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When Franklin Roosevelt was accused of being a traitor to his own privileged class, he jauntily replied: “I welcome their hatred.”
He would feel right at home today, then, for FDR-haters are on the prowl once again, now led by right-wing think tanks and talk-show yackers who are busy rewriting history to belittle the achievements of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Their real target is Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan, which is largely modeled on the New Deal approach of government spending for roads, schools, parks, conservation, and other public works, putting millions of people to work on jobs that need doing.
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The official line of these naysaying popinjays was laid down last fall by the far-right-wing Heritage Foundation, which asserted that the New Deal was a failure. Yes, parroted Fox News pundit Monica Crowley, who blathered that the failure is proven by “all kinds of studies.” Her Fox colleague Gregg Jarrett dutifully echoed her insight by saying, “I think historians pretty much agree on that.”
Uh… no, they don’t. Indeed, they pretty much agree that millions of families were saved back then by the New Deal’s public works programs, and that many millions more continue to benefit today from the work that those people produced.
The chief shortcoming of FDR’s public spending approach is that he didn’t do enough of it. After winning a smashing re-election bid in 1936, largely based on the popularity of his New Deal, Roosevelt gave in to Wall Street interests who were demanding a cut back in federal spending. The result was a relapse into recession in 1937, a return to double-digit unemployment, and a rejection of Democrats in the 1938 congressional elections.
Likewise, 2009 is no time for timid steps. The challenge for Obama – and for our country – is to stand firm against the ideological naysayers and to be even bolder than FDR.
“Republicans’ Latest Talking Point: The New Deal Failed,” The New York Times, January 12, 2009.
“Franklin Delano Obama?” www.nytimes.com, November 10, 2008.
“New Deal economics,” www.nytimes.com, November 8, 2008.
“Heritage Foundations Compares New Deal To Nazi-Soviet ‘Collectivism’,” www.thinkprogress.org, October 28, 2008.
“Political Animal,” www.washingtonmonthly.com, November 24, 2008.