Remarks at a White House Luncheon Celebrating the Centennial of the Birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

January 28, 1982

Well, I know everyone here must have been bathed in nostalgia in this film that we've just taken and so magnificently narrated by David. I did say to him after the film went off that there were a couple of times there when I thought he could have sloughed over the word ``Republican'' -- [laughter] -- better than he did.

Gathered here as we are for a special occasion, I have to use a term right now that is reminiscent of a period really that had to do with that occasion, and use a statement, ``We interrupt the regularly scheduled program for a special bulletin.'' I won't say ``news flash,'' because I'm sure that you've all heard the good news already, but I would like to comment.

Earlier this morning the Italian police rescued Brigadier General James Dozier. They rescued him from the terrorist hideaway in Padua where he had been held captive. His 42-day-long ordeal has come to a happy ending, and the prayers of millions of Americans have been answered. I've spoken with the general by telephone, and I'm happy to relay his report that he's in fine shape. And I can tell you that just hearing him -- I told Nancy he sounded as if he'd just gone down to the corner for 5 minutes. [Laughter]

The same courage and resolve that James Dozier demonstrated on the battlefield in wartime have seen him through this new test with flying colors. His country and our allies can be very proud of this gallant man.

I've also talked with President Pertini of Italy and expressed America's appreciation for the dedicated and effective work of the Italian authorities in tracking down General Dozier's kidnapers and saving his life. They, too, have acquitted themselves with honor.

His rescue is welcome news for all those who believe in the rule of law and the defense of our free institutions. We all share in the joy of his family at the return to freedom of a courageous soldier whose life has been dedicated to the defense of liberty.

And now, back to the regularly scheduled program. [Laughter]

It's a pleasure to greet such a distinguished company in the White House on this very special occasion. For most of you, I know this is a return visit, the most recent of many. Each of your lives was intertwined with one of the most famous residents of this house. You, too, are a part of its history. So, as the latest tenants in the People's House, Nancy and I welcome you back.

We're all here today to mark the centennial of one of history's truly monumental figures, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Historians still debate the details of his intentions, his policies and their impact. But all agree that, like the Founding Fathers before him, F.D.R. was an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times. He meant many different things to many different people. He could reach out to men and women of diverse races and backgrounds and inspire them with new hope and new confidence in war and peace.

Franklin Roosevelt was the first President I ever saw. I remember the moment vividly. It was in 1936, a campaign parade in Des Moines, Iowa. What a wave of affection and pride swept through that crowd as he passed by in an open car -- which we haven't seen a President able to do for a long time -- a familiar smile on his lips, jaunty and confident, drawing from us reservoirs of confidence and enthusiasm some of us had forgotten we had during those hard years. Maybe that was F.D.R.'s greatest gift to us. He really did convince us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.

One of our guests today, Senator Jennings Randolph, who served in the Congress during the New Deal, summed it up very well in a recent interview. Senator Randolph recalled of Franklin Roosevelt, "He lifted us up with a sense of joy. But I think his greatest contribution was that we discovered ourselves as individuals. I count. That was his contribution. Each of us could say, `I count.'"

But, of course, not quite everybody agreed at the time. How well I recall the criticisms from F.D.R.'s first campaign for the nomination to the end of his last term. No less a pundit than Walter Lippmann wrote Franklin Roosevelt off at the starting line, dismissing him as, ``a pleasant man, who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.'' Forgive me but now and then I think I've been hearing an echo. [Laughter]

F.D.R. was denounced by some as a traitor to his class. But people who said that missed the whole point of what he believed in and what this country's all about. There's only one class and that's ``We, the People.''

Woe unto those foreign or domestic who try to divide us. They've never succeeded yet. I think there's a basic reason for this, one that Franklin Roosevelt understood as well as anyone. ``The overwhelming majority of Americans,'' he said, ``are possessed of two great qualities, a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.''

This great nation of ours is a caring, loving land. Its people have a zest for life and laughter, and Franklin Roosevelt shared those qualities. But we're also a practical people with an inborn sense of proportion. We sense when things have gone too far, when the time has come to make fundamental changes. Franklin Roosevelt was that kind of a person, too.

Every generation of Americans has faced problems and every generation has overcome them. Like Franklin Roosevelt we know that for free men hope will always be a stronger force than fear, that we only fail when we allow ourselves to be boxed in by the limitations and errors of the past.

This is not a political gathering. It's a celebration of a great man who led our nation through historic times. It's a celebration shared here today by many who knew and loved him well. Friends, colleagues, and relatives -- and for my part, a young sportscaster who first felt the awe and majesty of this office when that familiar caped figure drove down the avenue in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1936, the figure who proved to us all that ``Happy Days'' could and would come again.

In that spirit I can think of no better way to conclude these brief remarks than to ask you all to join me in a toast -- and I think he would join -- a toast to ``Happy Days'' now, again, and always.

To ``Happy Days.''

Note: The President spoke at 2:26 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. During the luncheon, the guests saw a documentary film on President Roosevelt's career. David Brinkley of ABC News narrated the film.

Earlier in the day, the President toured an exhibit on President Roosevelt at the National Museum of American History.