On p. 799, the textbook gives us an analysis of the New Deal and how historians have evaluated FDR’s program.
1. Some historians feel that a reform movement like the New Deal would have happened whether there was a depression or not. This is because of the cycles of reform that America has endured throughout its history. A new reform movement would have tried to address the huge gap between rich and poor, the strong grip that business had on the American government, and the abuses of the stock market. Stronger measures were needed than what was done during the Progressive Era (1900-1915).
2. Contemporary historians who wrote during the 1940s – 1960s believed that the New Deal was a “revolutionary response to a revolutionary situation” and that only World War II was able to pull the country out of the Depression. FDR broke from the laissez-faire government tradition and pushed reforms through a Democratic Congress to reform America. Except for a few historians who called the New Deal “socialistic”, most historians praised the program and its accomplishments.
3. Leftist historians felt that FDR didn’t go far enough to redistribute the wealth of the nation, improve race relations, and control giant corporations and their power. For the most part, FDR left big businesses relatively alone in order to transform a “corrupt capitalist order.” It appears that leftist historians would have been happier if FDR has presided over a more socialist government and economy with some central planning. Businessmen had vilified FDR because of the effects that the New Deal had on American business – seeing him as a traitor to “his class,” essentially, that he’s rich and he’s not taking care of the wealthy interests in the country.
4. Historians in the last 40 years, including the authors of our textbook, felt that FDR acted within the American political and economic system to fix the country. When FDR overreached with the Supreme Court and tried to add 6 new Supreme Court justices after they had overturned the AAA and the NRA in 1935, public opinion and Republican Congressmen pushed back to foil his plans. Afterwards, laws were written by Congress that had to conform to existing political traditions – like the Wagner Act, the Social Security Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Americans saw that something was very wrong, and that they wanted “to reform capitalism, not overthrow it.” A sign that these laws have worked has been their longevity. New Deal / FDR historian William Luechtenburg has called this time period a “half-way revolution,” neither radical or conservative, but somewhere in between that reflected what the American people wanted.
Your job: which assessment do you agree with and why? Try to keep in mind that we should judge the New Deal from the time period and not from our time period. Was the New Deal radical, too radical or not radical enough?
Use examples from the textbook, notes, and films we’ve watched.
250 words minimum response. Due Tuesday 3/26 by class.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933, he was under tremendous pressure to do something about the horrific economic conditions that plagued
the nation. He and the Brain Trust, his group of young, economic advisers, had planned to tackle the worst depression in American history in a variety of ways. As our textbook called it, there were the 3 Rs: relief, recovery, and reform. And with any type of change, one knows that someone will be displeased. So FDR heard it from all sides on both the left and the right.
One of FDR’s critics, Huey Long, said that the New Deal went too easy on the corporate and banking interests. Long may have turned against Roosevelt when Long did not win a Cabinet post or other executive branch job even though Long was already a U.S. Senator from Louisiana in 1933. As you’ve read, Long’s “Share the Wealth” plan was extremely popular with the poor because of its generosity (at the expense of America’s rich). Louisiana was one of the poorest states in the nation at that time and could benefit greatly from Long’s plan. The socialist way that Long planned to pay for his plan threatened many wealthy, and a number who were familiar with him openly wished for his assassination. They got their wish in 1935, but it’s unclear how much popularity he could have gained if Long chose to run for president the next year.
Another critic came from our neck of the woods: Charles Coughlin of the Shrine of the Little Flower Church (@ 12 Mile and Woodward). Father Coughlin rallied also for the poor and blasted President Hoover for not doing enough. This criticism initially cost him his radio license in 1931, but with small donations from supporters all around the country, he was able to continue broadcasting. Initially supportive of FDR’s New Deal because the country went off the gold standard (Coughlin, like Long, also saw corporate and wealthy interests as the cause of the Depression) , the priest also turned on the president for not going fast enough. Coughlin’s newspaper, Social Justice, called for many radical reforms and criticized the New Deal as not having gone far enough to alleviate suffering.
Here’s Glenn Beck comparing himself to Father Coughlin (in a rather ironic manner) while slamming “social justice,” his own code word for progressive groups who advocate helping the poor.
Coughlin was so angry with FDR that he formed a 3rd party, the Union Party, to run a candidate against the President in 1936, and even promised to go off the air if his candidate did not get at least 9 million votes! Well, Coughlin’s candidate, William Lemke, got less than a million and Coughlin followed through with his promise, but only for a short time.
“The great betrayer and liar, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised to drive the money changers from the temple, had succeeded [only] in driving the farmers from their homesteads and the citizens from their homes in the cities. . . I ask you to purge the man who claims to be a Democrat, from the Democratic Party, and I mean Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt.” Father Charles Coughlin
After coming back on in the air in 1937, Coughlin spouted even more radical views, calling this time the “darkest days since the assassination of Christ” and added his own anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He cast FDR as a dictator and the New Deal was a Communist conspiracy. Coughlin even expressed sympathy towards the Fascist regimes in Europe (which would eventually get him censored and kicked off the air for good in 1942). As Coughlin drifted into more radical territory, he lost most of his audience as well and the funds to continue broadcasting dried up.
On the right, criticism came from the Republican Party (as expected from the minority party) and also from a star-studded group of individuals who feared that America was going off the gold standard. The Liberty League included former presidential candidates Alfred Smith and John W. Davis as well as GM executives Alfred P. Sloan, jr. and Jouett Shouse. Official LL statements criticized planned, socialist economies (like the NRA and AAA programs were doing), and it spent $1.2 million on politicians running against New Deal Democrats in 1934 and 1936, including Republican governor Alf Landon. The author of Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the Radical Right, Sally Denton, even claimed that members of the Liberty League tried to influence a retired general to lead a large group of Bonus Army veterans to overthrow FDR in 1934 (much like Hitler tried to do with the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and exactly how Mussolini took power in 1922). Luckily for FDR, the retired general refused to be used as a tool of the Liberty League.
