Clinton seeks a little FDR magic

Roosevelt's party is falling apart but his legacy still lives, writes Rupert Cornwell in Warm Springs

President Bill Clinton travelled yesterday to a small spa town in western Georgia to honour the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt - an anniversary tribute, it could be said, to the founder and greatest hero of the modern Democratic Party from the man who may be presiding over its terminal demise.

Fifty years ago FDR died at his clapboard cottage at Warm Springs, three months after he had won a record fourth term. ``I have a terrific headache," were his last words, at noon on 12 April 1945. A few hours later he was dead of a stroke.

Yesterday's ceremonies were ostensibly to reopen the pools in whosewater FDR swam to try to recover the use of his legs, paralysed by polio. They coincided with another anniversary, of the announcement on 12 April 1955 that a Pittsburgh professor, Jonas Salk, had perfected a vaccine which would render obsolete the original purpose of Warm Springs - as a polio rehabilitation centre. Now 80, Dr Salk was present to receive a special award.

But this second visit to Georgia by Mr Clinton within a fortnight had a second, unsentimental reason: one more attempt to shore up support in a key Southern state which he narrowly carried in 1992 but which on present trends he seems bound to lose next year.

Only this week Nathan Deal, a Georgia congressman, followed the recent example of two Democratic senators and switched to the Republicans, saying his old party was "out of touch with mainstream America''. That could never be said of FDR who, even among Southerners instinctively suspicious of this Yankee patrician, won an indelible place in his countrymen's hearts.

Hence the ``New Deal'' coalition which for 30 years helped the Democrats to win the White House: blacks and other minorities, hyphenated Americans, the East Coast liberals and die-hard Southerners who had never forgotten Civil War defeat. But the coalition is crumbling: many ethnic voters became the ``Reagan Democrats" who deserted the party in droves in the Eighties.

Even among blacks, Republicans are starting to make inroads. Now Mr Deal's defection, which could be followed by a dozen or so more in the House, shows how the ``yellow-dog'' Democrats of Dixie - vital for the party's successes under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and most lately Clinton - are a breed nearing extinction.

But if his party is falling apart, Roosevelt's legacy lives. His model of Big Government, to tackle the Great Depression, may have had its hour.

But the House Speaker, Newt Gingrich,pays tribute to FDR even as his ``Contract with America'' tries to demolish the welfare system and other pillars of the New Deal.

In fact, most of what began with FDR and flowered under Lyndon Johnson's ``Great Society'' programme will probably mostly survive. Social security has been declared sacrosanct by both parties, while much of what Mr Gingrich has rammed through the Housewill be diluted or ignored by the Senate or vetoed by Mr Clinton.

In foreign policy, too,much of Roosevelt's vision is now reality. Colonial empires have crumbled, as has the Soviet Union. China is emerging as a mega-power. The United Nations has perhaps its best chance yet of becoming the strong multilateral body that he envisaged.

But even in his grave Roosevelt cannot escape those modern American scourges of Congressional meddling and strident interest groups. He left instructions that he wanted a tiny memorial, the size of the top of his White House desk, outside the Federal Archives building, midway between the White House and Capitol Hill. That was installed in 1965.

Nevertheless, Congress is building a 7.5-acre Roosevelt Memorial Park, to be ready by 1997, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.Groups representing the disabled are outraged there will be no depiction of FDR in his wheelchair, to which he was confined after getting polio in 1921. In his day, he forbade reference to his illness, and the press obliged. But, say activists, to persist in the fiction passes up a heaven-sent chance of fighting the prejudices with which the physically handicapped must still contend.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee