There is a reason why Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president four times. Yes, on the domestic front he inspired hope, but most of his “New Deal” economic policies at best were ineffective and at worst actually prolonged America’s economic depression. And, yes, he was a great war leader, but he had already been elected president three times before his war leadership even came into play.
The reason for FDR’s political success was quite simply that he was a master politician and gifted communicator, who could disarm his political opponents and puncture their ideological and political balloons with a skill few politicians have ever matched. No better example of this skill can be found than his appearance, this week (Sept. 23) in 1944, before the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, while campaigning for re-election (once again). After giving his prepared remarks Roosevelt addressed a rumor, spread by his Republican opponents, that on his return trip from the Aleutian Islands earlier that year, Roosevelt discovered he had accidentally left behind his dog Fala, and had ordered a Navy destroyer to return to the islands and fetch his beloved Scottish Terrier — costing the taxpayers $20 million.
In a half-amused, half- indignant voice, FDR responded, “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons … they now include my little dog Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I had left him behind … and had sent a destroyer back to find him at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars, his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself … But I think I have a right to resent, and object to, libelous statements about my dog.”
P-h-f-f-f-f-f-t! There went the air out of the Republican attacks. When the American people read FDR’s remarks, they too were half amused and half outraged — at the Republicans — and the rumor quickly died. Meanwhile Fala subsequently became so famous, and so much a part of FDR’s public image, that almost every president since has felt compelled to have a dog by his side when relaxing in the public eye.
Certainly Fala remained by FDR’s side until the four-term president died in April of 1945. Fala died seven years later and today is buried near his master at the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, New York.