The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns
Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn
Chapter 9: James MacGregor Burns’s Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox and the Election of 1940
Jim Burns’s first book on FDR, published in 1956, was memorably entitled Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. Jim saw FDR as a shrewd politician adept at making deals, dissembling, manipulating, and turning on the charm. But he also saw Roosevelt as a bold, courageous, and moral leader. Roosevelt was a devious fox—and he was also a brave lion. Jim borrowed the idea of the lion and the fox from Machiavelli, who wrote in 1513 that a prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. As Jim once remarked, FDR was skilled not only in charm and deception, but also often in sowing confusion and benefiting from it. But Roosevelt could also be decisive and bold—a courageous lion who would lead the nation successfully out of the Great Depression and World War II, and ultimately change for decades Americans’ expectations of their government and the nation’s global role and responsibility. To illustrate these two sides of Jim’s interpretation of Roosevelt’s leadership, I will focus on the election of 1940. First I will discuss the foxlike strategies that FDR used during that election season.
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