FDR's Legacy

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a great president.  Is Conrad Black a great biographer?

Issue: Winter 2003-2004

Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (New York: PublicAffairs, 2003), 1360 pp., $40.

THE LEGACY of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is crumbling. His great political gift to the Democratic Party--the extraordinary coalition that dominated American presidential politics for two decades, the influence of which endured in the House of Representatives until 1994--has finally broken. First challenged by the Dixiecrats in 1948 and then by the Goldwater campaign of 1964, a century of Southern white devotion to the Democratic cause was finally dissolved by Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Acts. That block of Southern votes, much enlarged by air-conditioning, right-to-work laws, foreign investment and economic vigor, has now transferred its loyalty to the Republicans. Without those votes, the remnants of Roosevelt's coalition have found it difficult to assemble clear majorities in the national electorate. Since the Civil Rights Acts, the only Democrats who have been able to outflank this Republican garrison and reach the presidency have been white Southerners.

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