"FDR: Into the Storm, 1937-1940" by Kenneth S. Davis

"FDR: Into the Storm, 1937-1940"

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Fourth and below-par volume of Davis's ongoing biography of FDR (1986, etc.), this entry covering 1936-40. Davis presents an uncomplimentary view of FDR's second term, seeing the unprecedented electoral victory of 1936 as having created a disastrous hubris in the President, and he presses this thesis in a long opening section on FDR's attempt to enlarge a conservative Supreme Court that had frustrated New Deal legislation. Section titles suggest both Davis's views and his wordy, rhetorical writing: ""Initiation and Anatomy of a Tragic Error""; ""Tragic Error is Compounded by a Stubborn Persistence in It,"" etc. FDR's waffling on the Spanish Civil War, his running battle with Supreme Court chief justice Charles Evans Hughes, and the recession of 1937 are well presented, but the President's mistakes and sometimes vindictive treatment of political enemies are covered with insufficient consideration of the fragility of FDR's political coalition, the resurgent strength of the financial/industrial establishment, and the inevitable letdown of second terms. And Davis's claim to understand the interior world of this sophisticated patrician and wily statesman doesn't wash: A statement like ""[FDR's] mandate was not only popular, it was also, in his own perception, divine..."" doesn't really help us to grasp Roosevelt. Moreover, the context (i.e., national catastrophe) isn't fully present; if Roosevelt overreached, he did so with unique support from the people. Balance demands that FDR be explained as more than a politician who did ""nothing save drift with the tide of circumstances,"" lacked both decisiveness about the atom bomb and the ability to accomplish what he wished in foreign affairs, and convinced himself that God was telling him what to do. Somehow the electorate accepted FDR's version of reality: Hitler was confronted, Lindbergh was faced down, the Court was tamed, destroyers got to England, and the Bomb was built. The means by which all this occurred are not explained here.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0812992059
Page count: 736pp
Publisher: Random House