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Two Liberal Icons That This Lefty Simply Can’t Abide

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I’m about as liberal as they come, but I have one of those proverbial “fingernail-on-the-chalkboard” moments whenever I see either one of two of the political left’s most celebrated figures lionized as they often are.

First, I personally cannot abide John Lennon. His superb musicianship is not in doubt. My problem with the former Beatle is as a person and a father.

I cannot stand hypocrisy, and he was an awful hypocrite as bad as any of the folks who spout “family values” and then get caught with their pants down. In my book, you simply cannot go out singing and preaching to others the virtues of peace and love and fail to live them personally as miserably as Lennon did.

He was a fairly horrible and cruel father to his first son, Julian. Whatever animus the elder Lennon may or may not have had with Julian’s mother should have been irrelevant. It’s one thing to be an absentee celebrity father. But leaving his child out of his will and leaving that son to scrounge mementos of him at auction is quite another.

I make no pretense at being a model father, but the idea of simply ditching one of my children, as Lennon did, seems unconscionable. You can put me squarely on the “Paul” side of the “John-Paul” Beatles divide. Fortunately, these days, I have to endure the Lennon tributes only occasionally, such as at the anniversary of his death. 

Then there’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

While I don’t have the visceral animosity against FDR that I have toward Lennon, I have to bear the near-deification of our 32nd president much more often. Imbued as he’s become with the nostalgia of soothing fireside chats and rah-rah feel-good vintage newsreels, Roosevelt has become something of a patron saint of the Democratic Party.

Liberals often like to exhort President Obama to be “more like FDR.” It’s usually used as a kind of code, to push Obama to mount the sort of muscular government response to the current economic crisis which Roosevelt created to combat the Great Depression. The most recent prominent progressive to do so is Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the firebrand Ohio progressive and one-time presidential candidate.

But doing so simply promotes the lionization of FDR’s memory, and it’s almost as if they forgot, or slept through, their basic junior high school history class. It’s most perplexing that someone like Kucinich would do so, given his long-standing commitment against war, and for social justice.

After all, Roosevelt oversaw the internment (“imprisonment” might be a less-euphamistic term) of tens of thousands of loyal Japanese American citizens during World War II out of nothing more than the rampant xenophobia of the time. Further, either because of his own racism or political cowardice, FDR never followed through on the racial integration of the U.S. military. It fell to President Harry Truman, and his political courage, to carry that out in 1948.

Then, of course, is a fact not often recounted by liberals. While he did create a vast federal apparatus to pull the nation out of economic depression, Roosevelt actually knuckled under to conservative pressure in 1937 and began cutting many of those government programs — much as Obama is vilified for doing today.

While FDR’s programs helped lift the nation out of depression in the early 1930s, those cuts then helped sink it back into an economic crisis from which it didn’t fully emerge until the start of the war. I raise these points not as ad hominem attacks against Lennon and Roosevelt. Each man clearly gave the world much through their respective chosen professions.

But why can we not simply acknowledge that without conferring on either some near-sainthood which neither man deserves? I, too, would would like Barack Obama to do more to put Americans back to work, to be a better president. But, rather than “be FDR,” I’d hope he’d actually be a president superior to Roosevelt. After all, he’s clearly already shown himself to be a better dad than John Lennon ever was.

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About Scott Nance

  • iball

    Lennon was a genius as well as a great musician and a sensitive artist. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t listen to Give Peace a Chance or Imagine.

  • I must grant, Kenn, that the author in the article to linked to makes an impressive case against Krugman’s interpretation of the 1929 events and immediately thereafter.

  • Handy, I didn’t read your #29 until now (it wasn’t addressed to me). I was responding to you. So we do agree on at least one thing. Well, that’s a start.

  • Handy, I didn’t read your #29 until now (it wasn’t addressed to me). I was responding to you. So we do agree on at least one thing. Well, that’s a start.

  • Roger – yes.

    handyguy – mainstream economists didn’t see our current crisis coming and have been telling us for close to three years that things are getting better. So listening to them even though they are wrong is open minded. No, the Great Depression was brought on by the easy money policies of the Fed in the 1920s. Then instead of allowing the economy to correct itself first Hoover then FDR meddled and made it worse. The same thing happened in Japan in the 1990s and is happening today in America.

  • #’s 30-35:
    Is Kenn not representing the Austrian school’s interpretation of events? If not, please correct me, I’m listening.

    I am the one who wrote, in #29:
    “There can be more than one way of interpreting the economic events of 1929-1946.”

    And I believe that. So Kenn cites a narrow point of view held by a vocal minority of economists and historians. But I am somehow the narrow-minded one.

    Before trying to remove the cinder from my eye, try acknowledging the log[s] in your own.

  • Roger, #35 and #38: you completely misrepresent what I said. We were both citing the same Wikipedia article, fer chrissake. I wasn’t making anything up.

  • Is thisthe link you have in mind, Kenn?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Kenn and troll – I recommend you consider what I say here.

  • Click my name and check the article on Hoover’s spending. Contrary to Keynesians’ views, Hoover was the first big stimulus spender in U.S. History – practically doubling the budget in 3 years.

  • In any case, the important thing is:

    Viva La Revolution! Free Libya!

  • t

    (oh yeah –so far)

  • troll

    (I was referring to the depression economy…I don’t think we lost over 8ish % of the economy this time did we? have to check on that)

  • An economy, besides, which features –what’s the exact percentage, BTW? — upwards 40 percent of GNP in financial services/products.

  • troll

    Glenn and Kenn – can either of you document what you agree was a ‘massive’ federal stimulus associated with the New Deal legislation ’33 – ’36? What amount of the tremendous economic growth that occurred during that period can be attributed to federal spending?

    As for speed of recovery – how fast can an economy that has lost 30% of its capacity to produce be expected to recover?

  • Kenn Jacobine


    My “dogma” is based on historical facts not the other way around. Re-inflating an economic bubble is not recovery it is setting you up for more misery. The depression of 1921, caused by inflation and government spending of WWI had no government stimulus and it was over quickly. The Great Depression was the first downturn where government intervention happened and the crisis was the longest in our history.

    Because you love the federal teet so much you think there is nothing it can’ t remedy. That is selfish dogma. Currently, we are moving out of the eye of the storm and into another downturn because your beloved leader is stubborn and won’t understand that government stimulus is the problem. Fasten your seatbelts Glenn this is bound to be a helluva ride down to the abyss. I hope you own gold – I do.

  • You’re missing my point, Glenn, as usual. This citation, and I can’t stand by it, was in rebuttal to Handy’s rather flippant statement that FDR “reversed” his policy as though of his own accord. Well, if there’s some truth to what’s cited, then Handy clearly is in the business of writing his own (should I say “revisionist”?) history.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    Despite Roosevelt campaigning heavily against anti-New Deal Republicans and anti-New Deal Democrats, Republicans gained many seats in Congress in the 1938 midterm elections and the Democrats opponents of the New Deal retained their seats,[2] resulting in the WPA, CCC and other relief programs being shut down during World War II by the Conservative Coalition (i.e., the opponents of the New Deal in Congress); they argued the return of full employment made them superfluous.

    So where does the blame for the second dip of the Depression belong?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Kenn –

    The economy seemed to be improving between 1934-1936 because FDR’s policies were re-inflating the bubble.

    Riiiiiiight. So the three-plus years between the Crash of 1929 and when FDR took office in March of 1933 were all a time of healing the broken economy…and so were the five thousand banks that had failed before FDR took office!

    Kenn, do you know what you’re missing? If the huge stimulus that FDR provided from ’33-’36 were the cause of the second dip of the Depression, then the far-larger stimulus of WWII should have sent us spiraling down even farther into the Depression!

    What’s really sad, though, is that you’re trying to force the facts to fit your dogma, rather than allowing the facts to determine your belief. You’re insisting that your dogma can’t be wrong, so what FDR did must have caused the second dip…and then you ignore the fact that the massive deficit spending the government made to finance our industrial buildup for WWII proved beyond reasonable doubt that economic stimulus works…as long as it’s big enough.

    And when it comes to Obama’s stimulus, I’ve got an article waiting to be published that I think you’ll find it very interesting – and surprising from an historian’s point of view.

  • Your argument, Handy, was that FDR “reversed” the policy as though of his own accord, change of mind, Republican influence, whatever. The quote I cite suggests that it was out of his hands — but then again, I’m not ashamed of it because you libs always cite it as Obama’s excuse.

    So be consistent for chrissake. Don’t blame one party while you’re going out of your way to vindicate another.

    Don’t you see the irony?

    Well, be that as it may, you still got to make your point.

  • So my question is — is Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein the (revisionist?) authors of Handy’s version of American economic history?

  • @27

    Nothing of substance, RJ. just below the belt comment as regards what I think of Glenn’s thought processes.

  • Well, he’s a movie critic, so I try not to take it personally, and make jokes when he goes on the offensive. We’re all characters on a screen, fair game for slicing and dicing. Not such a bad guy in person, probably.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Yes, I did not hear him say one intelligent thing to refute my position. All he can do is call names and speak in vague generalities about why I believe what I do.

  • Kenn,

    You’ll have to excuse handyman. He’s not all that good at debating facts. He prefers to call other people partisan and ideological while being partisan and ideological. He also especially enjoys the fallacious appeal to authority. It makes him feel “smart” to agree with whatever Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein write.

  • Kenn, you see the world through a very narrow cylinder. You cannot imagine that any economic reality exists outside your precious Austrian school. Your loyalty is touching, but it does not speak well for the breadth of your intellect or training.

    There can be more than one way of interpreting the economic events of 1929-1946. But the one and only way you accept has a quality of myth about it — and it is not what most economists and historians say about the period.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    When will you guys learn that recovery comes to an economy when the bubble pops and all the mal-investment caused by the Federal Reserve policies are liquidated? The economy seemed to be improving between 1934-1936 because FDR’s policies were re-inflating the bubble. In other words, the NRA and AAA mandated artificially high prices in industry and farming to benefit those groups to spur employment and therefore recovery. The programs cost so much that FDR had to raise taxes to pay for them. The tax raising as well as the artificially high prices caused the economy to fall again. Prices were not allowed to lower to a market based level and therefore squelched consumer demand and taxes took revenue from business which squelched expansion and hiring.

    Obama has attempted to do the same thing today through schemes like “cash for clunkers” and first time mortgage credits. Both programs have been failures.

    When you guys learn basic economics let me know and we can have a discussion. The Hoover-FDR Great Depression was the longest in our history because both used government to meddle in the economy instead of letting the market purge itself. This current depression is shaping up to beat Hoover-FDR’s because Bush-Obama have done even more meddling. Plus we have a fiat currency this time around which will make it worse.

  • 11:


    Your comment was partially deleted. I’m curious what it contained. If you want to send it to me, my email address can be found on my blog.

    – RJ

  • Roger, the Wikipedia article you reference does not contradict my #20. Just scroll down the page to “Recession of 1937.” That recession is no doubt one of the reasons the Dems lost seats in 1938 after the budget-balancing of 1937. Roosevelt also “reversed his reversal,” adding big new spending in 1938, but the recession didn’t ease until 1939.

  • I’ve always been a big John Lennon fan, since the time I was 14 and he and Yoko appeared on Dick Cavett together. [I also admire Yoko a lot more than many others seem to.]

    Lennon was hardly the first absentee show-biz dad. He later deeply regretted that and was an exemplary father to Sean in the few years they had together.

    He was certainly a brilliant artist, and I’m not quite as cynical about his politics as zing seems to be. He was a pacifist and an idealist, and politics were probably always secondary to that.

    I highly recommend the LENNONYC film that was shown on PBS not long ago.

  • But that’s Glenn’s and Handy’s MO, RJ, can’t you see? Whatever and whenever something goes wrong, it’s always the Republicans who are to blame. Poor, poor Democrats!

  • Just a little citation to show your narrative is simplistic, Handy:

    Despite Roosevelt campaigning heavily against anti-New Deal Republicans and anti-New Deal Democrats, Republicans gained many seats in Congress in the 1938 midterm elections and the Democrats opponents of the New Deal retained their seats,[2] resulting in the WPA, CCC and other relief programs being shut down during World War II by the Conservative Coalition (i.e., the opponents of the New Deal in Congress); they argued the return of full employment made them superfluous.

    source, third paragraph.

    See the little contradiction or incongruity, Handy? It isn’t exactly that FDR “reversed” his policy, according to this view. Now, how long did it take me to look this up, two minutes?

    Anyway, thanks for the lesson, Handy. For future reference, it would sit much better if you were to drop your professorial tone and acquire some skills in the art of the dialogue.

  • Glenn, you said (paraphrasing) that FDR was pretty awesome, but one big mistake he made was listening to those dumbfuck Republicans and trying to balance the budget.

    My point is that he DIDN’T “listen to Republicans.” He was listening to his Secretary of the Treasury (a Democrat), and a large number of economists who warned him that he was bankrupting the country. And a significant portion of the public was concerned as well.

    So he ran for reelection in 1936 promising to get the budget balanced. And he won reelection in a landslide. And both the House and the Senate were controlled by the Democrats, with enormous majorities. And (this is important, Glenn) the Democrat-dominated House and Senate had to pass the budget bills before FDR could sign them into law.

    So. Here’s the scenario: There are big budget deficits, FDR’s Treasury Secretary calls for a balanced budget, economists echo the call, the public agrees, FDR runs on that as a campaign promise, he wins a big mandate, the Democrat-dominated House and Senate pass the budgets, and he signs them into law.

    And, to you, this was the fault of bad advice from the Republicans. I mean, wow.

    Pro-Tip: FDR didn’t give a shit what the Republicans thought. He hated them and they hated him. They were a tiny minority party at the time. He basically ignored them, because he could. He took the advice of his fellow Democrats and nonpartisan economists. It was passed into law by Democrats.

    Trying to pin the blame for FDR’s failure to fix the economy prior to WWII on a powerless Republican Party is absurd historical revisionism. You might as well blame William Lemke and the Union Party, for all the influence the GOP had from 1935 to 1938.

  • Thanks for the lesson, Handy. Make a deal with you, though. You read some Marx and postmodernists and I’ll do as you ask.

    And what’s the source, BTW? You’re citing this passage as though it were an authoritative, not to be questioned view. I’m willing to bet you that are other accounts of FDR’s actions (and I don’t mean those offered by the proponents of the Austrian school). Yet, you offer this citation as though it was truth absolute and indisputable (especially as regards such speculative matters as what exactly are the causative factors of falling into recession).

  • Roger, if you would just read a Wikipedia article or something once in a while before spouting off…

    Liberal [and not-so-liberal] economists credit FDR’s initial response, 1933-36, as moving the country up from the depth of the depression. In 1937, he reversed some of his policies to try to balance the budget. The economy fell back into recession, although it was starting to recover again before the war.

    As Kenn points out, radical right-wing economists have a different explanation for this timeline. You need not pay attention, as they are dead wrong.

    Sometimes history is just a little more complicated than “FDR is an icon” or “FDR was an aristocrat and therefore his own person.” All that could be true and yet be part of a larger, more complex narrative.

  • Well, I’m not going to debate the merits of FDR with you, Kenn. But surely to Glenn and the Democratic Party, he is an icon. What I fail to understand, what is Glenn bitching about.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    Morganthau was quoted in 1939 something to the effect “we’ve spent all this money with nothing to show for it”.

    Gee, does history repeat itself? The answer is yes.

  • Kenn Jacobine

    First of all, FDR prolonged the Great Depression – it didn’t end until 1946. By 1937 it was excise taxes to pay for WPA, NRA, and AAA that caused another downturn in the economy. What conservatives – he had huge majorities in both houses of Congress! These huge majorities were caused by his patronage to the states which made many beholden to his regime.

    Let’s not forget he also confiscated (stole) the peoples’ gold and left the Pacific Fleet vulnerable at Pearl Harbor. By all accounts he ranks right up there with Lincoln as one our worst presidents.

  • If FDR implemented the republican plan, why is he regarded as an icon insofar as liberal and the Democratic Party is concerned? And even if you’re correct as regards the first premise, the plan was a good one, and it worked. So what’s the beef?

  • Arch Conservative

    On the eve of D-Day in 1944 FDR went on national radio and recited a prayer. AZ prayer in which he alluded to the Christian religion. It is quite ironic considering that FDR is such a liberal icon that today if a president did the exact same thing he did the left would lose their collective minds.

    The politically correct, Christophobic left would be calling for the pressidents resignation.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Roger –

    …the pretender to the throne, Obama

    You’re a birther now?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Oh, ROGER! (and RJ too)

    Exactly how is it that FDR did not listen to the Republicans if – as YOU, Roger, pointed out – he listened to BOTH sides? And if he didn’t listen to the Republicans, exactly how is it that he did what they wanted him to do? THANK YOU for proving my point to RJ.

    And it would be nice if the two of you would actually look back and see that I laid the blame at FDR’s feet for the second dip in the Depression…the blame being his because he was the president, he deserves the blame, and that’s what he (and the country) got for listening to the Republicans!

    And again, Roger, THANK YOU for pointing out that FDR listened to both the Republicans and the Democrats even while he wasn’t listening to the Republicans but decided to do what the Republicans wanted anyway!

  • 10:

    I was unaware that Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s Treasury Secretary, was a Republican.

    For a guy who is constantly demanding that others do research, Glenn, you seem to do very little of your own.

  • [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

    FDR didn’t listen to the Republicans, as is asserted. He listened to both sides of the political debate and made up his own mind. He was an aristocrat and therefore his own person, so he could well afford to do so, not at all unlike the pretender to the throne, Obama. But truth be told, the Left, or whatever remains of it these days, did not exert pressure enough for the pretender to consider both sides of the equation. As a result, Main Street was sacrificed for the sake of Wall Street.

    I’m well aware, RJ, that what I’m saying is not exactly your cup of tea, we’re are so far apart along the ideological divide,

    [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

  • Glenn Contrarian

    RJ –

    If you’ll look, who was it I blamed? FDR. Not the Republicans, but FDR. And if you’ll go do some RESEARCH, you’ll find that he DID listen to the austerity-pushers in 1936.

  • Glenn wrote:

    “FDR was quite human – he did make a grave mistake when he listened to the Republicans and their plans for austerity that dumped us back into the Depression.”


    President: Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    Vice-President: Democrat John Nance Garner
    House: 334 Democrats, 88 Republicans
    Senate: 76 Democrats, 16 Republicans

    Yeah, it was totally the Republicans’ fault.

  • John Lennon is lionized more for his later Peace activism on the Left, but even I find it extremely self-serving and grating. The sensationalist aspect of it makes me believe that whatever good he was trying to do crossed the line into self-parody.

    A fine human being he was not. If we want to call a spade a space he was at various times during his life a drug addict, irresponsible husband, and thoroughly self-centered individual. But he was a good musician who wrote good lyrics.

    Think of FDR how you will. My Grandparents, like most rural Southerners, loved FDR. He was a saint in their eyes and they voted a straight New Deal Democratic ticket for the rest of their lives because of it.

    FDR’s legacy is complicated, but at a time where we have deconstructed lots of sacred cows, I think there remains a dire need to preserve at least one stellar example of a President. We have moved so far into the realm of paralyzing cynicism, that I will almost allow FDR to be idealized if it’s a worthwhile counter-weight.

  • John Lake

    I can’t bear the thought that some naive reader might vilify Obama for cutting programs for people. (See also: Corporations are people too!)
    whereas in fact Obama has fought tooth and nail with the soul and conscience-less Republicans to let the poor be poorer, and the uneducated, factory workers.

  • John Lake

    I can’t address the issue of John Lennon’s son, but as to the Beatle I can state he was far ahead of his time. Was he of liberal bent?
    “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy, if you try. No hell below us, above us, only sky.”
    Emily Dickinson too felt a strong leaning in that direction, it would appear.
    “Some keep the Sabbath going to church.
    I keep it staying at home.”
    Liberal or not, Lennon was well ahead of his time, and doesn’t grate my nerves an iota.

  • John Lennon openly admitted his faults, therefore he cannot fall under the definition of a hypoccrite. He publically admitted his faults and problems and tried to improve himself. This attack is simply stupid. There is no ‘dirt’ you can find on Lennon that he didn’t first confess openly. You need to focus on the man in the mirror.

  • zingzing

    lennon was a complex character. an asshole in many ways. he may have killed one of his best friends. he may have been a poor father to julian. he was certainly not deserving of the “saint” tag people tried to grant him with after his death. but he never pretended to be, really. putting other people’s expectations on another human after their death does not mean much in the end. lennon acknowledged his mistakes many times over. that your opinion of him is formed by the ridiculous adulation of others since his death has nothing to do with the man he was or pretended to be.

    by the way, if you haven’t heard it, lennon’s “plastic ono band” is incredible, as are a lot of the singles surrounding its release. and he was a political whore. he’d wander off into whatever he felt like at the time. he was just be happy to be making the loot for a while, then he was a drugged-up liberal, then he was a drugged-up radical, then he was a drugged-up druggie. then he, apparently, would have voted for reagan. shrug. his politics were his own, but when he tried to good, he used his celebrity for good, if it was effective or not.

    i don’t know if these words by fdr were spoken in the context of racial equality, as they’ve been attributed, but he said to someone with an idea, “i agree with you, now make me do it.” he didn’t have the votes for racial equality in the military or elsewhere. racial equality in the military was pretty easy after ww2. untapped meat, if you will. but racial equality elsewhere was a good two decades off. think of fdr’s time, and tell me if you think how that would have even been possible.

  • When was Rep. Dennis Kucinich a one-time presidential candidate? When he ran in 2004 or 2008?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    errata in #1: “worst war in American history” should read “worst war in human history”.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I didn’t know that about John Lennon. I was never that keen on him anyway, except as part of the Beatles.

    But when it comes to FDR and racism, you must bear in mind the context of the times, just as we have to bear in mind the context of the times when it comes to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. For their times, each of these men were quite liberal…and when one is in the middle of the worst war in American history and the future of civilization is in doubt, one doesn’t have a whole lot of time to worry about civil rights. If you want to add to his sins, there’s all the women and children killed by the atomic bombs…and the many-times greater number of women and children killed by the firebombings of Japan prior to the atomic bombs. War is hell, and the only thing half so bad as a battle lost, is a battle won.

    FDR was quite human – he did make a grave mistake when he listened to the Republicans and their plans for austerity that dumped us back into the Depression.

    But when the big picture is observed, the most important accomplishment of FDR’s life was victory in WWII, although he didn’t live to see its end, and despite the fact that the Soviet Union bore the lion’s share of the Allied side of the war. It could rightly be said that compared to what the Soviet Union did, the rest of the West combined were relatively minor players. The Soviet Union might – might – have lost if America and the Commonwealth had not joined the fight, but it is all but certain that we would have lost if the Soviet Union had not stopped the German juggernaut.

    But back to the subject. More than anything else, the victory in WWII defined FDR’s presidency and he deserves the credit…just as the victory in the even-more dangerous Cold War defined Reagan’s presidency, and he deserves the credit as well.

    FDR was no saint…but was he a great president? Certainly.