[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Miller on Moe, 'Roosevelt's Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sun Oct 9 10:39:23 MDT 2016

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From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sun, Oct 9, 2016 at 9:40 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Miller on Moe, 'Roosevelt's Second Act: The
Election of 1940 and the Politics of War'
To: H-REVIEW at h-net.msu.edu

Richard Moe.  Roosevelt's Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the
Politics of War.  Pivotal Moments in American History Series. New
York  Oxford University Press, 2013.  xvi + 376 pp.  $29.95 (cloth),
ISBN 978-0-19-998191-5.

Reviewed by Jaclyn Miller (Kansas State University)
Published on H-War (October, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Richard Moe, a veteran White House staffer and former president of
the National Trust for Historic Preservation, presents in Roosevelt's
Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War an intensive
and nuanced interpretation of a decisive year in American politics
and of the man who presided over it. Moe finds new things to say
about a figure already much explored in historical scholarship in
examining Franklin D. Roosevelt's journey to a third term in the
context of international turmoil. Moe characterizes Roosevelt in
terms neither hagiographic nor unsympathetic, recognizing his at
times "arrogant and manipulative" politics as well as his strongly
felt "moral core" (pp. xv, 327). Ultimately, he argues that the
president's conviction that Britain and worldwide democracy needed
saving, combined with his growing certainty that he was the best man
for the job, guided him in his decision to run again. International
events pulled a reluctant nation toward supporting a president whose
domestic policies had begun to lose favor in recent years, and toward
a more actively interventionist foreign policy.

_Roosevelt's Second Act _places a microscope on a short period of
time, which allows for a richness of detail about the ensemble of
characters surrounding FDR, especially the other potential Democratic
candidates for president, a wide range of American isolationists, and
his eventual electoral opponent, Wendell Willkie. FDR first
cultivated New Dealers Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes as possible
candidates to replace him, before settling most of his efforts on
Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The president deemed Hull the ablest
candidate regarding foreign affairs and the most electable, but Hull
remained reluctant to run. This fact, along with Roosevelt's distaste
for the other alternatives--including Vice President John Nance
Garner and Democratic National Committee Chairman James
Farley--helped move the president to run for a third term. One of the
strongest sections of this book describes Roosevelt's machinations
surrounding the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A
dismal affair that exposed the president's propensity to manipulation
and stubbornness, particularly with regard to his insistence upon an
unpopular vice presidential candidate (Henry A. Wallace), the event
nonetheless placed the assembly firmly in the incumbent's hands.

Among the nation's many isolationists were pacifists, socialists,
German sympathizers, communists, and even New Dealers focused on
domestic economic problems. Such polarizing figures as Charles
Lindbergh, who described the German air power he had witnessed on
several visits to that country in periodic radio addresses and
speeches before the isolationist group America First, garnered
favorable public opinion. Though Americans would not all have
supported the appeasement Lindbergh urged, many agreed that their
country should stay out of "Europe's War."[1] Moe's attention to the
multifaceted isolationism of everyday Americans is important to his
argument. FDR's overwhelming belief that democracy's preservation was
tied to the United States' willingness to aid those opposing fascism
and the election of a president strong enough to do this required
overcoming widespread isolationism.

Events in Europe provided the push needed to get past this hurdle.
Adolf Hitler made progressively clearer steps toward continental
domination and posed a pressing threat to Great Britain, his last
major democratic foe in the region after Germany installed a puppet
regime in Vichy France. This situation forced Americans to realize
the seriousness of the war. Even the more isolationist Republican
Party selected a candidate for the general election who supported
internationalism. Moe's treatment of Willkie as an individual and
politician is thorough and insightful. Though Willkie made a mistake
in delaying his campaign after the Republican convention, thereby
allowing Roosevelt to make strides with voters by presenting himself
as an assertive commander in chief, his presence in the election was
crucial. Willkie's internationalism assured that he would pursue
similar tactics to Roosevelt's and depoliticized the foreign policy
decisions the president was making as the election drew nearer.
Policies to aid the allies, such as "cash-and-carry" and the
Lend-Lease Act, became the country's only recourse.

This book deftly mines many previous presidential biographies for
material. Among the more interesting documents used were recordings
from what FDR called his "Oval Study." The first of their kind, these
conversations allow the record to reflect the candid voice of a
president who did not leave a diary among his papers. Additionally,
Moe cites interesting letters from Felix Frankfurter and Archibald
MacLeish, which Roosevelt had commissioned as part of his research
into the constitutionality of a third-term run. Each man argued that
FDR's running for reelection would not violate the Constitution, and
MacLeish added, "'Today all private plans, all private lives, have
been repealed by a public danger.... In the face of the public danger
all those who can be of service to the Republic have no choice but to
offer themselves for service in those capacities for which they may
be fitted'" (p. 193). The letters from Frankfurter and MacLeish are
included in the volume's appendix, providing a potentially useful
source for historians and teachers.

Moe's volume is a worthy addition to Oxford University Press's
Pivotal Moments in American History series. _Roosevelt's Second Act
_successfully reaches a general audience, and belongs on the shelf
near the works of the author's friends Doris Kearns Goodwin and David
McCullough. Moe draws connections between FDR and other leading
statesmen that demonstrate the historical significance of
presidential decision making in times of international conflict and
places Roosevelt's choices in 1940 on a tier with Thomas Jefferson's
Louisiana Purchase, Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the Union, and
Woodrow Wilson's commitment to idealistic internationalism. Many
academics could learn from Moe's breezy chapter structure, vivid
storytelling, and clear argumentation. All readers should be moved by
how Moe pays homage to the voters of 1940 for their courage in
supporting democracy through the unconventional reelection of a
third-term president. As Americans approach momentous electoral
decisions themselves, they would do well to consider their deepest
values once more.


[1]. Lindbergh's popularity as an accomplished airplane pilot lent
him a remarkable degree of credibility with the public, a theme
Philip Roth examined compellingly in his counterfactual historical
novel, _The Plot against America _(New York: Random House, 2004).

Citation: Jaclyn Miller. Review of Moe, Richard, _Roosevelt's Second
Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War_. H-War, H-Net
Reviews. October, 2016.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46128

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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