The President Who Ruled From a Wheelchair

U.S. Presidential Portraits

Ever heard of the acronym- FDR? Or of the caption – The New Deal? Or of the president who ruled from the wheelchair? FDR does not mean Federal Reserves neither does it mean Fixed Deposit Ratio. The New Deal is not the name of a musical group or of an award-winning western movie. The phrase – the President who ruled from a wheelchair- is not a folklore nor a parable, all these are facets of one man; his name, his policy and finally his disability.
Born January 30, 1882 in New York to a pleasant and aristocratic family, the young Franklin entered into politics in 1910 at the age of twenty eight when he was elected a New York senator. In 1912, he was re-elected despite the fact that he could not campaign because of a bad case of typhoid fever that kept him bedridden during the elections. Nine years later, Franklin Roosevelt suffered from a bout of poliomyelitis which left him unable to walk again, unaided. His mother wished he would retire from active politics and settle into the life of a country gentleman but Eleanor Roosevelt (Franklin Roosevelt’s wife) and Louis McHenry Howe (head of his campaign management) had other plans for the political connoisseur. With their urging and prodding, he kept abreast with the political occurrences in the New York arena, nominating and supporting Alfred Smith for the New York gubernatorial seat in the democratic primaries.
FDR had to pick the New York gubernatorial ticket when Governor Smith contested and lost the Presidential elections in 1928 to Hebert Hooverand he won the seat. His first duty was to replace key Smith’s officials in his cabinet; a move that greatly displeased his former bossom friend and predecessor, Alfred Smith. As a Governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked so tirelessly and exuberantly that many New Yorkers were unaware that their Governor used a wheelchair.
The mantle fell upon FDR to become the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1932. He clinched the position, won the presidential elections and was sworn in on March 4, 1934. President Roosevelt was elected amidst a series of problems engulfing the American economy that period; Number one issue was the October 1929 recession that the United States economy was battling with; Second on the list was the raging policy of America’s ‘isolationist’ attitude to foreign affairs; Another pernicious problem was that one-sixth of the American populace were on relief. These and many others he met during his inauguration while the World War Two crowned the challenges that the president encountered during his tenure in office.
I have, since reading Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s history drawn up a lot of summations for myself and they include;
LESSON 1 – Break Traditions!

FDR broke the unwritten two-term tradition of the previous US presidency and is the first and definitely the only person to hold four terms in office. This feat will never be repeated as the 22nd amendment passed after his death prevents future American presidents from having more than two terms.
LESSON 2 – The only disability is of the mind.

Physical disability is a thing of the body and hardly of the mind. President Roosevelt’s inability to walk unaided did not impede his desire to become Governor of New York State or even President of the United States of America for four consecutive terms! This is why when I read or hear people castigating President Yar’Adua for his ill-health, I smile and conclude that they have not heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who ruled from a wheelchair. Umar Musa Yar’Adua could have been the contemporary president that ruled from a sickbed.
LESSON 3 – Challenges are launchpads.

There is great hope for Nigeria and it is not in the distant future. When Roosevelt snatched the reigns of leadership from the incumbent president Herbert Hoover, the U.S economy was in complete shambles. People who had bought stock on margin with the high hopes that stocks would keep on rising were shocked when these share prices began plummeting leaving some in debt and others in financial ruin. One-sixth of the U.S citizens as at 1933 were on welfare. Surely, Nigeria’s situation is not as bad as stated above. But Roosevelt through selfless, unrelenting pursuit and unrestrained vigor turned the economic fortunes of the country around that by 1941 when they entered the World War Two their economy was vibrant enough to propel the Allied forces to victory.
LESSON 4 – Academic brilliance makes little difference.

I know I have not mentioned it, but our case study was a little above average student, uninterested in politics and he left law school without a degree in 1907 from Columbia University of Law, although because he has passed the state examinations he was therefore permitted to practice law. It reminds me of the large number of degree-less people the world has recorded who have made world history, people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln who had less than one full year of formal education in his entire life.
LESSON 5 – Maintain your course!

It takes a man who is able to see the end from the beginning to do great things. FDR was such a man. Despite the many reasons to seek a reclusive life, he challenged daunting obstacles and overcame. even if he never became Governoror President, just trying at all was enough to make him go to his grave a contented man because twenty years from now the only regrest we are going to have are the things we never did and not the ones that we did.
Lesson 6 – Avoid Comfort Zones.

Roosevelt was already a two-term senator by the age of thirty six. His family were financially comfortable. he needed a bedrest because of his failing health but he eschewed comfort places. he preferred the turbulence and physicality of political life and he managed to print his name in gold in American and indeed the world’s history books. The most comfortable and peaceful place on earth is the graveyard. Comfort zones are preparatory zones to death; slow sure death.

Lesson 7 – Do right no matter what!
Governor Roosevelt needed every political connection he had got to keep afloat since his return back to the active stage, but personal interest could not sway public interest as he got the best men he deemed fit for the job even at the detriment of riskinghis friendship with his predecessor. Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter how people try to justify it and whoever makes this a motto wil have very little explanations to give to posterity.

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