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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
History ... Politics ...

I was watching a PBS show on Franklin D. Roosevelt the other night. As you may know, FDR was crippled and confined to a wheelchair. But he didn’t want the public to know it. Those were the days when the press could keep a secret! There were lots of clips showing all the elaborate preparations that occurred whenever FDR made a public appearance, so as to hide his disability.

Following up on this, I came across a web site that talks about a “secret” railroad track that ended under the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. This track was used for a variety of things, but one of the most important uses was for President Roosevelt. This siding was walled-in, so whenever FDR visited New York they would put his private train car on this track and get him up into the hotel without any nosy reporters taking embarrassing pictures (or exposing him to a whacko with a gun).

That brought back a memory from my youth. My first real job out of college was with the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington DC. I was working on facilities projects, and one day I was in the basement with one of the old-timers in my section. He brought me over to a dimly lit old concrete platform where there was an unused train track, which led toward a closed metal garage door. Years ago, they would occasionally open this door to let a train bring in a tank car of printing ink, for use in the money printing factory. But by the 1970s, the BEP got all of their ink in barrels that were shipped by truck and the train door was sealed. The old guy told me that as grungy as this basement scene was, it was historical; it was where they would sometimes get FDR onto or off of his train car when he was traveling to or from Washington. As with the Waldorf-Astoria siding in Manhattan, it was fully enclosed. Even better, it was government property that was guarded at all entrances (again, because this was the national currency factory).

The article about the Waldorf-Astoria siding notes that Andy Warhol once threw an “underground party” there. Unfortunately, the inky old track at the BEP enjoyed no such celebrity. But hey, at least I saw it.

PS, back on the political front, most of the pundits seem to be attributing Hilary Clinton’s demise to Barack Obama’s superior handling of the state caucuses. Senator Obama used the lessons regarding grassroots level organizing that he learned in Chicago during his days with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the caucus states; Hilary’s people stuck with a top-down reliance on the big state primaries. Given the edge that this gave to Obama, I wondered what did he have to say about IAF’s founder and guru, the legendary Saul Alinsky? Mr. Alinsky was gone by the time Obama hit the scene, but you’d think that the Illinois Senator would give him his due. However, it appears otherwise; Obama recently said that “. . . the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful.”

Hmmm. This sounds a bit revisionist to me. Obama’s people used Alinsky’s organizing principles to good advantage in Iowa and a slew of other small states thereafter; that made all the difference for Obama (and it’s not a big difference, remember — he may win the delegate count by less than a 10% margin). But he seems to focus on “ideas and words” — as in an Obama speech, the event where Obama transcends himself. It’s not that Alinsky didn’t have ideas; he wrote several books, and I have one of them myself. But Alinsky wasn’t an eloquent orator, like Obama. So now the good Senator-cum-Presidential Candidate can look down at Alinsky, even though without the lessons that he learned from Alinsky’s machine (the IAF), his speeches would now be mostly forgotten.

A nation can’t live on eloquent speeches alone, as McCain will be reminding the country this fall. I’m not in any mood to vote for McCain, but I’d still like to see a bit more substance from Obama. Also some more evidence of good-old-fashioned Alinsky-style “can do”. If we were voting this fall for National Speechgiver, I’d feel entirely comfortable with Barack Obama. But as to the office of President of the United States . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:10 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim,
    Very interesting history you relate about FDR.

    I remember (perhaps I was about 10 or 12) my mother and I listening to the Democratic convention on the radio–yes, the radio–no TV then. She was furious that the Dems had once again chosen FDR for a candidate. When he was finally nominated, she burst out (and if you knew my mother you would realize this was really a remarkable event as she almost never “burst out”) with: “He’s leading them around by the nose down there.” (I was a kid and didn’t know where “down there” was.) It’s the only thing I can remember of any real political remarks made in my family–except for the fact that they were died-in-the-wool Republicans. I always found that to be a conundrum as the Dems always held the concepts that my parents espoused. Then it was called to my attention that they were 100% dead set against the Second World War. And I realized how absolutely radical my parents were in that they really held to non-violence as a core value. If I recall correctly, there was one woman who voted in Congress against WWII. (But maybe I’m wrong on that point.) Not too many people were against WWII.

    And you are certainly correct about how hidden FDR’s disability was kept by all concerned. I was an adult before I knew he was paralyzed.

    As to Obama: I’ve said my say about him many times. If Obama turns out to be nothing but a flash in the pan, it would not surprise me. He’s from the South Side of Chicago where the political motto is: “Where’s Mine?” But then again, Hillary has her own “faults”, to say the least. However, I do have to say that BILL Clinton’s time in office was a good time for the country. But then I hear that he was the one who “out sourced” our torture of individuals to other countries.

    So, when it comes to politicians, perhaps the only real question is who is the LEAST BAD? One may have to settle for the good the politician does (if there is any), accept that, and hope that the bad aspects of politics can only be LESSENED. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that a politician will actually be GOOD and DO good.
    MCS

    Comment by MCS — May 22, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

  2. Jim,
    Very interesting history you relate about FDR.

    I remember (perhaps I was about 10 or 12) my mother and I listening to the Democratic convention on the radio–yes, the radio–no TV then. She was furious that the Dems had once again chosen FDR for a candidate. When he was finally nominated, she burst out (and if you knew my mother you would realize this was really a remarkable event as she almost never “burst out”) with: “He’s leading them around by the nose down there.” (I was a kid and didn’t know where “down there” was.) It’s the only thing I can remember of any real political remarks made in my family–except for the fact that they were died-in-the-wool Republicans. I always found that to be a conundrum as the Dems always held the concepts that my parents espoused. Then it was called to my attention that they were 100% dead set against the Second World War. And I realized how absolutely radical my parents were in that they really held to non-violence as a core value. If I recall correctly, there was one woman who voted in Congress against WWII. (But maybe I’m wrong on that point.) Not too many people were against WWII.

    And you are certainly correct about how hidden FDR’s disability was kept by all concerned. I was an adult before I knew he was paralyzed.

    As to Obama: I’ve said my say about him many times. If Obama turns out to be nothing but a flash in the pan, it would not surprise me. He’s from the South Side of Chicago where the political motto is: “Where’s Mine?” But then again, Hillary has her own “faults”, to say the least. However, I do have to say that BILL Clinton’s time in office was a good time for the country. But then I hear that he was the one who “out sourced” our torture of individuals to other countries.

    So, when it comes to politicians, perhaps the only real question is who is the LEAST BAD? One may have to settle for the good the politician does (if there is any), accept that, and hope that the bad aspects of politics can only be LESSENED. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that a politician will actually be GOOD and DO good.
    MCS

    Comment by MCS — May 22, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

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