Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Those Who Hated Him
How would you say your book differs from some of the other books out there about FDR?
Initially this book was going to be about the year 1933. I saw that as a pivotal year -- the beginning of a new kind of democracy, a new role that government was going to play. It wasn't until I started doing the research that I decided to really focus on these two events -- the assassination attempt and this sort of wing-nut crazy, zany purported plot to overtake the president.
What can we learn about FDR and his times by looking at these two plots?
What I found fascinating was how precarious the nation was at that moment. I had never realized that. The country wasn't even that old yet and here was a moment of absolute economic crisis, and there was a lot at play. It wasn't obvious that America was going to remain a democracy or capitalist. There were a lot of European impulses towards fascism and socialism and communism that were all being flirted with by various forces. That was one aspect that was very interesting to me. Another was the fact that he was really making it up as he went along. This was not some grand design. It was a nation in crisis and he was trying to figure out as quickly as possible how to save the banks, how to get Americans back to work, how to restart a really devastated economy. There are so many parallels to today. You can almost see a model for how to go forward.
What's similar about the assassination attempt and the conspiracy plot?
They both found their impulses in
How was Roosevelt able to expand the executive branch while not crossing the line into a dictatorship?
I don't think that Roosevelt ever really saw Mussolini or Hitler as role models for America. I think he saw them both as dangerous men from the beginning. But this is early. Hitler came to power almost exactly the same time as Roosevelt. Mussolini meanwhile had been running a country pretty effectively, one of the only [such] countries in
What was different about FDR from other presidents who had assassination plots against them?
What the Secret Service said that was so difficult about protecting him was that he was an invalid in a wheelchair, and he also insisted on being out in the public and not being surrounded by a phalanx of security or bulletproof glass or anything. He was so affable and gregarious and just wanted to be in the crowds all the time.
What qualities do
There is an undercurrent in American politics that goes way back -- this xenophobic fear of the other. In Roosevelt's day, that fear of the other was communism or Jews. There was this whole cottage industry that was trying to prove Roosevelt was Jewish and that he was part of an international Jewish conspiracy to take over America. Right now we're anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim; back then it was anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Whenever that comes to the surface, it seems to usher in these kinds of movements. Whenever there is a fear that somebody is leading us astray and away from capitalism and more into socialism, there is the eruption, it seems, of this kind of reactionary response.
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