So, some ideas for you to consider when answering the blog question:
– even our textbook states that the New Deal didn’t end the Depression, the war did;
– why was there still so much unemployment throughout the ND?;
– the country was going from a laissez-faire style government under the past 12 years of Republican rule to an activist government under FDR, the peoples’ psychological adjustment to this had to be tough;
– desperate people are willing sometimes to try anything, including demagogues like Coughlin and Long;
– FDR was still dedicated to balancing the budget in 1937, and when he cut back on some of the spending / jobs program, the country slipped into the “Roosevelt Recession” by 1938;
– New Deal programs didn’t benefit everyone, especially black and Latino Americans b/c much of the relief was passed out at the state level where prejudices still ran deep.
Your question: Was the New Deal too radical to solve America’s economic problems? Or wasn’t it radical enough to fix the broken economy? Why?
300 words total, due Tuesday, March 27 by class time.
The main thing that I want to address is the New Deal and its legacy – how Americans changed their views about government, from being laissez-faire about many things (including help during tough economic times to regulating businesses) to lending a helping hand and keeping big business under control/ intruding in private lives and hindering businesses.
The reason I wrote this new outlook as two different things is b/c there has been a on-going fight ever since the New Deal began in 1933 (and probably even before that if you want to go back as far as the Progressive Era) as to how much power the federal, state and local governments should have. Teddy Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson all increased the power of the federal government with their anti-trust lawsuits, union and worker protections, business regulations, progressive income tax, and political reforms. Harding, Coolidge and to a much lesser extent Hoover (along with the Supreme Court at the time) worked to lessen the power of the federal government or return it back to the laissez-faire times of the late 19th Century. As we know, Treasury Secretary Mellon decreased taxes on the rich, banks and stock market trading were unregulated, farmers floundered in an economic depression during the 1920s, and people had to rely on private charities, etc. for relief when they were hungry or out of work. “Hoover’s belief in the power of volunteerism and reliance on the “wisdom of the market” simply didn’t work.”
Since the 1930s, there has been a constant struggle over how much control the government will have over businesses and wages with regulation, and how big the size of the social programs will be that are created to be used as a safety net for the poor.
Starting with FDR’s New Deal programs that limited insider trading with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to the Fair Labor Standards Act which set a national minimum wage at 25 cents an hour, to the Wagner Act which for the first time ever in American history guaranteed union rights and created a commission to examine unfair labor practices, to the Social Security Act which created 1.) an old-age pension; 2.) unemployment insurance; 3.) disability insurance for those who can’t work, the size and scope of the American government ballooned like never before.
Yet, FDR’s critics felt that either he wasn’t doing enough to help the poor (like Upton Sinclair, Huey Long, and others) or that the President was a traitor to his upbringing or upper class (literally the title of a book, Traitor to His Class by H.W. Brands) like the Liberty League. Many of FDR’s strongest and most vocal critics have lately been champions of the free market or deregulation, laissez-faire business policies, cut taxes on the rich, and reducing or destroying the “American welfare state.” They accuse FDR’s New Dealers as having Socialist ties or taking their inspiration from Soviet Russia (he had 2), and also opposed President Johnson’s expansion of the New Deal in his Great Society programs like Medicare, food stamps, the creation of PBS and NPR, Head Start education programs, and other government programs created in the 1960s.
During the past 30 years or so, especially since the election of President Reagan, some New Deal and Great Society programs have been reduced or dismantled. During the 1980 campaign, Reagan campaigned against big government and promised to reduce the size of it “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government IS the problem” – Reagan’s inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1981. With the size of the government increasing, we were at risk of losing our liberties, something that former president Hoover warned about in his 1934 book, A Challenge to Liberty. A quote from the book:
“We have to determine,” Hoover wrote with surprising heat, “whether under the pressure of the hour, we must cripple or abandon the heritage of liberty for some new philosophy which must mark the passing of freedom.”
Welfare was reduced by a Republican Congress and a centrist Democratic president, Bill Clinton in 1995. President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005 by allowing younger workers to invest small portions in the stock market, but that idea was shot down. And currently, the Republican House wants to cut funding for social welfare programs.
On the other hand, President Obama and the 2010 Democratic Congress expanded the size and cost of the government dramatically by creating a health insurance program for all Americans who might need it (something President Clinton attempted in 1993 but failed). Also, President Bush and the Republican Congress of 2005 expanded prescription drug coverage for seniors.
And, though President Reagan railed against the size of the government, he along with Congress added $3 trillion to the National Debt during his 2 terms in office, mainly from tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending.
So, what gives? Is this New Deal legacy just about Republicans vs. Democrats? Or is it about who has the power in government? When the government creates spending programs, sometimes these programs don’t just help out the poor and needy; they help out the middle-class and wealthy too (who soon become dependent on the government $$). Maybe President Hoover was right about the government not giving handouts to anybody – people or businesses.
And if government leaves businesses and banks alone in a free-market atmosphere, what keeps them from bankrupting the system like they did in 2008? How can we trust businesses to be honest when we have seen a legacy of greed and corruption in the past few decades?
My questions: Where is there a perfect balance between government taxing and spending and regulation? Explain. Is a perfect balance even possible? Why or why not?