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“[Franklin] Roosevelt faced formidable challenges as president, but he never doubted that he would cope with them, for he believed that he belonged in the White House. He had sat on Grover Cleveland’s knee, cast his first vote for Uncle Teddy, and seen Woodrow Wilson at close range; but the office seemed peculiarly his almost as a birthright. As Richard Neustadt has observed: ‘Roosevelt, almost alone among our Presidents, had no conception of the office to live up to; he was it. His image of the office was himself-in-office.’ He loved the majesty of the position, relished its powers, and rejoiced in the opportunity it offered for achievement. ‘The essence of Roosevelt’s Presidency,’ Clinton Rossiter has written, ‘was his airy eagerness to meet the age head on. Thanks to his flair for drama, he acted as if never in all history had there been times like our own.’

A Washington reporter noted in 1933: ‘No signs of care are visible to his main visitors or at the press conferences. He is amiable, urbane and apparently untroubled. He appears to have a singularly fortunate faculty for not becoming flustered. Those who talk with him informally in the evenings report that he busies himself with his stamp collection, discussing in an illuminating fashion the affairs of state while he waves his shears in the air.’ Even after Roosevelt had gone through the trials of two terms of office, Time reported: ‘He has one priceless attribute: a knack of locking up his and the world’s worries in some secret mental compartment, and then enjoying himself to the top of his bent. This quality of survival, of physical toughness, of champagne ebullience is one key to the big man. Another key is this: no one has ever heard him admit that he cannot walk.”


Pulled from William E. Leuchtenburg’s essay “The First Modern President,” which you’ll find in The American President or Fred I. Greenstein’s great collection Leadership in the Modern Presidency.

In context, that last sentence really does it. (Neustadt’s quote above is pulled from Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, for my money one of the most entertaining reads on the art of Presidential leadership.)

Image: ScienceSource