I've been on a FDR jaunt, I'm reading my second biography on him in a row, this one by Nathan Miller. I'm at the point where he met tragedy in his life-his polio caused paralysis.
In many ways this is where FDR showed his true strength. To at the prime of your life where everything seemed possible-in 1921 when he became paralyzed it would have seemed that it was a matter of time till he was President.
This was finally realized but it's as if he had to know terrible personal disappointment and tragedy to become the FDR we came to know.
I was writing about Romney earlier-the whole spectre of his unfortunate "I like to fire people" line. While he didn't mean this literally what he did mean wasn't much better-that private insurance enables us to fire our insurance company at will. In reality this is not true as we only realize our insurance company is no good when they won't pay our claim, by this point it's too late-how are we going to get an insurance company to take us on with a pre-existing condition?
What it really points to is this man of inherited wealth and his inablity to understand the challenges and pressures of most Americans. Everything he does seems to show this, like when he made that bad joke about being unemployed or challenging Perry to a $10,000 bet.
But the problem is not that a wealthy man or even a man of inherited wealth is incapable of understanding, of empathy. FDR showed this. It is arguable that his illness gave him an inside track though even prior to this it was clear that his instinct in understanding the average American was far superior to Romney's. A large difference is that FDR was congenitally interested in other people, he learned from them, this was how he learnt-his learning of ideas as well was in many ways through people rather than books.
It stirkes me in reading about his illness that FDR was truly un-Zizekan. He lived for America, he breathed America, his existence was the American narrative; in the end he died for his country-his tremendous activity finally sapping all his strength.
A more hysterical, Zizekan character would have cracked. At some point it would have been, what about me? Why must I sacrifice all for the Other? What does the Other really want from me. What drives this home for me is his attitude with the outside world, the press, but particularly his own kids just after contracting his illness. One quote on page 185 suggests this anti-Zizekan, properly manly attitude:
"Yet from the beginning, even before the paralysis had receded fully from the upper reaches of his body, Father was unbelievably concerned about how we would take it. He grinned at us, and he did his best to call out, or gasp out, some cheery response to our tremulous, just-this-side-of-tears greetings."
In other words despite the terrible pain and worry he suffered from he was concerned with how the Other was feeling rather than how he was. This more than anything is what made FDR great.