This decision reveals one of Roosevelt’s most central character traits – his consistent pragmatism.
According to Brands, Roosevelt repeatedly gave ground or compromised on short-term specific issues but did so as a means of keeping control over the broader, more fundamental questions. As World War II grew closer, Brands shows that Roosevelt compromised repeatedly with the isolationists (much to the dismay of Winston Churchill) even as he slowly and steadily prepared the nation for the conflict. Sometimes, this pragmatism makes him seem small. For example, while he abhorred lynching, he repeatedly refused to endorse federal legislation to ban it for fear of angering conservative Democratic senators from the South.
He was deliberate – he rarely made decisions that he had not carefully thought through. And he had a strong preference for making decisions by consensus, even if it dramatically complicated the task at hand. Brands writes, “[C]onsensus suited Roosevelt perfectly. He had always preferred to persuade, cajole, and manipulate people rather than to browbeat or intimidate them. His approach had worked with the diverse domestic fashions that came together behind the New Deal: Roosevelt assumed it would work with the oddly matched international coalition that was fighting the axis.... But it drove his advisers to distraction.”
More than other biographers, Brands convincingly shows that Roosevelt was a careful student of executive leadership. He studied Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and watched Woodrow Wilson closely when he served as his assistant secretary of the Navy. Most notably, he watched Wilson navigate the complex diplomatic and political waters before the US entered World War I and he saw how Wilson’s unwillingness to compromise after the war sank US participation in the League of Nations.