with new humility of spirit . . . . ‘” P. 15: Also, Roosevelt would “transmit his strength to others.” He could “inspire those around him to do tough, confused, and practically impossible jobs.” P. 16: In 1933 he single-handedly renewed the courage and hope of America in one speech (‘All we have to fear is fear itself . . . .’). Garry Wills: ‘Roosevelt stiffened people’s spines to face hardship, and even when the hardship did not go away, people drew strength from the very cock of his head, the angle of his cigarette holder, the trademark grin that was a semaphore of hope.’ Though in 1940 the US stood 18th in the world in military might, “behind Holland, behind Switzerland,” Roosevelt was full of “calm confidence and firm determination.” P. 17: “He tried everything. If something didn’t work, he didn’t mope or repine. He tried something else. Even if he didn’t know the answer he was always confident that there was an answer. His mind was always fresh and flexible. He had the advantage of growing up slowly so that he reached his fullest maturity only at death.