That resilience became crucial when in 1932, deep in the Great Depression, he was elected president, promising a “New Deal” for the American people. A strongly democratic congress under his leadership has enacted a series of laws that have expanded the reach of government to unprecedented levels.
And, for the first time, the federal government established a national pension program with the creation of the social security system, perhaps the New Deal’s most significant long-term contribution to the nation’s well-being.
While such initiatives helped countless people in tangible ways, Roosevelt understood that more was needed, that the nation’s fundamental self-confidence needed to be restored. Having chosen “Happy Days Are Here Again” as the theme song for the campaign, he memorably assured the American people in his inaugural address that “all we have to fear is fear itself.”
He augmented that optimistic view through a series of radio addresses – the legendary “fire chats” – in which he spoke directly and confidently to the American people. And the collective darkness of the nation began to lighten.
To be sure, Roosevelt had his critics. The staunch conservatives, considering him “a traitor to his class”, denigrated the New Deal programs as “socialist”.
Isolationists disdained his foreign policy, with some revisionists even claiming he was complicit in the attack on Pearl Harbor, arguing that the calamity was part of FDR’s plan to involve the country in World War II because he had come to believe it was the the only way to completely revive the American economy.