Houcke and Kiewe’s FDR’s Body Politics: The Rhetoric of Disability shed light on an important story in history with which I was previously wholly unfamiliar and, as is the case with many good books, I was left with more questions than answers. I appreciated that the author’s addressed the intersections of disability and gender, highlighting how his opponents emphasized Roosevelt’s disability to present him as not masculine and, therefore, clearly unfit to be president. I also liked that the authors didn’t resort to simplistic narratives of progress and acknowledged, as Susan pointed out, that in some respects disability is even more disabling today. In considering the author’s gendered analysis and the extent to which the media scrupulously speculated on his body and health, I couldn’t help but think of the way female politicians are similarly scrutinized in the media today through highly gendered rhetoric surrounding, for instance, their appearance, attire, and disposition.
With regard to the question of why Roosevelt took such pains to conceal his disability in spite of widespread yet largely unspoken public awareness of it, I was wondering how much of this might have had to do with global politics. Specifically, I was thinking that maybe one reason it was important to the American public that Roosevelt portray himself as able-bodied had to do with the United States’ global image and a desire to present a strong national image internationally, particularly in the midst of the Depression. This is, of course, just speculation, but I think it would have been interesting if the authors had explored how international politics might have factored into FDR’s deception and the American public’s reception of it.
One thing I would have liked to see brought into the book was a stronger analysis of racial politics at the time, and the way in which intersections of race, gender, and ability played out in the political arena. For instance, the authors point out that “Roosevelt positioned himself as […] the champion of average citizens, who were the real sufferers of the depression” (p. 78). However, the New Deal was highly discriminatory legislation that disproportionately provided economic relief to white Americans, and I think it would have added a lot to the book to think about how the image FDR so meticulously portrayed to the public may or may not have spoken differently to U.S. citizens along racial lines.
On the whole, Houcke and Kiewe’s book made me think about rhetoric and metaphor in politics far more than I had previously considered, particularly the way in which discourses of sickness and health are employed to frame political issues in ways that can reify ableism. I will definitely be more attuned to metaphor surrounding dis/ability in political rhetoric in the future.