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Useful Notes / Franklin D. Roosevelt

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FDR in one of the few pictures of him in his wheelchair. Doesn't make him any less awesome.

"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oglethorpe University commencement address, 1932

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials of FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States. The tenth president from the Democratic Party, he was also the longest-tenured president in American history, serving three full terms and being just over a month into a fourth at the time of his death. Roosevelt was president from 1933 to 1945, succeeding Herbert Hoover, and was followed by his Vice President, Harry S. Truman, who completed FDR's fourth term after his death in office. No prior president had even won a third term, and no president since has challenged—or will be able to challenge, thanks to the 22nd Amendment—his length of service (barring the very unlikely event of said amendment being repealed). He is generally considered in the top three of all US Presidents, alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Roosevelt led the United States through The Great Depression and most of World War II, and his domestic reforms and foreign policy accomplishments have forever left their mark on the nation. By the end of his life, the USA had become the premier world superpower, a position it maintains to this very day, and his policies—in peace and war—played no small part in bringing about that transformation. As a liberal, FDR's presidency is credited with initiating a shift in American politics, taking the Democratic Party in a more progressive left-wing direction, and in the process bringing about a polarization that eventually led to the Republican Party and the Democratic Party taking their modern-day positions.

Roosevelt is, to date, the only physically-disabled President.note  In the summer of 1921, he became gravely ill a few weeks after he took his sons to the annual Boy Scout jamboree. After a day spent outside with his kids, he began to feel unwell late in the afternoon. He told his family he was headed to bed without supper and was never the same again. At the time he was diagnosed with polio, but he is now believed to have had Guillain–Barré syndrome, due to his symptoms and the circumstances in which he got them. It took him until the end of the year to recover from the illness, and he remained permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He did his best to keep the extent of his malady secret from the public, insisting on being photographed from the waist up (to hide his wheelchair), standing with the surreptitious assistance of aides at public functions, and utilizing his truly impressive upper-body strength to hold himself upright at podiums. He was even able to walk short distances, through the use of leg braces and canes.note  In spite of Feigning Healthiness, much of the public knew of his struggles. In the 1932 campaign it greatly helped humanize him to the public, seeing his suffering with paralysis as akin to their own suffering in the Depression.

He was also a fierce Slave to PR, taking good care on how he presented himself to the public, and cultivating friendships with the press corps (who, whether on account of Code of Honor or because they bought into his platform, refrained from making his disability into an issue). Nonetheless, the fact that he was wheelchair bound was more or less an Open Secret, with more than a few leaks to the public, and yet either because of the scale of The Great Depression, the lack of 24/7 News coverage in the pre-television era or his personal popularity, this never quite mattered to either him, the public or his political opponents. In fact, his partial debilitation had silver linings: he was facing serious political scandal about undercover Military Police agents entrapping homosexuals in the Navy through oral sex and no one wanted to then press too hard to a person so seriously ill. More importantly, Franklin developed considerable empathy for people enduring misfortune through no fault of their own (albeit with occasional blindspotsnote ), a quality which would be sorely needed during the global hardships he would face as president. The fact that his wife, Eleanor, was a staunch activist for the underdog proved a major influence on him as well, even if his continual philandering with other women was an irritant that permanently cooled their marriage. (Both Roosevelts, by the way, were related to earlier, Republican US president Theodore Roosevelt; Eleanor as his niece, Franklin as his fifth cousin.)

To further his goals, Roosevelt revolutionized the office's communication with the public with the aid of technology. Most famously, instead of the typical bellowing speeches given to a mass audience before microphones, he would have a series of more conversational radio addresses that he called "Fireside Chats". With that relatively soft-spoken approach, Roosevelt proved capable of winning over many to his policies, such as his first one that persuaded much of the public to take money they were hoarding under their mattresses after the wave of bank failures to put it back into those financial institutions after the national "banking holiday" which banks were closed for days to allow for sufficient funds and organizational reforms to be put in place to restore confidence in them.

