FDR On The Modern Republican Party

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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46 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    This film footage of FDR has been on youtube for a while. I’ve seen it tossed about various progressive blogs and groups on the net. Sometimes sliced with Romney, sometimes as a standalone.

    The facebook group “Being Liberal” also uses FDR as their avatar.

    I agree with the video but I wonder if it also represents something broader in socio-political culture. Are (presumably) younger liberals trying to revive the mantle of Roosevelt and make him a counterforce to Saint Ronnie of the Right? I wonder. It could be an interesting tactic.

    I note the irony of someone with my username making the point 🙂 Or at least the semi-self serving nature. Hey I’m a trendsetter.Report

    • George Turner in reply to NewDealer says:

      Claiming the mantle of FDR poses some problems, because no President since FDR has had a worse economic record than FDR.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to George Turner says:

        FDR saved capitalism from itself. Every billionaire today should thank his lucky stars that FDR became President in ’32 and not somebody like Huey Long.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          :/ More like Lend-Lease gave the country something to do again. FDR fixed the economy the same way that Clinton fixed the deficit: By being President at a time of massive technological increase.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          FDR didn’t save capitalism, he just suspended it for almost two terms so companies could form cartels and arrest anyone who undercut their inflated prices. Of all the countries in the world, the US was hit hardest and longest by the Great Depression. In countries like Japan where they didn’t go nuts, it was just a momentary market hiccup.

          Democrats don’t like to look at most of FDR’s actual policies and results because they go, “Zoinks! What a moron! No wonder nobody in our party ever, ever suggests his XYZ policy anymore, and tries to pretend it never existed.”Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

            That’s a somewhat simplistic reading. I’ve said, echoing an old professor of mine, that FDR inoculated the USA with socialism to save capitalism. It worked, I believe.

            You really don’t want to argue that there were nations who emerged from the Depression faster than the USA. Those nations were all led by fascists and we know how they emerged. There’s one candidate on the stump now who is proposing large cuts to everything else and increasing military spending, as did the fascists of those times.Report

            • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Sorry, but that’s a history fail. Of all the nations on the entire planet, pretty much every single one emerged from the depression faster than the US, and skipped the whole Roosevelt generational soup kitchen mess. I would list them, but listing all the countries that aren’t named Italy, Spain, Germany, and Japan would be a waste of bandwidth.

              Roosevelt’s application of socialism vastly worsened and deepened the depression, setting up monopolies and cartels and making it illegal to sell things cheaper than cartel prices, while also making it illegal to expand production to increase efficiency, market share, and output. Roosevelt railed that the failure of capitalism was too much competition between businesses, which he tried to eliminate. That’s breathtakingly stupid, like claiming there’s too much freedom to write web applications, or too many ISPs, and dictating that all internet access must cost $250 a month and bandwidth increases are forbidden.

              Fortunately the Supreme Court struck down almost everything he did in those regards, ruling that government doesn’t have the power to set prices, freeze wages, or dictate union contracts, and that executive branch boards can’t refuse to enforce anti-monopoly, anti-cartel, and anti-price fixing laws. FDR refused to have them enforced anyway, but the court’s message got through.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

                George, you’re no slouch, but you know I’m right about Italy and Mussolini. Fascism was the sovereign cure for the Depression: it put government and the industrialists in complete control of the economy.Report

              • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Italy didn’t turn to fascism because of the Depression, it was already fascist during the roaring 20’s. It didn’t really have industrialists worthy of the name because it didn’t have much industry (Fiat? Come on.)

                It’s a mom-and-pop country, which is why Mussolini (who left the Italian Socialist Party because they didn’t make him the party leader) recast Marxism as a war between working class nations like Italy and exploitive Anglo-American capitalist countries, since class warfare doesn’t sell in a country where everyone works for their parents.

                Anyway, getting back to FDR, if you read how the left attacked him during the Depression you would think he was Dick Cheney, the Koch Brothers, and Ken Lay all rolled into one. FDR thought big industry wasn’t making enough profit and gave them monopoly powers to maintain high prices (which decreased demand), if in return they signed union contracts guaranteeing wages that couldn’t be justified based on output (which massively decreased employment).

                Faced with a money-supply issue (deflation), he thought prices were too low – too much stuff chasing too few dollars, so he reduced the production of stuff – which is a nation’s wealth and what people do for a living. It took until around 1940 for worker productivity to match the artificially high wages he’d set, at which point companies started hiring again, no longer losing money on every worker, and the Supreme Court had struck down his laws against factory expansion and giving people bargains.

