Susan Dunn: When Partisans Became Partners

Roundup: Historians' Take

Susan Dunn is a professor of arts and humanities at Williams College and the author of the forthcoming book “1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler — The Election Amid the Storm.”

“YOU know, he is a very good fellow,” the president said to his labor secretary after meeting in the White House with the election rival he had just trounced. “He has lots of talent. I want to use him somehow. I want to offer him an important post in the government. Can you think of one?”

No, those weren’t President Obama’s words after meeting Mitt Romney for lunch at the White House on Thursday. They were Franklin D. Roosevelt’s about Wendell Willkie, whom Roosevelt defeated in the 1940 election. And the sentiment led to a legendary partnership.

Mr. Obama has extended conciliatory words to Mr. Romney, but where will it lead? Will this president welcome the counsel and assistance of a man who, for months, pounded his philosophy and policies? Can the defeated candidate see past his pain and withstand predictable criticism from divisive figures in his own party to cooperate with Mr. Obama?

With the country on the brink of the “fiscal cliff” and yearning for longer-term unity, the two men’s coming together might be an excellent outcome. And each would have a ready role model in the partnership that blossomed seven decades ago....

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