Roosevelt is often considered one of the greatest American presidents, usually ranked right up there with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, though he's criticized for his internment of Japanese Americans (yes, American citizens) and his attempt to pack the Supreme Court. It also helps that he served twice as long as other presidents, ensuring that when WWII rolled around and finally ended the Great Depression, he would get plenty of credit, and also that despite his unprecedented winning streak with the Electoral College he intended to retire at the end of the war, before that "terrific pain in the back of [his] head" forced him out about a month earlier than he had planned. He remains not only the only sitting US president to die of retirony, but also the only sitting president other than Lincoln to become an indirect casualty of war; as the United News newsreel "Japan Surrenders" put it later that year, "Years of brave responsibility took their toll. A grateful world honors him today."

FDR in fiction:

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    Comic Books 
  • FDR was retconned to be the founder of the Justice Society of America, and his fictional super-powered great-grandson, "Lance" Reid, was a member in pre-Flashpoint continuity.
    • FDR also was responsible for the creation of the wartime-only All-Star Squadron, which included as members by default the JSA.
  • The Super-Soldier Serum taken by Captain America was, according to some comics, supposed to go to FDR after it had been tested (however, the inventor was killed after using it on Captain America, and the project had No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup). This would cure the effects of the polio and let him walk on his own again. Cap himself had a bit of hero-worship going on for Roosevelt, and the Sentinel of Liberty miniseries shows that Steve was employed as a mural painter by the WPA. Considering that FDR personally presented him with his indestructible round shield, you can understand the good feeling.
    • He also appears in the Ultimate Marvel universe, in Ultimate Origins. He explained Rogers that the US had the Nuclear Option to end World War II, but he would prefer him to win the war in a more conventional way before using such a deadly weapon.
  • In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, outgoing Commissioner James Gordon relates his experiences during the war to incoming Commissioner Ellen Yindel, appointed by the mayor on her anti-Batman stance. He specifically stated that he refused to ever consider if Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbour, stating that the whole thing was "too big" to comprehend, making an analogy to Batman's importance as a symbol. After failing to capture Batman multiple times, Yindel finally concedes to Gordon's point.
  • In Superman #141 (April 1961), a flashback to Superman's debut as Superboy has the Boy of Steel meeting Roosevelt. Superboy saves FDR from an assassination attempt, plus does several favors for the President. Bronze Age stories (and DC's institution of a floating timeline) eventually retconned the President Superboy met to Eisenhower. As such, a 1980s Superboy story (where the hero's accidentally thrown back in time from The '60s to The '30s and across dimensional boundaries to Earth-2) has Clark see a Smallville newspaper headline mention Roosevelt. (We also later see Earth-2's Pa Kent express support of Roosevelt.)

    Films – Animated 
  • In "When I See an Elephant Fly" from Disney's Dumbo, one of the puns is "I heard a fireside chat", a then-contemporary reference to Roosevelt's radio addresses.