                Interestingly, in every country that was hit with the depression, the party in power when it ended was given generational credit for ending it. FDR is just our random face-in-charge when it ended, but in making the depression so long and severe in the US he somehow got extra bonus points in the collective memory, like an extremely incompetent ship’s captain who gets worshipped by the passengers because the nightmare his string of idiotic decisions put them through made them really, really grateful to still be alive in the morning. (And then he gave them open bar and a 50%-off coupon for their next voyage, and they all went away raving about how he kept them off the rocks.)Report

              • wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

                George is correct FDR was a tyrant. That you personally prefer his particular brand of tyranny over fascism doesn’t make it any the less tyrannical. Chavez may not be a fascist but he is still a tyrant and FDR would recognize a kindred spirit even if liberals can’t see the connection.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I didn’t say the Depression led to Fascism. I said Fascism had a cure for the Depression. Italy was one of the first nations to emerge from the Depression because it was able to jigger all the books to its own ends, especially seizing ownership of the bank-owned companies.

                Italy wasn’t a mom and pop country. It was a country run by gangsters outright. Italy was a mess. Hence the expression used of Mussolini “he made the trains run on time.” As for Il Duce, he was a mishmash of all sorts of populist and nationalistic folderol. He invented the word Fascist. Much of what Mussolini put in place to deal with the Depression survived WW2.

                I’m not here to make excuses for FDR. I say he saved capitalism by regulating the banks and the markets. All this hooey about FDR the Tyrant, make of him what you will. I’m in no mood to tolerate stuff and nonsense about pretty much every other nation emerged from the depression faster than the US. It simply isn’t true. Those nations which emerged from the Depression first were fascist.Report

              • Cermet in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Are people here truily that crazy as to call FDR a Tyrant? Get a grip.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Cermet says:

                Well, Wardsmith isn’t crazy. George isn’t, either. They get sorta obstreperous. Sorta like old Goldwater, extremism in defence of liberty is no vice.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Cermet says:

                In a sense, it’s almost endearing. The old paleocons, still among us in modern times, like the coelacanth.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Cermet says:

                If it weren’t were FDR, the Germans would be running Europe today.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Cermet says:

                If it weren’t for Wilson they wouldn’t have started a war in the place.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Cermet says:

                People who get EITC need to become responsible for themselves, but the Nazis were all Woodrow Wilson’s fault.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Cermet says:

                Maybe if we had given Woodrow Wilson the EITC, we could have prevented a lot of harm from being done.

                So maybe when Obama talks about needing more money, we should listen.Report

              • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Hey, the mafia is definitely a mom and pop operation. That’s why they call it a family. ^_^

                The UK returned to their 1929 GDP level in 1933, about two years before Italy and Germany did and about seven years before the US. If we managed to slightly beat the performance of any other country, it would probably be Argentina, but they weren’t nearly as affected as the US. Economists have noted that countries seem to recover in the order that they let their currencies float, whereas Roosevelt went around collecting everybody’s personal gold, perhaps convinced that a non-toxic non-oxidizing metal was a danger to the public.

                Anyway, Mussolini split with the socialists in large part over their perceptions of WW-I. Mussolini saw it as an opportunity to ignite the proletarian revolution, whereas much of the rest of the Italian Socialist Party viewed it as the ruling class using the working class as cannon fodder.

                He became much less internationalist (he used to work in Switzerland as a communist agitator/propagandist) and picked up on the line of Marxist revisionist thought that said nationalism and mythological symbolism are very important to lead the masses (the Nazis made the same adaptation), and then recast Marx’s class struggle in nationalistic terms to win popular support. To more clearly define his new movement, he said it was a complete rejection of Marx and socialism (even though his only expertise was Marx and socialism).

                In simple terms, he soundly rejected Romulan and Ferengi theory and substituted Klingon philosophy, which means he was still an idiot at a Star Trek convention with no relation to real world capitalism. That disconnect creates enough confusion, but it’s doubly hard for scholars to pin him down because more than anything he was flaky. When he was writing for Populo d’Italia he enjoyed contradicting himself to keep the readers on their toes.

                It’s not unlikely that he really had no philosophy or political beliefs at all, except as he could churn them out to make himself look smart and in-charge and undercut his opponents. Based on his childhood and early adult behavior (stabbing people in school for no reason at all and laughing hysterically), his glib and superficial nature, and his inability to form close personal bonds, it’s safe to assume he was a sociopath conning his way through life.Report

        • James K in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          The important thing to understand about the New Deal is that it was not one policy, but many. Some of the New Deal policies (like breaking the Gold Standard) are generally accepted by economists as a good idea. Others (like attempting to raise prices and reduce competition) are generally accepted to be a bad idea. Others are more ambiguous.

