David B. Woolner

David B. Woolner is Senior Fellow and Resident Historian of the Roosevelt Institute, Professor of History at Marist College, and Senior Fellow of the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College. He is the author of The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace, (Basic Books, 2017), and is editor/co-editor of five books, including Progressivism in America: Past Present and Future (Oxford University Press 2016), FDR’s World: War, Peace and Legacies (Palgrave, 2008); and FDR and the Environment (Palgrave, 2005). A frequent commentator on the links between the past and the present, his media appearances include interviews with CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera, the History Channel, NPR; CBC Radio, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. His reviews and op-ed pieces have appeared in The Nation.com, Huffington Post, Salnon.com, The Irish Times; The Next New Deal; Truthout.org, Business Insider and other publications. He served as historical advisor to the Ken Burns film The Roosevelts: An Intimate History; the HBO/BBC production, Churchill at War; and for numerous special exhibitions at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. He sits on the Editorial Board of the International History Review, is a member of the Advisory Group to the Churchill Archives Project, has been Visiting Associate Professor at Bard College, and has remained a member of the faculty of the Bard Prison Initiative since 2011. His numerous academic awards include the Mary Ball Washington Chair in American History, at University College Dublin (2016-2017); the Roosevelt Fellowship at University College Roosevelt, in Middelburg, the Netherlands (Spring 2016); the Fulbright Distinguished Research Chair at the Roosevelt Study Center, also in Middelburg (2010); and an Archives Bi-Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge (2007).

From 2000-2010, Dr. Woolner served as the Roosevelt Institute’s Executive Director, overseeing a significant expansion of the organization’s budget, programmatic dimension and staff. He earned his Ph. D. and M.A. in history from McGill University and a B.A. summa cum laude in English Literature and History from the University of Minnesota.

As the world media zeros in on Donald Trump’s failure to pass a single significant piece of legislation during his first 100 days in office, we should remember that although Franklin D. Roosevelt deserves a great deal of credit for the remarkable record he set during his first 100 days, he did not do it

A historical adviser to the film looks back at how the Roosevelts saved the American free enterprise system. Ken Burns’s superb documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, is in many ways a celebration of leadership, of the triumph of personal will over adversity, and of the belief in the age-old American story that each of

Like President Obama, FDR faced resistance to guaranteeing workers a decent wage, but he knew he had the American people on his side. Our Nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and

President Obama should begin his second term much like the first and demand stimulus to bolster a sagging economy. The only real capital of a nation is its natural resources and its human beings. So long as we take care of and make the most of both of them, we shall survive as a strong

To achieve progress in his second term, President Obama must recognize that his opponents aren’t really interested in a “grand bargain.” My fellow countrymen. When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision—to speed the time

The Republicans who voted against the ratification of the UN convention on disabilities are erasing a crucial part of our history. It is not only that the lights of peace blaze in our great cities and glow in our towns and villages—that laughter and music still ring out from coast to coast—that we will return

President Obama should use the fiscal cliff to shift the debate away from deficits and take on the inequality that’s undermining our democracy. It has been well said that “the freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable, if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property

As part of our series “A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda,” a call to return to a foreign policy based in FDR’s vision of shared peace and prosperity. Even though we come from different places, we share common dreams: to choose our leaders; to live together in peace; to get an education and make a good

The election results could encourage the bipartisan cooperation we need to solve our country’s greatest challenges. Today we re-consecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists.

FDR knew that America’s willingness to fight inequality was more important than its ability to wage war. Our strength is measured not only in terms of the might of our armaments. It is measured not only in terms of the horsepower of our machines. The true measure of our strength lies deeply imbedded in the

Unlike the modern-day GOP, FDR understood that securing peace required both massive military power and massive diplomacy. The permanent security of America in the present crisis does not lie in armed force alone. What we face is a set of world-wide forces of disintegration—vicious, ruthless, destructive of all the moral, religious and political standards which

After President Obama’s lackluster debate performance last week, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow David Woolner argued that Obama should take a lesson from FDR, who attacked his opponents’ underlying philosophy instead of the obscure details of their plans. The writers of The Daily Show must have had the same thought, because this week they aired footage of Roosevelt

President Obama spent too much time picking apart the details of his opponent’s plans instead of attacking the underlying philosophy as FDR did. Let me warn you and let me warn the Nation against the smooth evasion which says, “Of course we believe all these things; we believe in social security; we believe in work

Romney’s comments may spark a widespread backlash against the kind of contempt for the poor that FDR once overcame. But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what

Lack of research has led the press to treat documents that have been public for 40 years as breaking news. Earlier this week, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released over a thousand pages of documents relating to one of the most horrific events of the Second World War: the massacre of thousands of

Foreign policy shouldn’t forget the important role of economic development. The people, in their millennial and revolutionary march toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul, hold as their credo the Four Freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt in his message to Congress on January 6, 1941. These Four Freedoms are

In the 1930s, the president and Congress responded to the economic crisis with immediate action. Why haven’t today’s policymakers done the same? Sometimes I get bored sitting in Washington hearing certain people talk and talk about all that Government ought not to do— people who got all they wanted from Government back in the days

As the 112th Congress prepares to go on recess, its record pales in comparison to what the 74th Congress achieved in the 1930s. For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away… Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government

When FDR tackled an environmental crisis, he didn’t just put people to work to fix it in the short-term — he solved it for the long-run. The severe drought that has afflicted more than half of the country this summer has led some commentators to wonder whether the country might be headed for another Dust Bowl.

Obama’s attacks on Bain follow in FDR’s 1936 re-election footsteps except for one key aspect: a full-throated case for government. Yes, there are still determined groups…[who would]…steal the livery of great national constitutional ideals to serve discredited special interests. As guardians and trustees for great groups of individual stockholders they wrongfully seek to carry the

Despite conservatives’ recoiling at food and nutrition standards set by the government, they have a long and important history. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that his administration plans to ban the sale of large size sugary drinks to combat the growing problem of obesity has once again brought the question of the government’s

FDR understood that prosperity would be created through growth, not austerity, and today’s leaders may finally be learning the same lesson. To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would

As part of the How We Value Government series, a reminder that while America has benefited from the free market, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the government playing a major role in the economy — and our entire society. In his Wisconsin primary victory speech, presidential aspirant Mitt Romney made some interesting observations about Franklin Roosevelt,

Today’s financial giants pursue greater wealth at any cost, but in order to build a sustainable economy, we have to make life richer for all Americans. Today, national progress and national prosperity are being held back chiefly because of selfishness on the part of a few… You know their reasoning. They say that in the

Editor’s note: As President Obama’s state visit with British Prime Minister David Cameron grabs headlines, we recommend reading Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow David Woolner’s column on how the Special Relationship was forged in the fires of World War II. This post was originally published on May 26, 2011. The bond between the U.S. and the

FDR understood that balancing America’s budget would be futile if the health, skills, and morale of its people were lost in the process. Before we can think straight as a nation we have to consider, in addition to the old kind, a new kind of government balance sheet — a long-range sheet which shows survival

The Pecora Commission got to the root causes of the Depression and the HOLC addressed the aftermath. Hopefully Obama’s fraud task force and mortgage settlement are on the same course. The news that President Obama has decided to establish a special new task force to investigate abusive and fraudulent lending practices during the housing boom,

President Roosevelt’s transformative government not only saved the country from a Great Depression and the world from the grips of fascism, it crafted the country we live in today. Government has a final responsibility for the well-being of its citizenship. If private cooperative endeavor fails to provide work for willing hands and relief for the

By telling the story of post-War America’s prosperity in the State of the Union, President Obama highlights a path we should take today: forceful government action. In his annual State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke of the generation of Americans who “triumphed over a depression and fascism” to build “the strongest economy and

In channeling TR, perhaps Obama will channel both men’s mission to use government to ensure a more equal society. “In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.” -Theodore Roosevelt It was just a month ago that

In the aftermath of the day which will live in infamy, President Roosevelt understood that ensuring human rights, particularly the right to economic wellbeing, was the only way to stave off extremism. Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which

FDR engaged with the Bonus Army instead of cracking down. Today’s mayors should take note. The violence that broke out in Oakland earlier this week and the wounding of Scott Olsen, a Marine veteran, recalls a similar “occupy movement” involving veterans that took place in Washington at the onset of the Great Depression. In 1932,

Encouraging free trade was one part of the Roosevelt administration’s broader effort to revive the global economy and create good jobs for all Americans. The recent activity in the U.S. Senate on trade — including the passage of three long-awaited trade bills on Wednesday and the passage of the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act

Desperate times call for bold measures. President Obama need look no further than the WPA. To those who say that our expenditures for Public Works and other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by

History shows that we can effectively respond to high unemployment. But the real deficit in the U.S. today is leadership. “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself,

When FDR ignored the Keynesian tenet that cutting spending in a downturn spells disaster, he paid dearly. Obama is set to relearn this lesson the hard way. “The economic experiments of President Roosevelt may prove, I think, to be of extraordinary importance in economic history, because for the first time — at least I cannot

Wanted: a restoration of faith in government as an instrument of social and economic justice. With deadlock in Washington and a recent spate of economic data showing that the so-called “recovery” of the US economy is growing weaker by the day, it appears more and more likely that the Great Recession which has been with

