President Barack Obama and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt are very much alike when it comes to executive power — willing to expand it in every way possible, two authors of a new paperback edition of a book on FDR tell Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.
“Obama’s trying to emulate Roosevelt,” Burton Folsom Jr., a history professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan, tells Newsmax. “Obama likes Roosevelt. He often talks about these programs that he’s instituting being the greatest number of programs, sometimes he’ll say, in 70 years. In other words, he’s making a reference to Roosevelt.”
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Folsom and his wife, Anita, wrote “FDR Goes to War,” which was recently released in paperback. It was published in hardcover two years ago.
A former staffer of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Anita Folsom is director of the Free Market Forum at Hillsdale. It oversees educational programs on the world’s free-enterprise systems.
“He thinks highly of Roosevelt and the New Deal,” Burton Folsom tells Newsmax of President Obama. “He likes the idea of increased intervention. And he very much thinks that the president ought to have more power.
“Part of why we wrote “FDR Goes to War,” we thought there were lessons and parallels to Roosevelt,” he adds. “We were speaking to Americans today about a pattern of executives grabbing for power, how to stop it — and the negative consequences of when it happens.”
Anita Folsom says Roosevelt spent heavily on social programs because “he knew he could buy votes if he spent on social programs. At the same time, he continued to slash the defense budget.
“In the mid-1930s, the United States Army was so poor that even the chief of staff at that time went before Congress pleading for enough bullets for 100,000 soldiers. Our Army was in really poor shape.”
She adds that Roosevelt viewed the U.S. Constitution as “a ‘living Constitution,’ where he was going to grow the office of the executive and make it far more powerful than it had ever been. He tried to pack the Supreme Court, and that blew up in his face.”
In 1937, Roosevelt had proposed legislation that would have allowed him to appoint up to six additional justices to the court for every sitting judge over the age of 70 years and six months.
The initiative never made it to a congressional vote, in part because of strong public opinion against it.
But Roosevelt had better success as the nation’s Commander-in-Chief, Anita Folsom says.
“When we were re-arming before World War II, in 1940 and 1941, he kept putting defense agencies under the Office of the President because he wouldn’t trust them to anyone else. By the time the war started in earnest for the US after Pearl Harbor, there were 15 defense agencies under the Office of the President.
“He wouldn’t let an administrator take that over,” she says. “He wanted to direct it. A tremendous grab for power by FDR.”
Even if winning meant jailing his Republican critics, Roosevelt did it, Burton Folsom says.
Folsom cites Moses Annenberg, the GOP owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and one of FDR’s ardent attackers, who was jailed for two years for income tax evasion. He died in prison at age 65 in 1942.
“Roosevelt was able to get an [Internal Revenue Service] investigation on him,” he says.
“Roosevelt was mainly concerned with being re-elected — and if he could suspend civil liberties, if it would help him win re-election during wartime, he seemed to have regrettably chosen that path.”
In the book, the Folsoms also debunk the longstanding belief that Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs revived the American economy after World War II.
“The New Deal program simply failed to spark economic growth,” Burton Folsom says. “The war helped in a sense that it got unemployment down to 1 percent, but we have to keep in mind we had 12 million or more soldiers overseas — and so the question is what happens after the war? Are those people going to come back and go into the unemployment lines or are they going to be employed?
“What we did in the United States that got us out of that Depression was that we freed-up our economy,” Folsom adds. “The high tax rate, the 94 percent income tax rate on top incomes during the war, we sliced that.
“We cut the corporate income tax from 90 percent to 38 percent. We freed-up the economy — and because of that, we had developments in television, Xerox machines, and later McDonald’s and Holiday Inns, and ballpoint pens.
“There were all sorts of investments, in addition to the iron and steel — cars and the usual housing recovery — that got us out of the Great Depression. We only had 3.9 percent unemployment in 1946 and 1947.
“We freed-up the economy,” Folsom says. “We cut the tax rates. We cut federal spending by more than half — and that ended the Great Depression.”
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