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“The Roosevelts”, Ken Burns’ latest documentary on PBS is a story of conquest of personal demons.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | September 21, 2014

No. 1,104

The RooseveltsMaking time to watch “The Roosevelts”, Ken Burns’ latest PBS production, for two hours every night for six successive nights required a certain amount of planning and self-discipline.  For me,  it was worth it.

Yes, it was about politics and policies — sometimes still controversial and still evoking strong emotion.  But this was only a part of the message, the lesser part.  This story is a saga of three people who overcame overwhelming personal obstacles by incredible, at times superhuman, effort. The story is a familiar one, but Burns manages to tell it with the same freshness that he evoked in other photo-based portrayals of American history.

Theodore Roosevelt was what they used to call a sickly child.  He was also subject to overwhelming depression.  His response was continuous, even frantic, activity, both physical and mental.  After his young wife and mother died on the same day, he put a promising political career on hold to go west and become a cowboy.  He rescued his sanity through unrelenting effort that challenged the limits of his endurance.

This formula for self-administered therapy was copied by Franklin and Eleanor when they each encountered seemingly unsurmountable physical and mental obstacles. As Burns and others have observed, there could never have been an FDR without TR.

It has long been noted that FDR followed TR’s career path, serving as an Undersecretary of the Navy and Governor of New York.  But that was only one path, the lesser one. FDR went south to the polio rehabilitation resort Warm Springs, just as TR went west when disabled by depression.  Eleanor, too, learned the lesson of redemption through unrelenting work from her favorite uncle.Her capacity for hard work and achieving goals made her the equal of both.

But the cure was never total or permanent.  Each of them struggled with all of their might throughout life.  “The Roosevelts” celebrates the triumph of the individual over forces that impede the achievements of our goals.

That is the real lesson of “The Roosevelts.” And it is applicable in every age and every life.




CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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