“The vigor of life”

We went to see Bill Murray’s FDR over the weekend, not really expecting to buy him in that role.  But I found myself almost entirely forgetting the old SNL lounge lizard, the ghostbuster, Phil Connors et al as Murray squinted through his pince-nez, rumbled in his roadster, and flashed his Hyde Park grin at the Brits and Laura Linney.


It was a fun escape, as a film should be, with a serious bonus message: physical disability can be overcome with grit and determination and a bit of shared duplicity. Not sure we’d let ourselves be similarly tricked into ignoring a president’s incapacity now, let alone his or her infidelity, for better or (probably) worse. We’ve traded constructive fictions for destructive delusions, in the name of full disclosure. It’s a delusion to think, for instance, that a diverse nation can meet its major challenges without even attempting to bridge partisan differences.

But FDR found a way to project the vigor and confidence the country needed to pull together and pull itself out of depression and turn back the threat of fascism,  without his legs and with the country’s complicit credulity. Leaders can do that, when the people want and need to be led.

The vigor of life” is a phrase FDR’s cousin favored. “Powerful, vigorous men of strong animal development must have some way in which their animal spirits can find vent,” TR wrote. He’d read his “Moral Equivalent of War,” and no doubt would laugh at my (and Malcolm Gladwell’s) objections to violence on the gridiron. He’ be wrong about that, but never mind. [Ban college football]

Well, if my own animal spirits ever lag… if my legs ever go, either figuratively or for real, I’ll revisit the Roosevelts’ vigorous examples of fortitude and grace in the face of stress and storm. Where there’s a will, a vigorous way can be found.


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