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The Depression and the New Deal - Essay Example

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The Depression and the New Deal

When Roosevelt assumed office in 1933, he displaced a president who had failed to solve the riddle of 20th-century presidential communication: how to mobilize a mass public separated from him by time and space. Indeed, it is unclear that Herbert Hoover even recognized his dilemma. For most of his presidency, Hoover preferred to confine his interactions to Washington elites; he preferred not to address the national public. Throughout his presidency, he held to his belief that the depression of 1929-1939 was a consequence of economic laws and cycles, and that, consequently, his time was best spent making policy rather than communicating with the public1 (Schlesinger 1957 cited in Carcasson 1998). During the presidential campaign of 1932, Hoover rejected a suggestion that he make a series of 10minute radio addresses, saying that it was "difficult to deal with anything over the radio except generalities, without embarrassing actual accomplishments that are going forward" (cited in Abbott 1990).
In contrast, Roosevelt was determined to use the new medium of radio to establish a firm relationship with the public. It was during his term as governor of New York, from 1928 to 1932, that Roosevelt developed a rationalized system for using the radio to establish a relationship with the public (Peters 2000).
Roosevelt created an efficient, systematic, and predictable publicity system, one that was acknowledged at the time to be the slickest peacetime publicity effort ever seen in U.S. politics to that date (Ward 1999). Besides promoting positive newspaper coverage of the New Deal, an important function of this coordinated activity was the projection of Roosevelt's personality to the public. Its message was that the New Deal was taking positive, effective measures to help people, and the President was firmly in control of, and responsible for, this process.
The organized nature of these publicity efforts carried over to the production of the Fireside Chats. According to Fine (cited in Sussman & Daynes 2004), much like radio and movie scripts, the Chats were produced by committee. Various groups of officials, from departmental officials to cabinet members to advisors who held no official government position, participated in their production. Each group produced information that was funneled to a central group charged with putting the pieces together. Fine went on to note that President Roosevelt read each draft, paying careful attention to word length and the number of s's1. He wanted short, simple statements, with no abstractions, or what he called "weasel words." He paid careful attention to the rhythm and timing of each speech, speaking each draft out loud to ensure a proper pace. He often wrote the conclusion himself, so as to end on a proper "high" note. Throughout, he used the public opinion data collected by his staff to fashion his appeal in ways likely to resonate with his mass audience. The resulting chat, looked much like a "cuesheet for a stage play. All the signals were clearly marked: the pauses by dashes, the word to be emphasized is underlined, the phrase marked for special treatment1".
In their structure, ...Show more

Summary

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a pre-eminent presidential persuader. FDR's spoken record reveals his rhetorical eloquence during four terms in office. His phrases, which coaxed the consciousness of his contemporaries and still caress our collective memories, evoked Roosevelt, the Depression and his New Deal, and World War II (Ryan 1988).
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