Study Guide

First Fireside Chat Compare and Contrast

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • "Outlining the New Deal Program" (May 7th, 1933, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt)

    Two months after FDR first talked to the nation over the radio in "First Fireside Chat," he returned to the airwaves for round two. Continuing with the trend of extremely boring speech names ("First Fireside Chat" is actually called "On The Bank Crisis"—yawn), "Outling the New Deal Program" was a longer radio speech by the president, given in the same manner and style as "First Fireside Chat."

    Roosevelt references his first radio address at the beginning of this one, and then barrels ahead into his gigantic plan to save the country, which came to be called the "New Deal."

    …which is definitely the catchiest-sounding economic recovery program ever.

    How do these radio speeches compare? To start with, they both address the country's woes in the Great Depression, although they do focus on different aspects. They are also written and spoken in a relatively similar manner, with an emphasis on a straightforward, clear, calming message. Roosevelt takes complex issues and transparently breaks them down for the public, explaining what the government is doing and how it's going to help.

    But that's just about where the similarities end.

    "First Fireside Chat" was almost exclusively focused on the banking system and getting cash back into people's hands, whereas the second chat cast a far wider net. FDR outlined major changes to employment opportunities, prohibition laws, government subsidies programs, and more. In fact, banks and the banking system are hardly mentioned at all in the second chat, as the focus is on getting people back to work.

    Roosevelt's second speech is almost twice as long as the first, and although he sticks with the straightforward approach, the topics get a bit more complex and, well, government-y. He gets into more specifics about the new programs that might lose a few listeners…but probably not the ones that we eager to get back out and start bring home that sweet, sweet bacon.

  • "Message on the Economy" (November 5th, 1929, by President Herbert Hoover)

    Herbert Hoover was president right before Roosevelt, and the Crash of 1929 and beginning of the Great Depression happened on his watch. Yeah; this little kerfuffle didn't exactly earn him a lot of friends.

    It's interesting to compare Hoover's discussions with the public to FDR's, both in terms of content and tone. Roosevelt gets a reputation for excellent public speaking with his fireside chats, but how much of that has to do with comparisons to the previous president?

    The answer: a wee bit.

    Take Hoover's first line in this "Message on the Economy" given at a press conference:

    "I thought perhaps you might like that I discuss the business situation with you just a little…"

    He's talking to the press and not the whole nation through the radio, but you can already tell that his tone is similar to Roosevelt's in the fireside chats. He's conversational, and not particularly aloof. He goes on to talk about over-speculation, which FDR does as well in "First Fireside Chat" (remember, speculation is gambling on whether the economy will go up or down).

    Hoover also talks about the Federal Reserve's role in the depression (a large part of "First Fireside Chat" as well), and the effect of the economic downturn on the psychology of the people. Keeping in mind that this speech was given in 1929—as the Great Depression was just starting—and Hoover is understandably optimistic.

    He ends his speech saying, "We have gone through a crisis in the stock market, but for the first time in history the crisis has been isolated to the stock market itself." Yeah, sorry Hoover but that's going to prove to be false. As evidenced in FDR's "First Fireside Chat," the economic crisis hits far more of the nation than just the stock market.

  • "Statement on the Economy" (November 19th, 1929, by President Herbert Hoover)

    Not to be confused with "Message on the Economy," Hoover's "Statement on the Economy" (who was in charge of giving these speeches such exciting names?!) comes two weeks later and has a much different tone than his first talk.

    This statement is very useful and relevant to compare with FDR's "First Fireside Chat" (which comes a bit over three years later). Check out President Hoover's tone, completely void of confidence:

    "We are dealing here with a psychological situation to a very considerable degree. It is a question of fear." (Source)

    Dang. That's quite a change from the confidence in "Message on the Economy" two weeks earlier.

