Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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The first I ever heard of him was in reading David Pietrusza's 1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR -- Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal, and Unlikely Destiny.  The Republicans viewed Franklin Roosevelt as the most beatable of the Democratic hopefuls, a somewhat crowded field that included losing 1928 nominee Alfred E. Smith.  That's just one of the parallels to the more recent presidential campaign.  I'll keep Book Review No. 2 brief and focus on some of the surprises, rather than summon all the echoes.

Two regional powers, one having recently failed to expand that power on its own continent, the other having discovered the ability to expand its power beyond its own hemisphere, grapple with the aftermath of a major war that includes an economic collapse beyond anyone's imagination.  In Germany, the discontents fester to such an extent that Communists and National Socialists, one a messianic movement inspired by German intellectuals and Russian revolutionaries, the other an incoherent movement inspired by rage and resentments, jockey for control of the Weimar Republic's parliament.  In the United States, the discontents are also present, if more diverse: in addition to the Communists and white supremacists who made the Ku Klux Klan a political force in the 1920s, there are disaffected war veterans seeking the bonuses promised them after the armistice, discontented Catholics listening to a politically active priest on their radios, and citizens amenable to several kinds of populism.

And yet, the political system in the United States held, while that of Germany failed, despite the Federal Constitution being one of the first attempts at building a government from scratch, while the Weimar Constitution made use of the best ideas from the best political philosophers.  There is likely a political science monograph, somewhere, on how the separation of powers into a head of government, the Chancellor, coming from the governing majority in the Reichstag in proper parliamentary fashion, with a head of state, the Reich President, being appointed separately, and in the case of the Weimar Republic, the one person all concerned could agree on was the Prussian field marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who really didn't want the job and would very much have preferred a crowned Hohenzollern as head of state.  The Kaiser, however, was not an option.

Thus, after much turmoil, 1932 began with a contested parliament, economic failure, and fighting in the streets in Germany, and it ended with the Nazis somehow managing to wrest control of the legal machinery of government.

In the United States, the rise of Franklin Roosevelt was anything but pre-ordained.  There was a lot of maneuvering going on, including the machinations of the aforementioned Al Smith and Newton Baker.  Throw in ... another surprise:  Clare Boothe Brokaw, divorced, swinging with Bernard Baruch, not yet the cultural icon the modern world knows.  Throw in Al Melgard, perhaps best known for welcoming the referee and linesmen to the ice with "Three Blind Mice" making a hash of "Anchors Aweigh" on the Chicago Stadium organ, but he could manage "Happy Days Are Here Again" and the Democrats kept that one until Walter Mondale and the San Francisco Democrats decided there were more votes for doubling down on the pessimism.  Finally, dear reader, consider Hillary Rodham Clinton's visualizations, early in her term as First Lady, of Eleanor Roosevelt.  There are a lot of reasons revealed in 1932 for her to consider that parallel, and not in a good way.  Instructive.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: history, politics, recommended book

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