Friday, November 22, 2013

James Tobin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the Library

Author James Tobin 

It's been a big week for books and author events. Last night, as part of its Author Lecture Series, James Tobin spoke at the public library about his new book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency.

He began by telling that his interest in Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) began when he was a child and his grandmother told him the story of Roosevelt's "act of great courage" as he struggled to walk across the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 1924. This public appearance came just three years after he was stricken with polio, at the age of 39, which left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was never able to walk unaided again.

That night in New York, FDR was giving the party's nomination of Al Smith for president. Mr. Smith lost the national election, but Mr. Roosevelt went on to win the governorship of New York four years later. In 1933 he became the 32nd president of the United States and served an unprecedented four terms in the White House seeing Americans through the Great Depression and World War II. He died just a month before the war in Europe ended.

In his book, Mr. Tobin asserts that FDR's response to his polio transformed his character and strengthened his resolve to pursue his political career. That his rehabilitation showed him as a fighter and proved to people that a crippled man could be strong. He was not a man to pity but a man to cheer. 

Over the years, it has been reported that there was a great cover up of the president's disability. That the press didn't write about his health and photographers were forbidden to take pictures of him. This is not true, said Mr. Tobin. There was no conspiracy. The issue of his disability was discussed by him and others. His only objection to being photographed while walking or getting in or out of a car or boarding a train, was that he was worried about falling in front of an audience. And although he fell often in private, he didn't want people to think of him as a figure to be pitied. 

Mr. Tobin asserts that FDR's courage and determination to overcome his own personal ordeal is what gave the American people a reason to hope during the Great Depression and the war. 

The event was well-attended and as an added bonus, a crew from C-Span was there filming the presentation to be shown on BookTV at some future date. 

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