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.