Dismantling FDR’s Legacy

With Mitt Romney exposed as another disciple of Ayn Rand’s gospel of makers and takers, Election 2012 is shaping up as a test of whether the United States will embrace the laissez-faire Gilded Age or uphold the New Deal with its middle-class values. Will Franklin Roosevelt be honored or rejected, asks Beverly Bandler.

By Beverly Bandler

The Republican Party wants to undo the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and what is left of the New Deal. Many Republicans hated FDR when he was alive. They hate him still. They refuse to accept that he saved capitalism and that he genuinely believed that the government had a duty to serve 100 percent of the country’s citizens, not only the 53 percent, or the 2 percent or the 1 percent.

According to a recently leaked video, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a closed-door fundraiser in May that he thinks 47 percent of Americans are deadbeats who consider themselves “victims.” In doing so, Romney revealed that he stands with his party’s Social Darwinists and shares the worldview of fiction writer Ayn Rand.

As political scientist Alan Wolfe writes, that view “boils down to two propositions. One is that selfishness is the highest of moral virtues. The other is that the masses, above all resentful of success, are parasites living off the hard work of capitalists far superior to them in every way.”

This current Republican leadership believes the U.S. should return to the laissez-faire days of the 1920s when, in spite of the post-World War I boom, more than half of the country’s population was living below a minimum subsistence level and without any safety nets for the recurring economic crises.

The federal government did not intervene when the cycles of boom and bust ruined the lives of many Americans (including former Vice President Dick Cheney’s grandfather and great-grandfather).

Between the starting point of the Depression in late 1929 and the 1932 election of FDR, Republican President Herbert Hoover’s response was one of “dismal pessimism.” He appeared so overwhelmed by the Depression that one observer remarked, “If you put a rose in Hoover’s hand, it would wilt.”

Hoover held to the conventional wisdom of the day that the crisis would simply have to resolve itself and that the government had no responsibility to do anything about it.

As Lawrence Davidson writes: “In the 132 years between 1797 and 1929, there was no effective regulation of the U.S. economy. No federal agencies existed to control corruption, fraud and exploitation on the part of the business class. Even during the Civil War, economic management on a national level was minimal and war profiteering common.

“As a result the country experienced 33 major economic downturns which impacted roughly 60 of the years in question. These included 22 recessions, four depressions, and seven economic ‘panics’ (bank runs and failures). …

“The Great Depression was a real moment of truth for the capitalist West because it suggested to the open-minded that the free-market ideology was seriously flawed. Free-market practices had brought the economic system to the brink of collapse, and Russia’s newly triumphant communists represented serious competition.

“So the question that had to be answered was how best to modify the capitalist system so as to preserve the position of the ruling elite. It was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who came up with an answer, at least for the United States.

“Through a series of economic and social experiments he crafted the New Deal and promoted the notion of the welfare state … this was not socialism. In essence, the New Deal was capitalism with safety nets and subsidies…

“It has been 67 years since the end of WWII and during that time there have been 11 recessions impacting only 10 years of that time span. Most of these recessions have been mild affairs compared to the 33 that came prior to the onset of the Great Depression, and the welfare safety net has helped the hardest hit to survive. However, since the 1980s, the U.S. economy has become more unstable and some of the downturns more severe.”

The Great Recession that began in late 2007 follows Ronald Reagan’s deregulation fervor of the 1980s and fits more with the pattern of the pre-New Deal days. Now, the Republicans, in effect, want to impose a Herbert Hoover-style response to th ecurrent crisis by getting rid of President Barack Obama and electing Mitt Romney.

In the Republicans’ mythological age of the 1920s, there was great prosperity, which is true, but it was a prosperity that primarily benefited the rich. Wealth did not “trickle down” any better then than it has since the 1980s. In the 1920s in rural America, for example, nine out of every ten families lived without electricity.

