Seventy-nine years ago on Saturday -- Oct. 21, 1944 -- in a pelting rainstorm -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt rode in an open car through New York City, not only campaigning for the impending election but also striking a jaunty pose for his country and for the world.
I was there, five years old, on a slope overlooking the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, near the airport now known as LaGuardia. My mother and father wanted me to see him, and I have never forgotten it.
That evening, after that bone-chilling exposure to the rain, a man already wracked by polio and later by a failing heart gave a speech in Manhattan that outlined his plans for Germany when World War Two ended (which, by then, was beginning to seem possible.)
A few minutes into his speech, FDR said: "As for Germany, that tragic Nation which has sown the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind...We bring no charge against the German race, as such, for we cannot believe that God has eternally condemned any race of humanity. We know in our own land, in these United States of America, how many good men and women of German ancestry have proved loyal, freedom-loving, and peace-loving citizens.
"But there is going to be a stern punishment for all those in Germany directly responsible for this agony of mankind."
(FDR did not allude to the horrors of the Holocaust, known also as the Shoah, which the U.S. government and the media had been slow to recognize and reveal.)
"The German people are not going to be enslaved," FDR continued. "Because the United Nations do not traffic in human slavery. But it will be necessary for them to earn their way back into the fellowship of peace-loving and law-abiding Nations. And, in their climb up that steep road, we shall certainly see to it that they are not encumbered by having to carry guns. We hope they will be relieved of that burden forever.
"The task ahead of us will not be easy. Indeed it will be as difficult and complex as any task that has ever faced any American administration."
Barely six months later, my father would call from his newspaper office to say that FDR, recently re-elected, had died. I can still hear my mother sobbing.
For a woman who, in her teens, had lost her father in an automobile crash, FDR was a surrogate father. His self-assurance, his patrician tones, told Americans (and the world) that somehow, with strength and, yes, with a touch of mercy, we would overcome, some day.
(Only slowly did we learn how Eleanor Roosevelt, with her brains and her compassion, would goad her husband into many of his stances.)
I have never compared Joe Biden to FDR. But now, at the end of Biden’s eighth decade, previously regarded as a middling politician, with some mis-steps and flaws, he may be striking the same pose as FDR – less cocky, more up-close and personal -- as a father figure, or an uncle figure.
Biden has flown overnight to a nation that has suffered a hideous, murderous sneak attack, seen hundreds of people savagely taken hostage. More tactile than the wheelchair-bound FDR, President Biden wades into suffering groups in the U.S. and now Israel and give hugs.
I have four friends in Israel on my e-mail list, and in my heart. I think about them all the time, wait to hear all is okay with them.
We've been watching the tube for two weeks. We can see the brutality. We know what happened.
At the same time, President Biden and his State Department leaders seem to be giving off-screen advice to Israeli leaders to show wisdom, to practice compassion, in addition to sending up missiles and massing troops on the border.
We don't know if he has, or if he has had any impact.
I only know I will take my chances with Biden's signals, as much of the world has done as the U.S. backed up Ukraine.
Another source of hope is the first 20 trucks bearing a minute amount of aid for the people of Gaza.
The personification of aid comes from an athlete in a red uniform -- Mohamed Salah of Egypt and the Liverpool club in England. He is a compact, charismatic figure who flits about the field, finding open space, often hacked down by defenders and sometimes shown minimal protection by English officials. When he takes a penalty kick, he strides toward the ball with a serene smile. He plays with an otherworldly grace and enthusiasm, a mixture of aerial sylphs and earthly gnomes.
In the past week, Mo Salah has called for humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza to help those who are suffering, and he has also given a generous donation, according to a story in The Guardian (my go-to sports section in these barren days.)
Salah was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “It’s not always easy to speak in times like these … There has been too much violence and too much heartbreaking brutality. The escalation in recent weeks is unbearable to witness. All lives are sacred and must be protected. The massacres need to stop. Families are being torn apart."
Mohamed Salah may be thinking of his own swath of the world, but he is also not delivering public diatribes. May he expand his concern to all the people of his region, the way Joe Biden seems to be doing, to set an example "out there." The world needs all the grace it can get.
Update: We saw Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-GA, speaking on Jen Psaki's MSNBC show on Sunday. He makes a compassionate call for aid to Gaza. watching Sen. Warnock, a minister speak of all the children in the world, his eloquence, his passion,I think of him as presidential -- or more immediately, vice-presidential. Just saying. GV
A good friend just sent this talk by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thanks, A
FDR Speech, 1944:
President Biden's speech last Thursday: