The past really would be just a bucket of ashes except for what it can teach about the present. The new PBS series “The Roosevelts” has at least one good lesson: In America, strong presidents are better than weak ones — unless you are a member of the foreign-tyrant or corrupt fat-cat community.
We viewed all seven episodes over the past week. It’s compelling stuff. But you can’t watch Theodore and Franklin and Eleanor fight the good fight without occasionally wishing there were modern leaders big enough to try it themselves.
By comparison, our recent presidents and the current one all seem smaller men, not leading so much as being led by election calculus or careerist advisers. Maybe that’s not completely fair; maybe the times make the leader, rather than the other way around. Maybe our times aren’t yet dramatic enough to require greatness. But after each episode the credits start to roll and you think: We won’t need another Mount Rushmore anytime soon. In today’s Washington, the greatness bullpen is pretty much empty.
The series isn’t just about the greatness, though. That would be boring. By giving equal time to their flaws and frailties, Ken Burns and crew make the Roosevelts real, not quite so legendary and inevitable. Yeah, they did a lot for this country, but none of it came easy. There’s no drama without adversity, and the Roosevelts had plenty of that. They also had pretty good senses of humor, to leaven the pathos. So the series is not just good history; it’s good TV.
Also, it’s free. Dave Bob says check it out.