by Walter Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
January 19, 2009
FROM THE HUDSON TO THE POTOMAC, COURAGE AND HOPE FOR A DEPRESSED NATION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Why do conservatives still hate President Franklin D. Roosevelt? Why have three generations of right-wingers attacked his accomplishments? It's because FDR stood up to the most concentrated and vicious attacks by the men he called "economic royalists," and came out on top nearly every time.
On the night of Oct. 31, 1936, on the eve of his re-election to a second term, FDR stood in Madison Square Garden in New York and laid down the gauntlet to his enemies.
"We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob," he said. "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred."
President-elect Barack Obama is facing the descendants of Roosevelt's economic royalists as his Administration tries to put together a relief package to deal with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. And one of the tactics that the apologists for today's economic royalists are using is to go after Obama's plans by discrediting FDR.
You hear them on the television and the radio and read their words in the newspapers and the magazines. They say Roosevelt's policies prolonged the Great Depression. They say that the nation would've been better off if the free market was left to its own devices. They say that government should not interfere in the economy, and that what most people consider the great successes of FDR's New Deal actually did more harm than good.
But what the foes of spending money on public needs are really saying is this: We need to discredit Roosevelt and the New Deal because if the Obama Administration can duplicate FDR's work, there won't be another Republican president for 20 years. After all, it took until 1952 before Dwight D. Eisenhower broke two decades of Democratic control of the White House.
Any objective and careful reading of the history of the New Deal shows that FDR's policies made a substantial difference in the lives of tens of millions of Americans. If there was one great failing of Roosevelt's New Deal, it was that he gave in to his critics pushing for budget balancing when the proper course was to continue deficit spending to stimulate the economy. That accounts for the sharp decline in the economy between 1937 and 1940, a decline that ended once public spending was greatly increased again, this time, to mobilize to fight World War II.
That is the lesson that economists take away from the New Deal - that to give the economy a sufficient boost to generate self-sustaining growth, you have to be prepared to spend lots of money.
The reflexive opposition of government spending by conservatives, however, only applies to spending for the public good. More money for the military is always welcome. More tax breaks and corporate welfare are always welcome. More sweetheart deals for politically-connected firms are always welcome. It's just the money spent on things like health care, education, public infrastructure or social welfare that they oppose.
That's the difference between the unnecessary and destructive deficits of the Bush Administration that paid for tax cuts for the wealthy and a needless war in Iraq, and the deficits that will be necessary for the proposed programs of the Obama Administration for things we actually need.
Money is needed to repair roads, bridges and our rail system. Money is needed to repair schools and other public buildings. Money is needed for increased food stamps, unemployment insurance and Medicaid benefits for those who are out of work.
Our nation is at a crossroads. We can continue to follow down the path of the free market fundamentalists who created the current economic crisis - the same people who shamelessly sought and accepted bailout money for their banks and brokerages - or we can create an economy that again benefits the greater good.
Certainly, the Obama Administration stimulus plan should be carefully reviewed. The urge to fill any plan with wasteful pork barrel spending needs to be resisted. And any spending needs to be safeguarded from corruption and political gamesmanship. These should not be excuses for needlessly delaying the plan, although conservative Republicans and their Democratic allies will certainly use them.
Most Americans don't care who might gain political advantage from an economic stimulus package. They only care that something is done, and done soon, to help pull the nation out of this recession.
"There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy," Roosevelt said in his 1941 State of the Union address. "The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all. The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living. These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world."
However, these are the things that conservatives have worked to take away from Americans over the past three decades. They look Obama and see someone who may end the coddling of the wealthy and corporations and once again use government to improve the lives of all Americans.
So the next time you hear a conservative pundit or politician attack President Roosevelt and the New Deal, remember why they are doing so. It is not out of fear that President Obama will fail. They are doing it because they are afraid Obama will succeed.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.