What a Great American Political Family Looks Like

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

By Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

(A repeat review from earlier this year)

This year, expect the unexpected might be a pretty good tagline for the U.S.A. After all, Donald J. Trump did what nobody, at least no political pundits and talking heads, fathomed possible: he won the presidency. With his election have come many comments, among them that he has ended American political dynasties, references to the Bushes and Clintons. Except when you stop to consider some of the truly great families that have given themselves over to public service in ways that often run counter to their one-cent status.

These have been great families imbued not only with a love of country but, perhaps more important, a love of the people who form the fabric of America. The Roosevelts—Teddy, FDR, and Eleanor—are certainly at the top of the list. Ken Burns’s superb film documentary that aired on PBS and you can get on DVD, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,”  brought the lives of these Americans and their accomplishments, many of which continue to influence the American story, to life for a new generation. It’s not to be missed. This giant companion book enhances the experience by slowing down the flicker of film images to allow you to proceed at your own pace and linger over and absorb what photography conveys about people and situations.

As examples, when you peruse the book, turn to page 109. Usually, older photos tend to be posed, with the principals stiff, uncomfortable, conveying little of their personalities. Here you see Teddy as the portrait of casualness, an arm draped over the rail of a train car as he appears to enjoy a joke with members of the press corps traveling with him. It’s another side of his character, which we often view one dimensionally as blustery. On page 205, you’ll get another perspective on Eleanor. Dating from WWI, it shows her as we rarely see her, a beautiful young woman, which adds to our appreciation of her big heart, her brilliance, and her determination. Today, we don’t even think of a women’s press corps, just the press corps. There was a time when nobody thought of a woman as anything other than a mother and homemaker, which explains why women like Nellie Bly, many years before this photo, was such a novelty. The photo testifies to strides forward and to the immense challenges facing the lineage of these women. Finally, in our cynical time, it’s hard to imagine the people loving a political leader. FDR was loved by the people because he fought for them. Perhaps everything he tried didn’t always work, but he tried and his interest was theirs, and they knew it and took him into their hearts. The photo on page 452 of Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Graham Jackson, as well as all in the background, illustrates that love.

Finally, Mrs. Roosevelt always sought accord. She recognized that we live on a small planet growing smaller. Her words of advice ring as true today as when she uttered them in what seem now like way back times. They bear heeding: “We have to face the fact that all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we will have to talk.”

Here’s a worthwhile video series and book to watch and ponder in this, to say the least, interesting presidential election year. w/c


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