By the time George W. Bush gave his State of the Union speech, countless reporters and pundits had proclaimed him and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be kindred inspirational leaders -- wildly inflating the current president's media stature in the process.
Hammering on the comparison until it seems like a truism, the Washington press corps is providing the kind of puffery for the man in the Oval Office that no ad budget could supply. But the oft-repeated analogy doesn't only give a monumental boost to Bush's image. It also -- subtly but surely -- chips away at FDR's historic greatness, cutting him down to GWB's size.
Ever since Roosevelt's death in April 1945 after more than 12 years as president, many Republican leaders have sought to move the United States out from under the enormous political umbrella created by the New Deal -- bitterly opposed by most wealthy interests and the well-heeled press. Roosevelt's economic reforms embodied and strengthened grassroots struggles for such basic goals as the right to form unions, collective bargaining, regulation of business, progressive income tax, federal aid to the needy, and programs like Social Security. These are among the New Deal legacies that have long been under attack, frontally or sneakily, from most Republicans and quite a few Democrats in Washington.
The more that reporters, commentators, and media-selected historians join the chorus linking Bush with Roosevelt -- as if FDR's domestic agenda and his underlying values scarcely merit a mention -- the more that the actual FDR fades into the mist.
The real Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke in ways that would horrify George W. Bush.
"No business which depends for existence by paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country," President Roosevelt declared in June 1933, a few months after taking office.
Campaigning for re-election in 1936, he did not search for common ground with the corporate giants of the day. One of his speeches noted that big business and finance were "unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."
FDR did not stop there. He added: "I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match; I would like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master."
After five years of his presidency, in a formal message proposing an investigation of monopoly in the nation, Roosevelt said: "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power."
Seniors who watch George W. Bush on television hear the media prattle of ludicrous comparisons with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and think: "I remember FDR. And this guy's no FDR. No way."
We wouldn't know it from the array of major news outlets mired in subservience to the White House spin machine and overall big-money perspectives, but President Franklin Roosevelt was resolute about directly confronting rich elites and corporate titans. He lambasted them as "economic royalists."
Roosevelt matched his rhetoric with action. When he said that "the citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being," FDR meant it.
Perhaps it would be gratuitously unkind to compare the intellects and depth of the two presidents. Bush has proved smart enough to fulfill his ambition of living in the White House while serving this era's economic royalists. That GWB has just about zilch in common with FDR should be self-evident.
Political reporters and commentators are proud of being "serious" journalists, in contrast to entertainment-driven and celebrity-fixated media professionals. But the current craze of touting George W. Bush as comparable to FDR is grimly laughable.
Norman Solomon, whose work occasionally appears in the Flyer, is a member of the Creators Syndicate.