Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Ah, Inauguration Day. A time of beginnings.

This morning as I was catching up on the Books section of the SF Chronicle, I read the following in a review by Eric Rauchway of Adam Cohen's new book, Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America.

Adam Cohen treats the 100 days as largely the product of personalities - Roosevelt, his key advisers and their experiences. Cohen produces fine pencil portraits of the president himself, an aristocratic good-government reformer touched by polio, which imbued him suddenly with a sense of what it meant to suffer; Henry Wallace, his secretary of agriculture, scion of a long line of practical scientific farmers experimenting in the fields; Raymond Moley, his critical banking adviser, a hard-nosed political scientist keen to take credit for preserving capitalism; Lewis Douglas, his budget director, a mining man devoted to fiscal conservatism; and perhaps most important of all, Frances Perkins, his secretary of labor, the first female Cabinet member, an eyewitness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and a shrewd proponent of working Americans.

Cohen's use of biography works because Roosevelt surrounded himself with such a variety of advisers, each intimately familiar with one aspect of the problem they together approached. Rather than trivia, then, each of these personal stories represents a section of Depression-era America, and in their diversity they suggest why so many Americans supported the New Deal: Almost anyone could see the administration addressing his concerns.

My father, who was born in 1913, didn't believe in God, but he did believe in FDR. He lived thru the Depression and served in the Navy during WW II which were formative events for him and his generation.

May the UUA "surround itself with a variety of advisers" as it looks at excellence in ministry and at forming, examining, developing, and evaluating ministers. Such a strategy served us well at the Department of Veterans Affairs when we were designing our performance-based interviewing process.

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