          Still, George is right that there’s little to explain as far as the US’s economic recovery from the Great Depression goes. It took long enough that it may well have happened on it’s own, or even have been delayed by the New Deal on balance.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to NewDealer says:

      Are (presumably) younger liberals trying to revive the mantle of Roosevelt and make him a counterforce to Saint Ronnie of the Right?

      I’ll give my Japanese friends a heads-up.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    Actual “conservatives” stopped trying to repeal SSI and Medicare once those things became integrated into the culture. Someone who really wanted to eviscerate those things (not saying they don’t exist) really ought to have a different label at this point.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

      How about “malefactor of great wealth”?Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I agree but these are the words we have.

      I personally prefer calling them JacobinsReport

    • LWA (Lib W Attitude) in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The conservative movement still wants to relitigate the New Deal and Great Society, since the mere existance of Social Security, banking regulation, and Medicare is a rebuke to the market fundamentalism that has swallowed their party.

      What irritates them further is that Romney and Ryan have demonstrated that these programs are still so popular that they can only be destroyed by those who vehemently insist they want to preserve them.

      Finally they know that inside of a decade or two, Republican candidates will be putting forward proposals to “Save Obamacare” from those silly irresponsible Dems.Report

      • Roger in reply to LWA (Lib W Attitude) says:


        Love the new tag.

        First let me disagree. Market fundamentalism has not swallowed the republican party, though they do try to throw an occasional free market bone to the us crazies once in a while. Not enough to fool me though. To borrow/mangle a line from Elvis, “lip service is all we’ll ever get from them”

        Second. I totally agree with the last line. If Obamacare becomes embedded into society, regardless how bad it is for us, the Rebublicans will lobby on how they can save/reform it.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Someone who really wanted to eviscerate those things (not saying they don’t exist) really ought to have a different label at this point.

      Vanguard of the Conservetariat?Report

  3. Mark F. says:

    “The conservative movement still wants to relitigate the New Deal and Great Society, since the mere existance of Social Security, banking regulation, and Medicare is a rebuke to the market fundamentalism that has swallowed their party.”

    That’s why Ron Paul won the nomination! Oh wait…Report

    • LWA (Lib W Attitude) in reply to Mark F. says:

      Ron Paul- Old & Busted;
      Paul Ryan- New HotnessReport

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to LWA (Lib W Attitude) says:

        Bingo. Of course, you can’t say, “we have to eliminate Social Security and Medicare because they’re unconstitutional.”

        You have to say, “Social Security and Medicare are being driven to bankruptcy by inefficient government spending, so we need to turn these programs over to the fine folks at Charles Schwab and Cigna to run.” That way, you essentially destroy the programs in the long run and make some money for the people that fund your campaigns. Win-win!Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Mark F. says:

      Ron Paul? bububububu racism!!!Report

      • Rtod in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Yeah, that never gets old and hackneyed.Report

      • DRS in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Ron Paul should wear those newsletters around his neck until he finally tells the truth about them. A man who has so little regard for his own name that he willingly lets others use it for financial purposes is not a man to be trusted with high office.Report

        • Glyph in reply to DRS says:

          It’s worse than that – he willingly let others use it *to exploit racism by playing to the racists* for financial purposes.

          Or he was completely clueless (which I doubt).

          So either 1.) clueless, or 2.) deeply cynical and exploiting racism, or 3.) actually believes that racist crap – any of these options is a complete disqualifier.

          The man needs to fade away sooner rather than later.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Glyph says:

            What’s wrong with 2? Cynical exploitation is how you get elected under mass democracy. Given the choice between a cynic or a true believer who actually buys into the populist hogwash you have to say to get elected, I’ll take the cynic, please.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              2 is wrong because you are inflaming racist sentiment (remember, the newsletters peddled ‘race war’ nonsense) for financial gain. Even if you think that financial gain is needed for your preferred cause, it’s still wrong. And moreover, it is dangerous.

              Say you want to fund a worthy cause like, I don’t know, Toys for Tots. And the way you do that, is by sending newsletters to inner-city black folks, talking about how the CIA introduced crack into their neighborhoods. But donate to me, and we’ll buy those Tots some Toys, and show the Man that we won’t be kept down!

              Even if the Tots get their Toys, what you have done is peddle lies, for financial gain; and worse yet, the lies themselves are not harmless and may have dangerous consequences, as some people believe them and order their lives and actions around those lies.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to DRS says:

          He said it happened a long time ago, and then he said that he’d already answered that, and then he got mad because people keep bringing it up.

          What, you’re still not satisfied?Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I love how Rtod is dumping on my lampoon of the knee-jerk Ron Paul reaction and then the very next commentor actually does it.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Strom Thurmond? bububububu racism!!!Report