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, union membership and the size of the American economy grew hand-in-hand. “It is now beyond partisan controversy that it is a fundamental individual right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer.” FDR –Address at San Diego Exposition, October 2, 1935 Just over three

The bond between the US and the UK runs deep, especially when it comes to their economies. In an historic speech before both houses of the British Parliament yesterday, President Obama reaffirmed the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States. He made reference to the joint sacrifices both countries have made on the

On this day one of the most visionary presidents in US history passed away while in office. Roosevelt historian David Woolner honors his legacy, and the legacy of the millions of Americans who grieved at his passing. In his inaugural address on the 4th of March, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt — who passed away 66 years

Without informing Congress, Obama has given the defense sector a huge win. Any discussion about Libya is incomplete without mentioning Congress or the Constitution, as the Constitution specifically assigns Congress the war making decision. The President, as Commander in Chief, can only commit forces to “repel sudden attacks,” to use James Madison’s term. There was

Obama’s insistence on international support may be his most Rooseveltian action yet. As the crisis in Libya has unfolded, a number of commentators have criticized the Obama administration for the time it took to act. It has also been reprimanded for not taking the lead among the international community and for insisting, as the crisis

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Over the course of his first two terms in office, Franklin Roosevelt’s freedom of action in foreign policy was severely hampered by American public opinion. Torn asunder by the devastating effects of the Great Depression and bitter about American involvement

It was on this day 70 years ago that FDR gave one of his most important speeches: known as the Four Freedoms speech. To get a sense of the context surrounding this speech and its implications, check out Roosevelt historian David Woolner’s explanation of how his words changed the way the world thinks about human

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. On January 6, 1941, at a time when democracy was literally under siege in much of Europe and Asia, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon his fellow countrymen to help the United States establish a world based on four

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Recent press reports have indicated that in switching tactics, President Obama has decided to take a more active and aggressive role in trying to help his party limit the damage or even achieve something of a victory this November. If

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. By the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in March of 1933, America’s schools, teachers and students had suffered enormously from the Great Depression. Things were so bad, for example, that at one point the State of Georgia was forced to

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. **Photo: Ida May Fuller receives the first Social Security check. On August 14, 2010, one of the New Deal’s most famous and enduring programs, Social Security, will celebrate its 75th anniversary. While the debate over the role of government rages

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. For those familiar with the New Deal, recent economic reports showing that the recovery is slowing, coupled with the refusal of the Senate to pass legislation (which President Obama supports) to extend unemployment benefits and provide additional federal aid to

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Much has been written about the parallels between President Obama and Franklin Roosevelt. Both leaders assumed office during a time of great economic crisis and at a moment when the United States faced significant security threats from abroad. And, even

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. There is no question that President Obama exhibited a masterful use of the media, including the Internet, during his election campaign. Through it he established an almost unprecedented bond with the American people, especially young people, who came to see

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. He co-edited the book “FDR and the Environment,” now out in paperback. In the wake of recent revelations that far more oil is spilling out into the Gulf than was originally estimated, and as it now appears more and more

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. He co-edited the book “FDR and the Environment,” now out in paperback. As President Obama heads to the Gulf of Mexico to inspect the miles of coastline ravaged by oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, he might wish to examine

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. When Franklin Roosevelt first took the oath of office on March 4, 1933, he implored his fellow Americans not to shrink from “honestly facing” the grim reality of the Great Depression. It was time, he said, to confront the truth,

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. It is common wisdom that most Presidents don’t do so well in midterm elections. For the past century and more, in fact, the party occupying the White House has always lost seats in Congress in the non-presidential election cycle, with

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Over the weekend, President Obama asserted that although there were many causes of the turmoil that ripped through our economy in the past two years, it was first and foremost “caused by failures in the financial industry.” He then suggests

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. In a recent NYT Magazine article on how best to head off the next financial crisis, David Leonhardt suggests that one critical flaw in the current reform proposals before Congress is that they are too nuanced and sophisticated. Leonhardt argues

Will 2010 be the year of the women? We asked prominent thinkers to discuss women’s changing roles in the economy. How has the crisis affected them? Are women the key to reform? What economic impact will they have going forward? We’ll explore all this and more in a special ND20 12-part series. Roosevelt historian David

In the wake of the highest unemployment rate in 25 years, the Roosevelt Institute asked historians, economists and other public thinkers to reflect on the lessons of the New Deal and explore new, big ideas for how to get America back to work. David Woolner urges President Obama and Congress to adopt the fearlessness of

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. With the first anniversary of the historic election of President Obama, a good deal of interest has emerged in the media about what achievements the President can point to now that he has passed this historic milestone. Certainly the President

To mark the 80th Anniversary of the Great Crash of ‘29, we asked 15 progressive thinkers to write about lessons learned and what lies ahead. Together, their reflections constitute a New Agenda for America — a message of how the ideals of a fair society should apply to the economic and social policies of our

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. On March 4, 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt first took office, nine out of every ten farms in rural America were without electricity. That means 90% of all farm families, which made up a much larger segment of the overall US

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. As Congress inches ever closer to a final vote on health care reform, and as the likelihood of its passage increases, we may be faced at long last with the prospect that the work of a relatively unknown Presidential committee

Time for a 21st Century WPA?

