#431 – Dick Bernard: Ed Asner as FDR

Early this week my wife heard on public radio that Ed Asner, co-star of the Mary Tyler Moore show, would be doing a one-man show the evening of September 9. She was interested in going and for me that was a non-controversial recommendation. I went down to get tickets in person, and by that time, on Wednesday, the only seats left, except a few with obstructed vision, were in the very last row of the top balcony of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
Friday night, in that last row, high above the stage, we saw a phenomenal nearly two-hour show, where Ed Asner replayed 24 years of Roosevelt’s career, from Polio in 1921 through his last trip and death in Warm Springs GA in April, 1945. There is no replay of the show, at least in the Twin Cities. It was a single performance. At the beginning of the performance the announcer said that an interview is archived on Minnesota Public Radio. The entire fascinating interview – nearly an hour – is accessible here.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is much too large a character for this blog space, as well as for a one hour forty minute program of excerpts performed by Asner. But if you hear Ed Asner as FDR is coming to your town, make it a point to attend.
Roosevelt was viewed as a “Traitor to his Class“, one of the book titles on sale at the theater.
Neither was he universally adored by the people whose future he worked to preserve. People then, like people today, often do not have a long view of their own best interests and are easily exploited. As a family historian, I can tell stories about my own relatives, who were of the farming and labor class. They all had their own reasons….
Roosevelt suffered under all of the differences of opinions and constraints that hem in all U.S. Presidents in what is at one and the same time the most powerful and the most problematic position in the world.
He was attacked and obstructed by his opposition.
He demonstrated, however, how a President does help set a national tone, whether with or without party support.
Twenty-four hours earlier we had watched President Obama speaking to a frankly hostile Congress about crucial issues facing the United States now.
As I sat watching Mr. Asner speak from and around the very simple set dominated by a Presidential desk in the Oval Office, I thought about President Obama, the current occupant of the oval office.
Mr. Roosevelt was patrician, perhaps even considered above the job of President, and most particularly traitorous to some in his upper class kin, as the book title suggests.
Mr. Obama, on the other hand, comes from the opposite pole in our society: the first African-American President, and one who basically grew up in a single-parent family.
I noticed, when Mr. Obama was talking to Congress (and particularly the nation) he was firm but not dramatic, as Roosevelt might have been.
I believe that President Obama’s somewhat nuanced address was intentional and necessary to fit the circumstances of this time in our history. We are not post-racial. We may never be post-racial….
Oh, if the presidency was as easy as we all would like to pretend.
Thankfully there are people like President Roosevelt and President Obama who stepped up to the plate to serve.
UPDATE Sep 11, 2011:
After writing this post I happened upon a two hour History Channel special on the death of Osama bin Laden in May, 2011. It was a fascinating two hours. Distilled to its essence, President Obama’s advisors gave odds of maybe 40 to 50% that bin Laden was the mysterious man in the compound at Abbottabad. All decisions ultimately were the Presidents. Had something gone wrong, or the quarry been other than bin Laden, it would have been the Presidents fault (as President Carter accepted full responsibility for the disastrous attempt to free the hostages in Teheran in 1979). On the other hand, success does not necessarily bring kudos. Second-guessing what was done, and how, or taking credit for the success are also common. Politics is never completely clear and above board.

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