    Films – Live-Action 

  • Sinclair Lewis' dystopian 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here has FDR losing the 1936 Democratic nomination to demagogic senator Berzelius Windrip, who goes on to win the election and establish a fascist dictatorship in the US.
  • A still-living nonagenarian FDR is also portrayed as a high-ranking secret society member in the Illuminatus!! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.
  • Appears several times in Alternate History works by Harry Turtledove.
    • In Worldwar he dies early, in 1944, due to the extra stress of having to manage a war against alien invaders and constantly being moved around the country. Henry Wallace was still his Vice President, but he had already been killed in an attack on Seattle and so Secretary of State Cordell Hull succeeded FDR as President.
    • In TL-191 his analogue, known as "Franklin Roosevelt" rather than by his acronym, is the Secretary for Defence under President Charlie La Follette of the Socialist Party. As this is a less high-profile position, he is open about being disabled.
      • The ghastly number of men returning from both the First and Second Great Wars with missing limbs or other disabilities has made the USA in this timeline more accepting of the disabled (along with earlier acceptance of women's rights (although even that varies by state) and at least some moves toward racial equality, this is one of the few good outcomes of the Crapsack World that is Timeline 191).
  • The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series imply that he was a son of the Big Three; Hades, Poseidon or Zeus. Its Wiki reveals that he is the son of Zeus. Additionally, Percy and his questing partners realize Bianca di Angelo and her brother, Nico, are from the 1940s when Bianca says that Roosevelt was the president before the current one.
  • In Philip Roth's Alternate History novel The Plot Against America, he was defeated by Charles Lindbergh in the 1940 election, who keeps the US out of World War II. He gets reelected in an emergency election in 1942 after Lindbergh goes missing and his Vice-President Burton Wheeler tries to use the resulting chaos to purge the Jews, leading to his removal by Congress.
  • In the Alternate History novel Joe Steele, where Stalin was born in America instead of the Russian Empire, Roosevelt is killed in a hotel fire during the 1932 Democratic National Convention (being unable to escape in his wheelchair), allowing Steele to win the nomination. It's all but outright said that Steele had his cronies set the fire.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Edward Herrmann portrayed him in the made-for-TV biopics Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. Herrmann became so closely associated with the role that he cameo'd in the film version of Annie as Roosevelt, and even narrated some The History Channel documentaries about or featuring Roosevelt.
  • The King of Queens. Doug's father-in-law is still sensitive to the topic of FDR's polio.
  • A character on Seinfeld is referred to as "FDR", which is then explained to stand for "Franklin Delano Romanowski", a disgruntled hotdog vendor who lives in Jerry and Kramer's building.
  • In the All in the Family episode "Cousin Maude's Visit", Maude is shown to love Roosevelt, calling him "a saint". Archie's "secret weapon" against her is insulting FDR.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In Season 7, the SHIELD team travel back in time to prevent the Chronicoms from altering history. The first episode sees them end up in 1931, where clues lead them to a party that Roosevelt (then the Governor of New York) is attending as a fundraiser for his presidential bid the following year. His presence leads to the team concluding that he's the Chronicoms' target though this turns out not to be the case. Coulson and Mack in particular are both thrilled to be in the same room as him.
  • The First Lady: Kiefer Sutherland portrays him in the series.

  • Dan Carlin discusses him as part of his Supernova of the East series from his Hardcore History podcast, in particular the intense feelings (both positive and negative) he inspired in his own day. Also worth noting, part of his "Day of Infamy" speech is also a part of the show's intro.

  • Along with the aforementioned Sunrise at Campobello, he appears in the musical Annie.
    • Ironically, Harold Gray was a staunchly conservative opponent of the New Deal and was not shy about using Little Orphan Annie as a political platform. FDR and the New Deal are, of course, portrayed positively in the musical, which was written after Gray's death.

    Video Games 
  • Like most other politicians (and some that aren't even politicians) of the time-period, Roosevelt is a possible (and indeed, the default) Head of State for the USA in Hearts of Iron II and Hearts of Iron III.
  • Roosevelt is a choice for leader of America in Civilization 4, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Roosevelt is Industrious and Organized, which gives a boon to production and efficiency.
  • Assassin's Creed II gives him a little bit of a Historical Villain Upgrade, playing off the real life controversies like the Japanese Internment and his court-packing scheme, and implies that he used a Piece of Eden to navigate the country through the Great Depression. He was also apparently one of four Knights Templar in charge of the world's major superpowers, and helped to orchestrate World War II as a way of creating a One World Order. The other three? Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler.
  • Resistance has FDR appear in a passing mention as having been defeated in the 1940 Election by Noah Grace.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Even Family Guy thinks it's too soon to make a lamer than FDR's legs joke.
  • The Venture Brothers: The ghost of Abraham Lincoln confesses that FDR was one of his favorite Presidents. "I loved to watch him sleep. Fate of the world on his polio-ridden shoulders....that was a clear conscience."
  • One episode of Histeria! has FDR, Churchill, Stalin, and one of the kids from the show team up as the Freedom League against the Axis, represented by Mussolini, Tojo, and Satan Hitler.
  • An episode of Rick and Morty's Season 5 shows that FDR still lives under the White House... as a human-spider hybrid thing (the result of the polio vaccine and genetic experiments meant to let him walk again). Morty burns him to death while making a pun on the "Fireside Chats".
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Mansion Family", Mr. Burns is filling out paperwork in a doctor's office and lists his social security number as 000-00-02, then says "damned Roosevelt!" implying that FDR got 000-00-001.note 

Alternative Title(s): Franklin Delano Roosevelt