Franklin Roosevelt as a Communicator

"Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself"
Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address

And hear his fireside chat on the Supreme Court (with the quicktime plug in)

Roosevelt had campaigned against Herbert Hoover by saying as little as possible about what he might do if elected. This evasiveness infuriated Hoover, who by 1933 had become perhaps the most hated man in America. On March 4 1933, the two men rode to the inaugural platform in a visibly uncomfortable silence.

Despite their close working relationship, none of the President elect's closest associates felt they knew him well, with the exception perhaps of his wife, Eleanor. The affable, witty Roosevelt used his great personal charm to keep most people at a distance. In campaign speeches, he had favored a buoyant, optimistic, gently paternal tone spiced with humor. But his first inaugural address took on an unusually solemn, religious quality. And for good reason‹by 1933 the depression had reached its height.

Despite its solemnity, the speech revealed many of the techniques and assumptions FDR would adopt over his next three terms. The famous line "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" reflected Roosevelt's acute sense of public impression and his ability to orchestrate the symbolics of power. It came, according to anecdote, from an advertisement one of his speechwriters had seen in a newspaper. When he described this fear as "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" he had in mind the banking crisis, in which a desperate panic caused faith in credit to collapse. Referring to the banking crisis and the stock market crash, the speech attacked "the money changers" who had now "fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths...[to] social values more noble than mere monetary profit." The vague charge, coupled to a call for "ancient truths" concealed the innovative and even radical character of the economic policies Roosevelt would soon introduce.

Though it still offered few specifics of policy, the speech sharply criticized materialism and the cynical pursuit of wealth and fame. "Our true destiny," Roosevelt insisted, is to "minister to ourselves and our fellow men." Like Ronald Reagan, who as a young man idolized FDR, Roosevelt had a knack for expressing general social feelings in a powerful way. The day of the speech, recalled lifelong Republican John R. Tunis, his family had $3.50 left. Their bank had failed that morning. "Then we turned on the radio and Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural address came on. It was a talk the nation had not heard in my lifetime...I felt not merely the words‹arousing, challenging, unexpected‹but the tone and great courage and the strength of the man behind them." FDR's ability to move listeners allowed him to call for both national cooperation and an unprecedented set of emergency political powers he would wield with erratic energy over the next one hundred days.

You can also hear, if you have Netscape three or any browser with the Quicktime plug in from Apple, an excerpt from FDR's fireside chat on the Supreme Court, in which he announced his "Court Packing Plan." The excerpt demonstrates the intimate tone he achieved on the radio

For additional information see : Frank Freidel, FDR: Launching the New Deal (1973)