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Roosevelts to the Rescue

The Obama presidency is mired in mediocrity, his and ours. Foreign policy is cribbed and cautious, moving along with a deliberative pace our do-it-now society doesn’t tolerate. At home, Obama’s greatest achievements — health care for millions, and raising an economy from the dead while Europe couldn’t get out of the grave — are almost unknown.

He can blame a nut-job Congress, about to get even nuttier and more intransigent with the November elections. He can blame poor communications from his shop, and carnivorous right-wing media that would devour Mother’s Day were Obama to propose it now. But really, how tough does the 44th president have it?

For the answer, Obama should join the rest of the nation in time-traveling later this month when PBS airs a seven-part series on the Roosevelts — Theodore, Franklin, and his distant cousin and wife, Eleanor.

What do we know about the Roosevelts? That we have national parks and Social Security because of two patricians with voices and vocabularies that would not pass the average-guy test of today. That historians rank both men among the top five presidents of all time. That the rights of African-Americans and women would not have advanced much at midcentury without a first lady who worried most that she wasn’t loved by anyone.

Panama Canal, dug. Trusts, busted. Great Depression, ended. Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, defeated. Child labor, banished. The tag lines of success are familiar. Less well known, perhaps, is how much both Roosevelt men had to overcome. Their personal hardships would be career-ending for lesser men. And in the face of howling political opposition, the two presidents took a reluctant country to places where it wasn’t yet ready to go.

The lessons for Obama and the rest us pop from the screen in the Ken Burns film “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” his most ambitious and deeply moving documentary since “The Civil War.” ...

Read entire article at NYT