Are U.S. presidents influential because of changes they advocated or policy decisions they made?
Is their legacy as simple as “don’t get caught” like Richard Nixon? To be fair, he’ll always be a textbook example of “what not to do,” from secret phone recordings to underhanded election dirty tricks.
Unfortunately, these negatives will always overshadow any positive influence – like starting the EPA, pushing for an end to war in Vietnam, and improving relations with China.
John F. Kennedy is also often held up as a president of great influence, and he accomplished much in his short presidency, including starting NASA – a move that ultimately led to the moon years after his death.
If you look at this country’s 40-odd presidents you’ll find other examples of leaders who either stepped up to the plate or stepped back when times became challenging.
Our pick for the most influential CEO of Team America goes to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over four terms, he helped steer the country from the depths of the Great Depression to the top dog in terms of national pride and military might.
He did it while battling a lifetime disability from polio. Many of the programs he created or advocated are still around, a sign that they were useful then and valid even now.
Here’s some ways his influence was shown.
Today’s angry finger-pointers would likely brand this initiative “socialism” because it involved the government taking an active role in restructuring the marketplace. But this was a perfect approach to solving crippling unemployment.
His programs helped put people to work, and also took care of critical infrastructure needs like bridges and highways. He found common ground between unions, municipal governments, and the African-American communities. He pushed for short-term unemployment relief plus longer-term restructuring of banking and finance systems. The whole country benefited from these programs.
World War II was raging across Europe and Asia for two years but American leaders were reluctant to step in, a similar Isolationist view that faced Woodrow Wilson a few decades earlier when considering intervening in World War I.
But Pearl Harbor proved that the fight was coming to our soil no matter how much we wanted to avoid it, and Roosevelt had no problem committing our men and women into action – it was good for the world and good for the U.S.
Roosevelt felt that he and every other American were especially anxious about the economy and the war, and decided to find an easy way to reassure everyone that times were tough but America would prevail.
He launched weekly radio programs called Fireside Chats where he would share inspirational messages. In the days before TV, these weekly radio addresses were especially effective.
Overall, we’re picking FDR because his legacy remains the strongest in all areas of our lives, more than 80 years after his inauguration. Though subsequent presidents have certainly seen their share of accomplishments,Roosevelt’s achievements contributed to improvements in the economy, defense, financial system, employment system and other areas.
This great national enthusiasm and forward momentum started the minute he promised “Happy Days are Here Again” and warned us about the pitfalls of being consumed by fear – both are still messages that resonate today.
Though he faced his share of criticism internationally and domestically, he stood firm in the need to not just be a figurehead but a genuine leader.