Public television is by definition supposed to be educational.
Thus, PBS’s series titled “The Roosevelts” is educating a nation about the 32nd president of the United States, his wife and his fifth cousin, the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt.
As for “32,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Ken Burns-produced documentary offers and interesting insight into the norms of the time FDR was coming of age politically. Moreover, it tells me how times have changed per one of those norms.
FDR took great pains to conceal from the public that he was stricken by polio, that he was wheelchair-bound and that he had great difficulty standing and walking. Photographers were not allowed to take pictures of him being helped in and out of automobiles; Secret Service agents would confiscate the cameras and film of the offending photographer.
Image was everything and FDR believed in projecting an image of a vibrant man.
Now, let’s flash forward — about 80 years.
Texas is about to elect a man who also is wheelchair bound. Greg Abbott has been confined to a wheelchair since his mid-20s, when he was struck by a falling tree in Houston, suffering a broken back.
It fascinates me to no end to watch “The Roosevelts,” learn of how certain secrets were kept out of public view and then realize just how virtually everything has changed in the decades since.
There would be no way a high-profile public figure today could keep secret a physical condition such as what afflicted Franklin Roosevelt.
It’s been said by many historians and pundits over the years that FDR likely couldn’t be elected president today, given his peculiar marriage to Eleanor and the myriad relationships both them had outside of their marriage. They also have noted his physical condition as a deal-breaker back then with voters.
It’s a better, more enlightened time now. A political figure’s physical ailment has nothing to do with his or her mental or emotional state. In FDR’s case, his own disability perhaps made him stronger, more empathetic to others’ suffering.
As for the Texas attorney general seeking to be elected governor, he too has been strengthened by his own struggle. It’s good that he has no reason to keep it a secret.