The president worried over a troubling economic divide. He was wary of increasingly powerful and wealthy corporations, and he knew there was a growing perception that the system was rigged for the rich.
All of that might sound quite familiar to our current president, but the commander in chief was Theodore Roosevelt, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin's new biography, "The Bully Pulpit." She joined Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit to talk about her latest book and its parallels to President Obama's experiences.
A few highlights from Goodwin's remarks:
On keeping one's perspective during hard times:
I think our best presidents have indeed read the histories of previous presidents and taken solace and comfort from knowing that they went through struggles, and somehow it seemed America was on a downward path, and somehow we weren't. I remember when FDR gave a famous speech in 1942, after things looked so bad at Pearl Harbor, we were losing battles in the Pacific, and he gave a radio speech in which he remembered what it was like for George Washington when he almost ran out of supplies at Valley Forge but persevered, the revolution was won. The pioneers going over the Rocky Mountains, the early days of the Civil war when it looked like the Union was going to be destroyed, and America came through it before. And so he promised people: We will have valleys, we will have defeats, but we will come through it. And again, it might seem like it's inevitable, this gap between the rich and the poor, and ordinary people struggling, but the Progressive era answered that charge in the turn of the 20th century. So there's got to be a way. These problems were made by human beings. They can be created by human beings. They can be understood by human beings, and made better by them.
On the disappearance of the middle class:
This didn't just happen ... What we saw happen in World War II obviously was, there was full employment, which helped a lot. People saved their money because they couldn't spend it on ordinary goods during the war. So when they came out of the war, there was that great move to the suburbs, finding a house of their own, but unions had already been very strong. There was an income tax wage deduction during that period of time, there was social legislation, government did take a hand. And for many, many years, we really did have that strong middle class. So if we had it between 1900 and then, we can have it again. There's just got to be ways to figure it out. Education is probably still the key of it now, even more than it was before.
On Obama's appeal to the public over health care:
One of the people said at the time, Congress might ignore the president, but they can't ignore the president and the people. Which is I think why President Obama is making now, yet again, this bully-pulpit tour to make sure that people get a sense individually of what the components of the health care law are, so that they will want it and then pressure the continuation of that law to take place. ... In Roosevelt's time, when he would make a speech, it was the beginning of the national mass media newspapers, so it would be covered all over the country. He had a fiery, shorthand way of speaking ... he knew how to get the headlines. "Speak softly and carry a big stick." "The square deal." Perfectly positioned for that middle of the road American ... From JFK to Reagan, really, television was the medium where they would carry the speech whole and then go back to ordinary programming so you could absorb what the president was saying. Now you might be watching your favorite cable station, you might be hearing only part of what he's saying, you might be hearing the pundits criticizing it before it's even absorbed. ... Nonetheless, it still is a tool, and I think it's critical that he do this right now.