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Hillary Haters and the Roosevelts


Even some Democrats who agree with Hillary Clinton on every issue and consider her an effective, inspiring leader, fret that the blind, irrational hatred, that burdened her husband during his presidency and that continues to dog his wife, might impair her electability. "She is too polarizing" they say, parroting the verdict of television's Sunday morning gas bags.

It's worth recalling the historical parallels with an earlier presidential couple. "No other word than hatred will do," observed a May 1936, Harper's Magazine feature "They Hate Roosevelt" by Marquis W. Childs. "The phenomenon to which I refer goes beyond objection to policies or programs. It is a consuming personal hatred of President Roosevelt and, to an almost equal degree, of Mrs. Roosevelt."

Childs deemed this "fanatical hatred" so intense and irrational that it could only be explained as the product of "abnormal psychology." Historian William Manchester described how Roosevelt haters "abandoned themselves in orgies of presidential vilification." William Bird, curator of political history at the Smithsonian Institution said that "by 1936, the 'Roosevelt haters' had developed into a well-defined cult among the nation's business elite," their lackeys in the press and on the editorial boards and among right wing Christian theocrats led by fascist radio host Father Charles Coughlin.

"In history, this hatred may well go down as the major irony of our time," wrote Childs. "The majority of those who rail against the [Roosevelts] have to a large extent had their incomes restored and their bank balances replenished since the low point of 1933," before FDR came to power. "That is what makes the phenomenon so incredible. It is difficult to find a rational cause for this hatred."

Describing the same baffling dynamics, a bewildered contemporary magazine editor created an inventory of the most vitriolic Roosevelt haters, including the CEOs of Phillips Petroleum, National Steel, DuPont, General Foods, Monsanto Chemical and General Motors, and then recorded the tremendous growth in their stocks which had all flourished since the implementation of Roosevelt's New Deal policies.

The intense hatred of the Roosevelts was a dominant feature in the American political landscape during the decade of the 1930s and prompted efforts to impeach him and even a plot to depose him by a military coup planned by high ranking officers of Wall Street's richest corporations, including Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel, JP Morgan, and DuPont. The "vast right wing conspiracy" had its own Richard Mellon Scaife. Robert Clark, one of Wall Street's richest bankers and stock brokers pledged half of his $60 million fortune to help finance the coup. His deputy, former Commander Gerald Macguire of the American Legion, a Wall Street bond broker, equated Roosevelt's reforms to Communism and explained the purpose of the coup to a co-conspirator, "We need a fascist government in this country to save the nation from the Communists who want to tear it down and wreck everything we have built in America." The 1933 coup attempt was only averted by the courage of General Smedley Butler, the popular World War I warrior who had been tapped by Wall Street to lead the plot and who instead exposed and denounced it.

"People in power with privilege don't want to be challenged at all," Hillary told me recently as we discussed the repetitive rhythms of history. "FDR's policies rescued capitalism, thereby saving the fortunes and restoring the incomes of so many of the same people who would curse his name over the dinner table. They somehow still felt threatened because they don't like to be questioned."

"And there is something of the same going on today. If you challenge the pharmaceutical companies, the health insurance companies, if you think investment fund managers should be taxed at the same rate as nurses and firefighters, you run into this vitriolic response."

Irrational hatred was the powerful drug that intoxicated the Gingrich Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton at the time when he enjoyed 65% popularity with the American people and had steered the nation through eight years of peace and unprecedented prosperity.

Hillary's supporters should be heartened by the fact that intense hatred is often accompanied by equally strong support. Roosevelt won four landslide victories against his opponents and crafted the architecture for the most humane, successful, generous features of modern American government.

They can also take comfort in Hillary's proven ability to transform intense hatred into loyal support. I recently toured upstate New York's traditionally Republican counties which she has transformed through leadership and political acumen, into rock solid Hillary Clinton strongholds.

With a playful wink she told me, "One of my favorite pins in my political pin collection is "I Don't Like Eleanor Either." It reminds her that it's not just the president who is targeted by the haters. But "about anybody who cares about and stands up and fights for the changes that our country needs to have."