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. With the current unemployment rate standing at 9.8 percent, and with some economists predicting that the rate may well top 10 percent by early 2010, talk of a second federal stimulus package has become more common in recent weeks. There

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. In his recent address to Congress on the need for health care reform, President Obama spoke eloquently about the role of Government in our society and its relationship to the American character. Given our strong belief in what the President

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. It may come as a surprise to many readers that consumer credit actually expanded during the difficult years of the 1930s. Part of this expansion was driven by the private sector, but a significant portion was engineered through New Deal

Roosevelt Historian David Woolner (author of a forthcoming book on FDR’s Secretary of State,Cordell Hull) shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Today’s global economy is most often viewed as a product of the post-war world. But in fact, its origins can be traced to the New Deal and the efforts

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. One of Franklin Roosevelt’s first acts as President was to declare a national banking holiday. It was an unprecedented move to meet an unprecedented crisis. It also worked–and worked well. Amid renewed fears about the health of our nation’s banks

FDR and the Fed

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. In the economic crisis of the Great Depression, FDR pursued three parallel strategies to stabilize the banking and financial sector and increase economic activity: reform, regulation, and an expansionist monetary policy. Much has been written of late about the reforms

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. It would appear that President Obama’s determination to hold a healthy national debate about the reform of our health care system has fallen victim to the same sort of rhetorical excess that plagued health reform advocates in FDR’s day. With

1929 all over again?

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. In a fascinating article published in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1987, economist and Roosevelt Institute co-founder John Kenneth Galbraith takes note of the parallels he sees around him with the year 1929. He speculates that the markets are in for another

Who’s the new Pecora?

Roosevelt Institute Braintruster David Woolner finds compelling reasons from the past to hire a tough investigator to lead the nation’s financial inquiry. As Congress works to convene the new Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, questions are already being raised about its potential effectiveness. Will the Senate and House appointees be up to the task? Will they

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. After trillions of dollars in losses on Wall Street, massive bailouts, the collapse of the American auto industry, rising unemployment and a mortgage foreclosure crisis not seen since the Great Depression, it hardly seems surprising that the American people want

Roosevelt historian and Roosevelt Institute Senior Vice President David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. With the economy still struggling five months after the passage of the stimulus bill, critics of the Obama administration are already heralding it a failure. With unemployment topping 9 percent, they argue that the

Roosevelt historian and Roosevelt Institute Senior Vice President David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. The sentencing last week of Bernard Madoff is a powerful reminder of why Franklin Roosevelt saw banking and financial reform as one of the keys to economic recovery. As he observed at the signing

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. As President Obama and his economic advisers work to establish “new financial foundation,” they would do well to examine the challenges faced by Franklin Roosevelt in the first months of his presidency. FDR inherited an even greater financial collapse than

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Sixty-five years ago this week, thousands of British, Canadian and American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the most evil tyranny humanity has ever known. They did so not just to join in the effort to

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. We all know that when FDR took office the national unemployment rate was a shocking twenty-five percent. But what is often overlooked is that the unemployment rate for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 was even higher

Soaring health care costs, insipid politics and accusations of socialism dominate the health care conversation today — just as they did during FDR’s time.  David Woolner takes a look at how national health care got cut out off the New Deal. Seventy-five years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened a national conversation on the need

Roosevelt historian and Braintruster David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. The medicine that FDR prescribed to restore the faith of Americans in their government and protect the population from the excesses of capitalism was financial regulation, regulation that was designed to prevent a recurrence of the disease so

Stanley Greenberg sees lessons for Obama in FDR’s use of popular support. As President Barack Obama moves past his first 100 days, polls show him with historic job approval ratings. Even more, they show a country that likes its president and is beginning to feel better about itself. Other presidents and national leaders have been

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. Seventy-six years ago, on the eve of his inauguration as the 34th President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt published a book in which he outlined his thoughts on how best to restore the American people and their economy.

Roosevelt historian David Woolner shines a light on today’s issues with lessons from the past. After 100 days in office, the comparisons between President Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt seem as valid as ever. Both leaders have had to cope with an unprecedented global financial crisis, a deteriorating economy, high unemployment and an electorate steeped

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