The authoritarian and elitist Republicans don’t want Americans to know this history (particularly since the New Deal put the Democrats in power from 1933 until 1952 and the party was the dominant influence until 1968) or to know that GOP conservative policies helped create the Great Depression as they did the current Great Recession (admittedly, in the latter they had help from those Democrats who have forgotten history as well).

Republicans reject government intervention as a threat to “liberty.” They define “liberty” as the right for the powerful to get what they want, when they want, and how they want it with no restrictions. Today’s Republicans want a return to the rule of privilege. No questions asked; no accounting required.

The Democratic Party needs to remember this history and its lessons, lessons that are relevant to the 2012 election.

That history tells us that at a moment of great crisis eight decades ago, a man who could not walk led a crippled nation out of the Great Depression and then brought the United States to the threshold of victory in World War II.

In doing this, Roosevelt changed the federal government’s relationship to its people, creating a modern governing structure for a nation that soon would take the center of the world stage.

FDR’s New Deal saved capitalism from itself and laid the foundation for America’s Great Middle Class, which, in turn, drove the U.S. economy to unprecedented success and broad prosperity. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want Americans to know this.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. Bandler attended Sarah Lawrence College (‘59) and has a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Washington University (‘82). She writes from Mexico.

11 comments for “Dismantling FDR’s Legacy

  1. clarence swinney
    September 25, 2012 at 16:37



    Max Baucus—Chair Senate Finance Comm—70% poll for Public option–
    Bill hit his comm— first act—removed public option for debate
    shocked me—I trusted him. Zap. Report=he had $1,900,00 in his campaign kitty from health care industry..

    The millions spent by thousands of Lobbyists expect favors. Buy them.

    We need a Washington revolution and kick all out

    Obama lost me with Gay Marriage. Totally disgusted. I am in a position I trust no one in Washington. I know few are very good but $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ BUYS ANYONE

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ OUT OF GOVERNMENT—— QUICK

    NYT had superb article on Wall Street employees going into many many many government jobs in Congress and White House

    They left for a much lower paying job.
    Conclusion—Wall Street biggies are placing them in positions to make decisions for Wall Street.
    Pay under table or? Many have done this. Worked in Wash for few years then back to Wall street into a higher paying job

    This is sad sad. RULES MUST CHANGE

    NO $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ IN WASHINGTON

    NYT had article on Interconnectivity between Board Of Directors in WSA firms
    You vote for my pay+pension I vote for yours

    5 big banks own 50% of deposits in 7000 banks and 10 own 80%

    Restate Glass Steagall—separate Casinos from local banks

    County Banking Systems—local wealth kept local to create more local wealth and jobs
    WASHINGTON SOLUTIONS (Congress + White House)
    Requires overturning Corp is a person
    1. fed fund election—6 mos-3 primary 3 general—free equal tv time—debate a week=12=adequate to evaluate candidates NO $$ =O
    2. Since they will not need campaign funds Ban them from receiving anything of a financial value this closes K St.
    3. Progressive Flat Tax by group—We have the income to pay our way-do it
    We rank #2 as lowest taxed in OECD nations. We have an income of $14,00 billion yet tax

  2. clarence swinney
    September 25, 2012 at 12:01

    Top 1% grew 281% –1979-2007

    BOTTOM— 99%—–TOP 1%

  3. Otto Schiff
    September 22, 2012 at 16:33

    Presidents come and presidents go.
    Some things do not change.
    K St. and the best congress that money can buy.

  4. Otto Schiff
    September 22, 2012 at 16:18

    Just another Rehmat, with Jews on the small brain.

  5. September 22, 2012 at 01:13

    The sooner FDR’s statist legacy can be dismantled, the better. His and LBJ’s programs are putting intolerable strain on the econony – $100+trillion in unfunded liabilities may make us crash. Crashing the economy is not compassionate and will harm the poor – and there will be many more poor.