    This statement, given at a press conference, could be compared to Roosevelt's later line "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" (1933). Hoover knows the economy is in a bad spot…and that it's getting worse. He just doesn't have much of a bedside manner about it—in fact, the phrase "It is a question of fear" makes us want to completely freak out.

    But any economist will tell you that the primary catalyst for an economic recession or depression is fear. Fear leads to people hoarding their cold, hard, cash, which is terrible for the country (as FDR has told us in his fireside chat). One of FDR's primary goals in "First Fireside Chat" was to address that fear, calm the public, and reassure them of progress and hope.

  • "Address on the Program for Economic Recovery" (April 28th, 1981, by President Ronald Reagan)

    About fifty years after FDR did his best to deal with the country's economic depression, America went through another one.

    It's true: history really does repeat itself.

    It wasn't as severe as the Great Depression (phew), but it did affect many people and brought back memories of fear. Ronald Reagan was president during this time, and in this presidential address he speaks about the economic problem just like Roosevelt did half a century earlier.

    Let's compare first lines—because, as you've seen in FDR's "First Fireside Chat," starting on a friendly note is super-effective. Reagan starts out by saying,

    "I have come to speak to you tonight about our economic recovery program and why I believe it's essential that the Congress approve this package, which I believe will lift the crushing burden of inflation off of our citizens and restore the vitality to our economy and our industrial machine." (Source)

    Dang. That's a mouthful.

    At first glance, FDR's start seems more effective, with a simple "My friends" (1). Reagan's seems more formal and presidential, less friendly. However to be fair, Reagan was recovering from a recent assassination attempt and he goes on in his speech to speak of compassion in America, thanking the people for their support, and reading a letter by a second grader which had the effect of making people laugh and probably tear up.

    So maybe Reagan did take a few notes of FDR's personal speech style after all.

    The focus of Reagan's talk is on the economy, just like FDR's "First Fireside Chat." Similar to FDR, Reagan focuses on building the public's confidence, explaining what the government has been doing to help, and why the plan is going to succeed. He references bipartisan action in Congress (just like FDR does), and he compliments the government on being open and having mutual respect (just like FDR does).

    Basically, Reagan gets his FDR on in a big way, as he pushes cooperation and trust. He says,

    "All we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now."

    Yeah. That speech ends on a more conversational (and way more FDR-styled) note than it began…and we're pretty sure that's a good thing.

  • "Inaugural Address" (January 20th, 2009, by President Barack Obama)

    Let's complete our comparison of "First Fireside Chat" to other presidential speeches with something quite close to us today. President Obama took office in 2009, right as America was suffering the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. (Source)

    How do you know it was so bad? Well, they dubbed it the Great Recession.

    President Obama discusses the economic problems in his inaugural address (always a president's first formal speech to the nation). So the context is different than a fireside chat—even though FDR's "First Fireside Chat" was a mere eight days into his presidency.

    Obama starts out pretty formally, saying,

    "I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors." (Source)

    It's a little more flowery than "My friends," but it's still a powerful line that gives a nod to the American people. Bonus: it reaches out for a connection through the use of the word "humbled."

    As you probably know from plowing through "First Fireside Chat," economic problems get worse with fear and better with confidence. FDR and Reagan both commented on the power of those forces and—no surprise here—Obama does the same:

    "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

    He even references that same recovery option that FDR used in the New Deal:

    "The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges…"

    Roosevelt's recovery plan included boosting construction and infrastructure jobs, so it looks like Obama did his history research. (A+, Obama.)

    Lastly, Obama ends his speech in a similar was as Roosevelt, with a message of hope and determination. He references George Washington's troops at Valley Forge and how they gritted their teeth to get through the hopeless winter and conquer their enemy. Obama says,

    "[…] with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end […]"

    Note to future presidents: it's probably smart to follow in the footsteps of these presidents (FDR, Reagan, Obama, and many others) and end your speeches with a nod to the past and an eye to the future. Because that's a combination that really hits a one-two punch of inspirational.