And then there are a few Presidents worth remembering.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt stands out to me as the greatest force for the general good who served in the White House in the 20th Century. (To those cynical of elected officials, this may be considered damning the guy with faint praise.) Born into privilege, and processed with the magic name of his distant cousin Theodore, Franklin Roosevelt was a quickly rising star in Democratic politics, a former New York state legislator and Assistant-Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson.
Before he was 38 he was nominated to serve as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1920. He and his running mate ,James Cox, lost that race but it was just a bump in the road at the time for a young politico who could look forward to the governorship of New York and likely a direct run himself for the Presidency.
But two years later his political career seemed finished. After contracting polio while visiting a Boy Scout summer camp in upstate New York (near his family home at Hyde Park) FDR soon was unable to walk and the diagnosis left him not only physically handicapped but depressed. The naturally cheerful if elitist and somewhat snooby nature the man had carried through his life at prep school and Harvard and the halls of power was gone, a shell of a man with little to do but hide from the public on his yacht remained.
The film "Warm Springs" documents FDR's emotional resurrection at a rundown spa in rural Georgia, later to be called Warm Springs. The naturally heated water made it possible for Franklin to gain some ability to propel himself with his arms and even stand in the therapeutic pool. The experience of living near people afflicted like he was and with the rural poor of all races also deepened his empathy for ordinary people.
Once considered a "supercilious prig" by Frances Perkins (later his Labor Secretary) who couldn't abide boring people and thought of rural folks in places like Georgia as "hillbillies", FDR spend a good deal of the mid-1920's in the resort, eventually buying the facility outright with two-thirds of the money his father had left him. He turned it into a first-class treatment center that was designed exclusively to treat those afflicted with the scourge of polio (or infantile paralysis). Even today, Warm Springs exists as a center for those with mobility diseases.
Incredibly, as I found out recently, these are still places like Nigeria where new polio cases are still being diagnosed.
Although Roosevelt was originally drawn to the spa to get himself walking again, he stayed on after all hope fro that was gone and continued to support Warm Springs after he became President. Indeed, he died there of a stroke in April of 1945 while enjoying a working vacation at "The Little White House". The bulk of his life insurance policy--about 450,000 dollars--was bequeathed to the center.
The movie itself boasts an outstanding cast: Kenneth Branagh as Roosevelt, Cynthia Nixon as Eleanor, David Paymar as Louis Howe, FDR's friend and closest political advisor and Kathy Bates as Helen Mahoney, the first certified doctor at the new facility.
The film dramatizes Roosevelt not as a great figure of power, but as a man who overcomes self-pity and a physical malady to get himself back in the ring of elected office and help lead a nation in its darkest hour since the Civil War. He would not have been the leader he was without this personal trial and I believe he is one leader worth remembering on Presidents Day.
Distributed by HBO
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Produced by Chrisann Verges
Written by Margaret Nagle
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Tim Blake Nelson
Music by Bruce Broughton
Cinematography Robbie Greenberg
Editing by Michael Brown
Country United States