    • F. G. Sanford
      September 22, 2012 at 15:17

      Unfunded wars and failure to recoup tax revenue are the real causes. Carnivorous, unfettered capitalism and out-sourcing of jobs has dramatically reduced the taxable base. You know this, but continue with this straight-faced lie based on self-interest and thinly disguised hatred for minorities and the poor. People with your necrocratic attitude for America’s future should just dig up Herbert Hoover’s dead body and prop it up in the oval office behind the desk. Then, your government would be exactly what you propose in your comment above: brain-dead.

    • Beverly Bandler
      September 24, 2012 at 23:46

      Mr. Brown, I appreciate your interest in replying to my article, but there is no support for your claim that “FDR’s and LBJ’ programs are putting an intolerable strain on the economy.” First, you need to be specific as to which programs you refer. There aren’t many left at this point with the exception of Social Security (FDR) and Medicare (LBJ). As for the national debt, please understand that the primary sources of our debt is primarily from the Bush-era tax cuts and secondly from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As another commentator indicated, we don’t have an expenditure problem, we have a revenue problem. I see that you are a professional researcher in the literary field. May I suggest that you move beyond opinion–beyond “belief” and “myth” with regard to FDR and the New Deal and do some research into facts, economics and economic history.

  6. JonnyJames
    September 21, 2012 at 12:11

    Yes the R faction are full-blown sociopathic neo-fascists. The D faction are slicker, more sophisticated imperialist neo-fasists.

    Bill Clinton signed NAFTA, Commodities Futures Modernization Act, Federal Communications Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act and of course he gutted welfare.

    Despite the fact that most D loyalists consider Bill Clinton a hero, he has signed the most economically destructive legislation to date. He repealed Glass Steagall. Talk about dismantling FDRs legacy, Clinton has yet to be outdone.

    Gore Vidal was right, Alexander Cockburn was right, Howard Zinn was right.

    At least we can count on Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Paul Craig Roberts and others to give us a more thorough and comprehensive account of our BigMoney WinnerTakesAll, Corporate Media-orchestrated and managed “democracy”.

  7. Robert Schwartz
    September 21, 2012 at 09:08

    I find this curious in the wake of the current crop of Democrats. It was Bill Clinton that erected a marble monument to FDR even as he was dismantling the safety net of the New Deal, ending the era of “Big Government,” and “welfare as we now it.”

    And so, as Barack Obama mentions FDR in his acceptance speech, he does so only to cut the legs out from under him, so to speak:

    And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one. (Cheers, applause.)

    And by the way, those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.

    There you have it. Where FDR used the government tool bag, government programs, government as employer as last resort, Obama declares that government is not the answer.

    The article concludes:

    FDR’s New Deal saved capitalism from itself and laid the foundation for America’s Great Middle Class, which, in turn, drove the U.S. economy to unprecedented success and broad prosperity. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want Americans to know this.

    I would argue that the Safety Net was a far better monument to FDR than the marble edifice Clinton erected as he was dismantling it.

  8. MarkU
    September 21, 2012 at 02:52

    I really hate it when the un-meritocratic system of inherited wealth and privilege is described as ‘social Darwinism’. Darwinism (real Darwinism) is both egalitarian and meritocratic. The only things that creatures in the natural world get from their parents are the genes contained in their bodies and subsistence until they are mature enough to fend for themselves, after that they are on their own and have to compete on equal terms with their peers.

    By using the phrase ‘social Darwinism’ one is implying (falsely) that those born into money are somehow automatically deserving of being included in the ranks of the ‘fittest’ and that inherited wealth is somehow part of the natural order, it is not. A genuine meritocracy must have some reasonable equality of opportunity.

    Does anyone really believe that George W Bush became president of the most powerful country on the planet on personal merit?

  9. bobzz
    September 20, 2012 at 22:16

    This was also true of post WW II Germany. American industrialists had indigestion but had to swallow the Marshall Plan which pumped huge amounts of cash to restart their economy. We Americans think we acted altruistically with the Marshall Plan, but the truth is that Germany and Europe generally were leaning toward communism which was making huge inroads. I have yet to read the classical work on the Marshall Plan by Carolyn Eisenberg, Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-1949 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), but it is on the list. Naomi Klein has a discussion of this in her Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

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