Jan. 5, 2010
Franklin Roosevelt is not a hero of mine. Arguably the father of today's big government and a president who never let the Constitution get in the way of his political agenda, FDR summoned a weird confection of Leftists, liberals and disaffected, vulnerable citizens to obtain election to the presidency no less than four times.
His legacy has led to serious problems in the courts, the economy and the way Americans understand their federal government. Yet there is still much to admire about the Democratic Roosevelt - the way he heartened Americans with his optimism, the masterful manner in which he spoke to the hopes and fears of ordinary people, and even his unabashed invocation of the God of the Bible in times of national need.
FDR was also nothing if not decisive. He did not dawdle in times of crisis. For better or ill, he acted. People knew that they had a leader in the White House.
Knowing he was nearing death, he jettisoned starry-eyed Vice President Henry Wallace for sharp, crisp and purposeful Harry Truman. When we entered World War II, he shelved the New Deal and put his full energies into winning the conflict, even appointing Republicans as secretaries of War and Navy. And when eight German spies were found in the U.S., they were not tried in civil court. They were taken before a military tribunal appointed by FDR himself; six were hung, one imprisoned for life, and the eighth sentenced to 30 years. The time between when the spies landed and the hangings: less than two months.
Mr. Roosevelt's most recent successor could learn a thing or two from him. Barack Obama took three months to decide on adding to America's troop level in Afghanistan. It took him three days to reassure a shaken public that his national security team would work to better safeguard the country from terrorist attacks.
On health care, the President seems content with getting something --- anything --- as long as it is slapped with rubric of reform and contains federal funding for abortion. He has not led in crafting the legislation. He has led only in demanding a finished product, and then too often, and when legislative deadlines have been missed, he has done nothing about it.
There have been moments when Mr. Obama seems to understand he is not a global citizen or a national academic-in-chief. When, early last year, he ordered American sharpshooters to kill the pirates who had seized U.S. sailors, he rightly won plaudits, including from my organization, the Family Research Council. But these moments have been more incidental and dramatic than consistent and dependable.
In the name of caution, he dallies. For the sake of consideration, he procrastinates. On behalf of prudence, he dissolves into quietude.
"One thing is sure," said FDR. "We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment." Is this a perfect way of addressing crises? Certainly not, especially if the "something" that is done is animated by emotion and directed by panic. But upon obtaining the best counsel possible, the job of a President is to act quickly and firmly when urgency requires it.
Time is a luxury upon which the security of the United States cannot wait. Al-Qaeda, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the tyrants of North Korea and their assorted allies in the international fellowship of evil know this. Do you, Mr. President?