Obama Compares Himself to FDR and JFK

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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MIKE HUCKABEE, GUEST HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: In another new attempt of damage control over the health care mess, the president is now comparing himself to FDR and JFK.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: FDR was called a socialist when he passed Social Security. JFK and Lyndon Johnson, they were both accused of a government takeover of health care when they passed Medicare. This is the process that we go through because, understandably, the American people have a long tradition of being suspicious of government until the government actually does something that helps them, and then they don't want anybody messing with whatever gets set up.


HUCKABEE: Joining us now from San Francisco is Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and author of the book, "The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America."

Dr. Brinkley, thank you so much for joining us. Let me ask you, a big mistake on the part of the president to sort of invoke the memories of FDR and JFK and compare himself?

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DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's never a mistake for a Democratic president to raise the specter of FDR and Kennedy for his base. I think the Lyndon Johnson comments gets more to the crux of the difficulty the president's having.

As you know, the Great Society is what Ronald Reagan warned against. In fact, I edited "Reagan's Diaries," and he wrote one passage that said I voted four times for FDR and the New Deal, but I'm trying to roll back the Great Society. Medicaid and Medicare came through Lyndon Johnson, but so did a lot of other government programs that people, particularly conservatives, have been trying to role back some of the wealthier state programs. So there's a suspicion on the American people that's been really part of entire history, but we've — since 1980 in the Reagan revolution, of too much government.

And so I think the problem this summer for President Obama is that he's pushing health care after all that economic stimulus money, and there's kind of a woe factor going on, saying this might be too much, too fast, too expensive.

HUCKABEE: How come Democrats never compare themselves, let's say to Jimmy Carter and bring up other Democratic presidents from the past?

BRINKLEY: Well, you know, Carter's somebody who's, as they say, they used the White House as a steppingstone for his ex-presidency. Lyndon Johnson, I actually taped part of a documentary on LBJ, because his 100th birthday was this past August, and the Democratic Convention didn't want to show anything to tribute LBJ, because of Vietnam. You know, he's seen as sort of a quasi pariah in some ways. But you know, Johnson did a lot with the civil rights acts of '64 and '65, and Medicaid and Medicare.

But since 1980, it's been the rage of Reagan. From `80 until 2008, it has been a rollback of government, a more conservative feel in the country. And Barack Obama's trying to stoke a progressive movement, and he's trying — catching the same problem that Bill Clinton did after he tried pushing health care through that first year, meaning he eventually had — you had the Gingrich revolution. And then Bill Clinton had to do triangulation to kind of do some rollbacks of federal programs.

HUCKABEE: There was a clear difference. When FDR was president, the country was in an absolute turmoil and public confidence was down. The interesting thing is most people are happy with their health insurance. They'd love to see some reforms and improvements, but they don't want the government taking it over. This is a very different kind of situation, isn't it?

BRINKLEY: Well, different times. I mean, Franklin Roosevelt was enduring the Great Depression and was doing whatever they could to try to keep the country afloat. Certainly, President Obama's correct. Social Security was controversial. People didn't know whether it was going to work or not. Now post people believe that it's been a success. Medicaid and Medicare's the same. And that gets to the point that President Obama's trying to make that I know a lot of people are afraid to make this plunge into a — my health care program were a public auction, but people were afraid in the past. And it's the argument he needs to make in a lot of ways. But I think the difficulties facing government is going to get that there has been since 1988, a fear of too much government. And in the last few months, we've seen a lot of it. So he's got a very tough fight ahead for him this fall.

HUCKABEE: Doctor, thank you very much.

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