The FDR deluge, now in its 14th month, continued last night.
While old family friends grabbed his hands, James Roosevelt tried to count how many commemorations of his father's birth and first inauguration he had attended in the last several months. "Several hundred, I guess. We've had them all over," Roosevelt said, without the slightest hint of exhaustion. "Just last week we were all in Austin."
Last night the group--the Roosevelt intimates, the New Deal architects and administrators and, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said, "so many grand survivors, like Averell Harriman and Claude Pepper"--toasted the 50th anniversary of Roosevelt's first inaugural, March 4, 1933, and the beginning of his recovery programs.Another estimate of the celebrations came from James H. Rowe Jr.--"A couple of thousand, it seems to me"--whose job as FDR's secretary has made him a star attraction. Turning to Peter Kovler, who has helped organize many of the tributes, Rowe said, "Hey, there was one the other day and you didn't show up."
"There's no exhaustion with nostalgia," said Kovler. "That's why, as Dan Rather said the other night, 'The New Deal is still a big deal.' "
A good Roosevelt story was the password among last night's 500 guests, who formed a patchy field of snow white and bald heads. At the cocktail party, the eye could catch studied friezes of people bent close to one another and listening intently.
James Roosevelt recalled this tale: One morning Marvin McIntyre who was a White House secretary told President Roosevelt that the bishop of Washington insisted on seeing him. Reluctantly, Roosevelt granted him a 10-minute meeting. "Then the bishop said, 'Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, no president has been buried in our cathedral. We want you to write down now that if anything happens to you, you will consider that.' And Father said to him, 'We will talk later.' And Roosevelt turned to McIntyre and said, 'That will hold that body snatcher for the next four years.' "
Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.), the only member of Congress who served during Roosevelt's first hundred days, recalled one of FDR's trips to West Virginia. "It was at the Mountain State Forest Festival and I told him the governor of West Virginia, Herman Guy Kump, and Sen. Mansfield Neeley were bitter enemies and they wouldn't speak to one another. Roosevelt said, 'Just wait 'til I get both of them together.' And Roosevelt told them that any split in the Democratic party wouldn't be condoned. And he had them shake hands. It was marvelous."
While the memory bank of last night's guests hadn't run dry, the committee itself seemed to be stretching for New Deal images. The menu included saute'ed "Hyde Park Garden Cherry Tomatoes Tarragon," "Don't Trifle With Me George III" and centerpieces of carrots, celery and scallions that were "compliments of Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan (We couldn't afford the chicken)."
Joining Pepper and Roosevelt on the formal program were historians Schlesinger and James MacGregor Burns. The audience took audible breaths of surprise as Schlesinger hacked away at Reagan policies.
"FDR understood that, when we get government off the back of business, we put business on the back of government . . . so today the moneychangers are back in the temple, and ordinary people had better shut their windows and lock their doors. Greed is the animating principle of the Reagan administration," said Schlesinger. "Greedy men and alas, women, have settled in public office like a plague of locusts, converting public responsibility into corporate enrichment. Before this administration is over, it will very likely make Teapot Dome and Dixon-Yates look like Sunday school picnics."
As last night's dinner ended with a black-and-white film from the National Archives of Roosevelt's first inaugural address, there were no farewell embraces among those who had come to remember. After all, the Roosevelt memories aren't exactly being packed away.
"There are a few more planned after this," said the indomitable James Roosevelt, "and then we begin the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth."