Breaking “foolish traditions”

Here is an interesting tidbit from Professor Brad DeLong’s lecture about the New Deal in his 2007 course in American Economic History.

When FDR appeared at the Democratic national convention in 1932, he was breaking a long tradition whereby the nominees of the major parties did not attend the conventions. The idea was to appear like the Roman hero Cincinnatus, and act the part of an unambitious but public-minded citizen who agrees to accept the call of his nation. In FDR’s acceptance speech he pledged to make further challenges to foolish traditions. He said:

The appearance before a National Convention of its nominee for President, to be formally notified of his selection, is unprecedented and unusual, but these are unprecedented and unusual times. I have started out on the tasks that lie ahead by breaking the absurd traditions that the candidate should remain in professed ignorance of what has happened for weeks until he is formally notified of that event many weeks later. My friends, may this be the symbol of my intention to be honest and to avoid all hypocrisy or sham, to avoid all silly shutting of the eyes to the truth in this campaign. You have nominated me and I know it, and I am here to thank you for the honor.

Let it also be symbolic that in so doing I broke traditions. Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break foolish traditions. We will break foolish traditions and leave it to the Republican leadership, far more skilled in that art, to break promises.

Delong suggested that FDR was making a virtue out of necessity. He had to quash rumors that he was disabled by polio and could not endure the rigors of a national campaign.

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