I’ve been trying to watch the latest Ken Burns documentary on “The Roosevelts” that aired last week. I studied the New Deal extensively as an undergraduate and am lightly familiar with both FDR’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s careers. I can say one thing pretty definitively now.
The Roosevelts could never happen again. Ever.
Why? Well, for multiple reasons, but the most obvious one is that they simply couldn’t stand the media scrutiny.
In an era when President Barack Obama is criticized for accidentally holding a latte while saluting Marines as he got off Air Force One (oh, and the August doldrums He Wore a Tan Suit Crisis), we are not in a very forgiving political culture. We get bogged down in stupid stuff and have too much Twitter time on our hands.
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Here’s what the Roosevelts might be subjected to had they existed today.
• Tweet from American Lung Association: “OMG. Did you see FDR’s smoking a cig? #badexample.”
• YouTube video: “FDR’s wild wheelchair romp at Hyde Park shows the president IS NOT WALKING. Did anyone know this? He always looks like he’s standing in pictures.”
• PETA press release: “Col. Roosevelt’s Indiscriminate Slaughter of Thousands of Animals.”
• TMZ: “First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt has been spending a little too much time with another woman, and friends of Eleanor say she and the president seem to be sexually Splitsville for now.”
• New York Times Twitter summary of Pearl Harbor speech: “12/7/41/infamy/Japanese bombs/ Hawaii/@ war w/them #sneakattack.”
• FOX News comment thread about New Deal: “More big government. Can’t these lazy unemployed use the magic of the marketplace to create jobs?”
• Instagram photo: “Good God, look at Eleanor’s choppers. She looks like she could build a beaver dam without help.”
• Press release from the Koch brothers’ Heartland Institute: “Dust Bowl Science Isn’t Proven.”
• Statement from Sen. Rand Paul: “President Theodore Roosevelt has created a proto-fascist expansionist superstate that will not only be unsustainable, but will lead to a massive wood shortage from big-stick harvesting.”
• Tweet from White House pool reporter: “FDR wearing tan suit in August. What’s next? No spats? #blue/grayDCattireonly.”
• National Enquirer online: “Eleanor Roosevelt spotted with yet another gal pal as they traipse around the country while FDR is said to be spending quality time with Lucy Mercer and other playthings.”
• Fashion Police tweet: “ROFL @matching Pince-nez glasses for T.R. and FDR. How cute. #getLasik”
• Front page headline, The New York Post: “LEGLESS FDR IN TOPLESS CAR”
• The Wall Street Journal editorial page on Theodore Roosevelt and trusts: “Mr. Roosevelt has spoken of the malefactors of great wealth and encouraging labor reform. Obviously the president ought to get out to the sweatshops a bit more often and see that raising the minimum wage would force the Triangle Shirtwaist Company to go out of business.”
• NRA press release: “The would-be assassin of Theodore Roosevelt was using a really small-caliber weapon which couldn’t even penetrate after passing through a 50-page speech and an eyeglasses case. When will the anti-gun crowd wake up and see most handguns are perfectly safe?”
• Pharmaceutical company television commercial: “If the only thing you have to fear is fear itself, or you’re suffering from Great Depression, ask your doctor about RECOVERY. RECOVERY can cause swollen bank accounts. If your RECOVERY lasts for more than four hours, go to an emergency room immediately.”
• Tweet from FDR (@NewDealWheel) and Eleanor Roosevelt (@FLOTUSMAMA): “ROFL @ 21st century media. We miss #radio.”