[Marxism] New Deal?
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 9 11:55:11 MST 2005
Myth of Benevolent Roosevelt Democrats:
The Real Deal on the New Deal
by Andrew Pollack
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina some Democratic Party politicians and
even conservative newspapers like the New York Daily News were calling for
a new New Deal to deal with the destruction wrought, and with the
broader social problems exposed in its wake.
Some pundits even claimed the reaction against Bushs apathy toward Gulf
residents needs would help shift the countrys politics back to the left.
For instance the Nations William Greider predicted that [t]he
is one of those big moments that jolt public consciousness and
alter the course of national history. He predicted a dramatic breakdown
for the reigning right-wing orthodoxy, the beginning of its retreat and
eventual demise. Greider took as good coin the rhetoric of Democrats who
are doing what they havent dared to do for many years, even decades: They
are invoking their New Deal legacy and applying its liberal operating
assumptions to the present crisis
only the federal government has the
resources and authority to lead such a complex undertaking.
For most working people the phrase New Deal, based on the commonly
accepted mythology of what happened in the early years of Franklin Delano
Roosevelts administration, conjures up welcome pictures of public works
jobs for all who needed them, of gigantic public works projects rebuilding
old institutions and building brand new ones, of government concern for the
down and out. Those Democratic Party politicians who were throwing around
Rooseveltian rhetoric may even believe this mythology. But the rebuilding
packages they put forward fall far short of what FDR was alleged to have
achieved, and are instead more in synch with todays bipartisan consensus
that the market is a cure-all for whatever ails you.
The more astute Democratic politicians, however, know precisely the limits
of the New Deal and in some ways their miserly proposals more accurately
match the overall picture of Roosevelt administration policy.
Barely a month after Katrina even the few Democrats who had early on
engaged in New Deal-style rhetoric had largely fallen mute, and by
mid-October the New York Times could report that Republicans were once
again pressing their plans to save the Gulf and the economy as a whole with
even more tax cuts for the corporations and the rich. Weve had a stunning
reversal in just a few weeks, said Robert Greenstein of the liberal Center
on Budget and Policy Priorities. Weve gone from a situation in which we
might have a long-overdue debate on deep poverty to the possibility,
perhaps even the likelihood, that low-income people will be asked to bear
the costs. I would find it unimaginable if it wasnt actually happening.
But the inability, in fact the unwillingness, of the Democratic Party to
take its own rhetoric seriously made this turn of events predictable. In a
future article well go into the nature of todays Democratic Party. But
for historical context lets take a look at the reality behind the New Deal
What Really Happened
FDR used the phrase New Deal in his 1932 campaign, but the main theme of
his thoroughly mainstream platform was cutting the deficit. His secretary
of labor, Frances Perkins, later said it was only a happy phrase to make
people feel better.
The very first task undertaken by Roosevelt upon taking office was saving
the countrys banks, which had shut down the day of his inauguration. The
motivations and machinations of FDRs banking experts are well-described by
one of his most ardent supporters, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in
the second volume of his three-volume tribute, The Age of Roosevelt.
Schlesinger quotes FDR aide Raymond Moley to the effect that those working
on the emergency banking legislation had forgotten to be Republicans or
Democrats. We were just a bunch of men trying to save the banking system.
And by saving the system they meant consolidating the hold of the biggest
At a time when even some liberal members of Congress pleaded with Roosevelt
to establish a national banking system, Roosevelts reply was: That isnt
necessary at all. Ive just had every assurance of cooperation from the
bankers. Concludes Schlesinger, the very moneychangers, whose flight from
their high seats in the temple the President had so grandiloquently
proclaimed in his inaugural address, were now swarming through the
corridors of the Treasury. And they were there to help Roosevelts
advisers craft the new bills, which would tighten their grip on the
nations banks (much as the big energy companies worked in the White House
to help Dick Cheney craft Bushs energy bill.) The result, says Moley, of
FDRs conservative policies, was that capitalism was saved in eight days.
Yet Schlesinger also cites Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico, who wrote
years later: The nationalization of banks by President Roosevelt could
have been accomplished without a word of protest. It [not doing so] was
President Roosevelts great mistake.
FDR himself testified to his motivations in this and subsequent policy
decisions: No one in the United States believes more firmly than I in the
system of private business, private property and private profit. No
Administration in the history of our country has done more for it. It was
this Administration which dragged it back out of the pit into which it had
fallen in 1933. He even put his finger on the real value of liberals to
the system: the most serious threat to our institutions comes from those
who refuse to face the need for change. Liberalism becomes the protection
for the far-sighted conservative.
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