An excerpt from my piece in today’s USA Today:
“Roosevelt was our military ally in the 20th century, and he is becoming our ideological ally in the 21st,” Putin’s chief “ideologist,” Vladislav Surkov, explained at a state-sponsored conference commemorating the 125th anniversary of FDR’s birth.
There’s a rich irony here. For years, liberals have wailed about the moral hazard of Bush’s supposedly crypto- (or not-so-crypto) fascist presidency. And yet it’s FDR, Lion of American Liberalism, who, some seven decades after his death, endures as the role model for Russia’s lurch toward authoritarianism, if not fascism.
Interestingly, there’s precedent for this. Both Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany invoked FDR’s New Deal as proof that their own programs were, in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s famous phrase, “the wave of the future.”
“America has a dictator,” Benito Mussolini proclaimed, watching FDR from abroad. He marveled at how the forces of “spiritual renewal” on display in the New Deal were destroying the outdated notion that democracy and liberalism were “immortal principles.” “Roosevelt is moving, acting, giving orders independently of the decisions or wishes of the Senate or Congress. … A sole will silences dissenting voices.” That almost sounds like Harry Reid talking about Bush.
Mussolini reviewed FDR’s book, Looking Forward, proclaiming the author a kindred spirit. The way Roosevelt “calls his readers to battle,” he wrote, “is reminiscent of the ways and means by which fascism awakened the Italian people.” “Without question,” he continued, the “sea change” in America “resembles that of fascism.” Indeed, the comparisons were so commonplace, Mussolini’s press office banned the practice. “It is not to be emphasized that Roosevelt’s policy is fascist because these comments are immediately cabled to the United States and are used by his foes to attack him.”