The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger recently pointed out the parallels between the campaign Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran in 1936 and the one being waged by President Barack Obama today.  It was a terrific column. I nodded my head at the various FDR phrases Henninger repeated, showing how President Obama is using variations on FDR’s jabs at big business, greed, and those who stood in the way of helping the needy. Yup, he pegged that one—Obama wants to use what he thinks was FDR’s strategy to win his own sophomore term.

But FDR said some things in his previous election battle that Republicans would nod their heads to today, and the campaign that springs to my mind when I view the 2012 contest is the 1932 match-up between challenger FDR and incumbent Herbert Hoover. Republicans could learn some things by studying it.

This parallel first occurred to me when Newt Gingrich was riding high after some great debate performances. When Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1995, he referred to FDR several times, in complimentary tones. For good or ill, FDR was a man of big ideas, and it’s no surprise that Gingrich, no slouch in the ideas department, should admire the Depression-era president.

It struck me that, if Gingrich became the nominee, we could see a Bizarro World rerun of the 1932 election, with Gingrich as the FDR figure, criticizing the stick-in-the-mud Democrats and their feckless leader, President (Herbert Hoover) Obama, while offering a “happy days are here again” optimism along with a dizzying list of ideas for how to get us out of the Recession.

Of course, this was before Gingrich started acting more like “BMR” (Bertha Mason Rochester) than FDR, except without the convenient attic.

But now that the dust has settled and Mitt Romney is on a glide path to nomination victory, the FDR/Hoover parallels resurfaced for me. And I believe Romney is in the ideal spot to play the FDR role, albeit in a Semi-Bizarro World universe where some, but not all, things are opposite.

Mitt could, for example, embrace this snippet from FDR’s nomination speech of 1932:

“I know something of taxes. For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that Government–Federal and State and local–costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching. As an immediate program of action we must abolish useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of Government–functions, in fact, that are not definitely essential to the continuance of Government. We must merge, we must consolidate subdivisions of Government, and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.

“By our example at Washington itself, we shall have the opportunity of pointing the way of economy to local government, for let us remember well that out of every tax dollar in the average State in this Nation, 40 cents enter the treasury in Washington, D. C., 10 or 12 cents only go to the State capitals, and 48 cents are consumed by the costs of local government in counties and cities and towns.”

To be clear, this bit of FDR’s speech was preceded by some anti-corporate greed ranting that President Obama’s speechwriters channel relentlessly in the current campaign. But these “small government,” “lower taxes” words were coming from the mouth of a man considered today to be a demi-God in the Democratic pantheon. Make them your own, Mitt, and tell folks who said them first!

Forget that FDR ended up bloating government. Remember instead that FDR was campaigning in 1932 against a fellow who’d failed to bring the country out of the Depression because he’d done a lot of things that Democrats of today fancy: supporting free trade restrictions and higher taxes, among them.

Romney would be wise to point this out, that just like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama thinks that taxing the wealthy will lead to more economic progress. And, oh yes, Obama is the president who’s not been keen on worthwhile projects like the Keystone Pipeline, instead preferring crony capitalist ventures like Solyndra—you know, the smoke-filled backroom deals (except, perhaps, in this case, the smoke might have come from New Age incense).

Ironically, Romney could also position himself as the savior of one of FDR’s greatest accomplishments. FDR might have introduced and won passage of Social Security, but it’s members of his party today who stand in the way of reforming the program so that it stays healthy for future generations. And it’s Republicans who are also offering ideas for putting Medicare on a more secure footing, while the president’s health care plan included cuts to Medicare.

The list could go on, demonstrating how Mitt and Republicans are the true progressives (in the sense of those embracing progress on thorny issues instead of clinging desperately to old ideals because “we’ve always done it that way”) in this campaign.

Oh, there’s one other way in which Romney parallels Roosevelt. Romney, like FDR, comes from a wealthy family.

Hmm…maybe someone should suggest a cigarette holder and jaunty fedora for Mitt?

On second thought, scratch that.


Libby Sternberg has a vivid imagination, which is why she’s a novelist.

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