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Right-wingers are so mad at President Obama for trying to fix the economy they’re renewing a war they lost 75 years ago – against FDR and the New Deal.

The Fox mantra has been that the New Deal didn’t end the Depression, but only made it worse; that only World War II ended the Depression.

Ferrel Guillory, on whom I depend for historical perspective, says the Roosevelt-trashing ignores what really happened: The New Deal of 1933 did pull the country out of the depths of the Depression. Then, in 1937, FDR listened to the conservatives who wanted him to cut spending and balance the budget. The result was that the country fell back – hard.

A new biography of FDR – Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by H.W. Brands – sums up what he did. And serves up a lesson for today:

Did he get everything right? By no means, and he never claimed that he did. But he got a great deal right. He caught the banking system in free fall and guided it to a soft landing. He sponsored rules that helped prevent a recurrence of the banking collapse and of the stock market crash that preceded it. The programs his administration formulated furnished jobs and experience to much of a generation of young people. He helped the parents of these young people keep their homes and farms. He showed their grandparents that old age need not be accompanied by poverty. He gave workers a hand in their efforts to rebalance relations between labor and capital.

Beyond everything else, he provided hope. He didn’t end the Great Depression, which was too large and complex for any elected official to conquer. But he banished the despair the depression had engendered. He understood intuitively – or perhaps he learned from Uncle Ted and Woodrow Wilson – that the presidency was above all a moral office. A president who speaks to the hopes and dreams of the people can change the nation. Roosevelt did speak to the people’s hopes and dreams, and together they changed America.

That’s why my late father, a child of the Depression, always put FDR on a pedestal. And why he would be looking for the same hand and hope from the President today.

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