Michael Fullilove, “Rendezvous with Destiny”

On July 8, 2013, Jonathan gave introductory remarks for a discussion between Lowy Institute Executive Director, Michael Fullilove, and Hunter College professor of Political Science, Andrew Polsky, on Fullilove’s newly published book Rendezvous with Destiny. The video can be viewed here.

Michael Fullilove

July 8, 2013

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara, who built these twin townhouses in 1908 and gave number 49 to Eleanor and Franklin as a wedding gift. It was here Franklin and Eleanor raised their family, Franklin recovered from polio and re-entered politics, launched his presidential campaign and put together his administration. Francis Perkins tells the story of her recruitment to the Cabinet in a conversation in FDR’s second floor study where he made a commitment to create a Social Security program. Sara Roosevelt was never far from Eleanor and Franklin since she had connected the houses on several floors.

The houses came to Hunter when Sara died in 1942, used as a student center until closing in disrepair in 1992. Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, who is here this evening, the houses were renovated in 2008 when she created the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.

Tonight we have a very special program, a conversation between Hunter Professor of Political Science, Andrew Polsky, and Michael Fullilove, author of Rendezvous with Destiny. It is a study of how FDR used five special emissaries to pave the way for America’s entry into World War II and move toward global leadership.

Dr. Fullilove is Director of the Lowy Institute, Australia’s top think tank, with a special interest in understanding foreign policy challenges facing Australia within the Asia Pacific region and the global implications of developments in the region.

We hope tonight is the beginning of a relationship between Lowy and Roosevelt House. Only three years old, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute has built two strong undergraduate programs, one in public policy, the other in human rights. It brings faculty together from across Hunter and supports their research, including conferences like ‘Ike Reconsidered,’ a forum organized by Professor Andrew Polsky that examined the importance of President Eisenhower’s legacy for the 21st century. And it offers a robust set of public programs. Most recently UNDP Director Helen Clark discussing the Millennium Development Goals, Robert Morgenthau on Justice for Immigrants, and former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo this past March, reflecting on his term as the Court’s first prosecutor.

While the topics for our programs range widely, it is always especially meaningful to focus on the Roosevelts in the home where they lived from 1908 until they went to the White House. World views were shaped, values honed, temperments sharpened in this place.

Michael Fullilove quotes an observation from Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Roosevelt’s biographer, that Roosevelt “lived in a household of unresolved jurisdictions, and it had never occurred to him to try to settle lines in between mother and wife.” And later, perhaps, between formal lines of authority in the State Department and his personal representatives.

Tonight we will gain fresh insight about FDR’s skillful use of special envoys to gain information, send signals, shape policies and public opinion. [He strongly believed in personal diplomacy, direct conversations between leaders. He was confident in his capacity to persuade through charm and guile. But he couldn’t be everywhere. As he recounts to Stalin in July 1941: “I ask you to treat Mr. Hopkins with the identical confidence you would feel if you were talking directly to me. He will communicate directly to me the views that you express to him and will tell me what you consider are the most pressing individual problems on which we could be of aid.”]

To introduce our program I am pleased to call on Rita Eleanor Hauser, a graduate of Hunter College and a valued member of the Roosevelt House Board. She has been a member of the International Advisory Council of the Lowy Institute. Rita implored me not to give a long introduction. So I say simply she is a talented lawyer, with her husband, Gus, a generous philanthropist, and a civic leader serving on Boards like the International Peace Academy, the International Crisis Group, Lincoln Center and more. And she knows something about tonight’s topic, the role of special envoys and peace initiatives. She was part of a group from the Center for Peace in the Middle East, invited by the Swedish foreign minister, that orchestrated discussions which led Yasser Arafat in 1988 to recognize the State of Israel and to renounce terrorism. These negotiations helped pave the way for the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

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