Recently, Life Magazine unveiled its list of the "100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century," and those among the missing are as interesting as those who made it.
Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion, is on it. Roone Arledge, an ABC broadcasting executive, is on it. Willis Carrier, the engineer who invented air conditioning, is on it.So is Robert De Graff, the first paperback book publisher; Bob Dylan, a singer and songwriter; Robert Hutchins, an educator; Alfred Kinsey, a sex researcher; Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's; Joe McCarthy, the red-baiting senator of the 1950s; Charles Merrill, a stockbroker; Elvis Presley, an entertainer.
There are some VERY famous people, such as Bing Crosby, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Ralph Nader, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Babe Ruth, Edward R. Murrow, Martin Luther King Jr., Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein.
I don't have the space to list them all, but you've read about them. The list was compiled with the help of more than 60 historians and other experts consulted by Life. Only three people received unanimous support: the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford.
Mary Steinbauer, editor of the special issue, said "It's a list of the most influential people of the past 100 years, not the famous. In making the list, we looked at how our lives would be different if each of our honorees didn't live."
Presumably, presidents do not change our lives. Well, I just can't swallow that.
My question is this: How could any well-meaning group of historians and other experts seriously compile a list of the most influential Americans of the 20th century and leave out Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
How much did he change our lives?
Now whether you are Republican or Democrat, FDR-lover or FDR-hater, you should agree that FDR was president-for-life after 1932. No one before him had occupied the White House for so long, and it was his for the asking as long as he could take a breath.
He was a man of unusual charisma, best personified in the fireside chats during which most Americans believed that their president was talking directly to them.
He was the only president in our history who had two major crises to deal with simultaneously - the Depression and war.
He bequeathed to his successors the legacy of the New Deal and a global foreign policy that continued for years afterward. He established the powerful presidency that still endures.
More than two decades after FDR had died, Time correspondent Hugh Sidey, a specialist on the presidency, wrote of a White House gathering that drew a number of dignitaries to honor FDR:
"You could stand on this Tuesday afternooon in February of 1967 and look out over the faces in the East Room of the White House and suddenly understand that Franklin Roosevelt still owned Washington. His ideas prevailed. His men endured. The government that functioned now was his creation perhaps more than that of any other single man."
It's true. Roosevelt was the architect of a new political era. In spite of a large cult of FDR worshipers, millions of other Americans loathed him - for upsetting class relations, for creating an imperial presidency, for leading the nation into war.
Yet from 1945 to the present, historians have unfailingly ranked him with Washington and Lincoln, and every president who succeeded him asked himself how he measured up to FDR.
Historian William Leuchtenberg said it all in an important book called "In the Shadow of FDR,"(1983) in which he suggested that eight of the presidents who succeeded Roosevelt were either carrying out his legacy or fighting against it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was an institution - a legend - the most important president since Lincoln. Yet he was left off this list of the most influential Americans of the 20th century.
I don't believe it.