March 24

Blog #32 – Was the New Deal too radical?

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.  


Father Coughlin and Huey Long:

Liberty League