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Fear, Southern Democrats, and the New Deal

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FDR’s first inaugural was 80 years ago yesterday, and Ira Katznelson has a terrific book about the New Deal. My review is up at the Prospect:

The New Deal—which Katznelson argues should be seen as encompassing the period between the election of FDR in 1932 and the election of Eisenhower 20 years later—was, according to Fear Itself, conducted in the shadow of three major fears. First, there was the fear about whether democracy could survive the Great Depression as countries such as Germany, Italy, and Japan turned to authoritarian responses. Second, there was the fear protecting national security respresented, first by World War II and then by the Cold War and the atomic age. And third, and crucially, was the Southern fear that its system of white supremacy would not survive. The first two fears created an impetus for unprecedented federal action, but this federal action was, throughout the New Deal, shaped and constrained by the third fear.

[…]

One of the many virtues of this masterful book is that it rescues the tragedies and ironies of the New Deal from the facile “liberal fascism” taunts from the likes of Jonah Goldberg. American political institutions may have demanded a Faustian bargain in return for comprehensive Great Depression policies, but that does not discredit the progressive accomplishments of the New Deal. White supremacy constrained and shaped the New Deal because in the early 20th century American polity, white supremacy and the tolerance of white supremacy were nearly ubiquitous among political elites of all ideological stripes. From William Howard Taft’s disavowal of any interest in civil rights to the overwhelming Senate Republican opposition to allowing an anti-lynching bill to come up a vote to the conservative coalition that dominated Congress between 1938 and 1964, racism was hardly something that only affected the Democratic coalition. And it was economic progressives, not conservatives, who ultimately embraced civil rights under Lyndon Johnson.

Another of its virtues, as you have seen, is that it counteracts the Drew Westen view of the presidency that remains so common. FDR had a greater influence on the trajectory of American politics than it’s possible for any contemporary president to have, and yet his legislative initiatives succeeded when Southern Democrats in Congress supported the policy goals a priori and otherwise failed.

This is a very rich book, and I suspect I’ll be returning to it in a couple of follow up points. One point worth making right away that I didn’t have space for in my review is Katznelson’s very useful analysis of the role of labor politics in explaining the transformation of the Democratic coalition after 1938. One reason that Southern Democrats voted like liberal Democrats on economic policy at the beginning of the New Deal once the policies were pre-cleared to ensure that they didn’t threaten Jim Crow is the concentration of union strength in the North. Southern Democrats strongly supported the Wagner Act in large measure because most national unions were racially exclusionary and the Wagner Act excluded the agricultural and domestic work that still dominated the Southern political economy. Once the more racially egalitarian CIO became more powerful and wartime mobilization increased industrialization in the South, however, Southern Democrats became about as anti-union as conservative Republicans. I understand why Katznelson declares the New Deal over with the inauguration of Eisenhower, but one could also make a good case for seeing the end of the New Deal at the point at which Congress overrode Truman’s veto of Taft-Hartley.

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  • JKTHs

    I believe you mean 80 years ago.

  • I think I just heard Manju’s head explode.

    • JKTHs

      DW-NOMINATE…it…it…just doesn’t work.

      • Manju

        DW-NOMINATE…it…it…just doesn’t work.

        I not sure why you think that is. My guess is its this part of Scott’s post:

        Once the more racially egalitarian CIO became more powerful and wartime mobilization increased industrialization in the South, however, Southern Democrats became about as anti-union as conservative Republicans.

        This might be true (I haven’t looked into it). But DW-nominate covers every single roll call in Congress. Scott is using one issue. So, if they did indeed become as anti-union as conservative Republicans, you can’t extrapolate from there that they were as conservative on the other issues, ie that they were Conservatives full stop.

        That would be cherrypicking. After all, they were just about 50-50 on the War on Poverty, leaning slightly left.

    • Manju

      Actually, I do not take issue with Scott’s post. what I take issue with here are comments like this

      For Christ’s sake, the most relentless Cold Warriors and protectors of the rich lived in the South and were members of the Dem party.

      This is delusional. As a group, Southern Dems from the New Deal to the Civil Rights era did not occupy the extreme right wing ideological space. They occupied the middle (leaning left).

      Scotts post grapples with this comlex reality. In contrast, The commenter whgo I schooled above was living in Liberal-happly-land.

      • As a group, Southern Dems from the New Deal to the Civil Rights era did not occupy the extreme right wing ideological space. They occupied the middle (leaning left).

        The Southern Dems were literally left, center, and right on a lot of issues except civil rights.

        Some people even evolved from the 20s to the middle 50s:

        Revival

        At a reunion of the Fugitive Poets in 1956, Warren confessed that for about a decade — from just before World War II to some years after — he had shut Agrarianism from his mind as irrelevant to the cataclysmic social and political events then playing out in the world. Now, however, he believed that, rather than being irrelevant, his old Agrarian enthusiasms were tied into the major problems of the age. In the modern world, the individual had been marginalized, stripped of any sense of responsibility, or of past or place. “In this context,” writes Paul V. Murphy, “the Agrarian image of a better antebellum South came to represent for Warren a potential source of spiritual revitalization. The past recalled, not as a mythical ‘golden age’ but ‘imaginatively conceived and historically conceived in the strictest readings of the researchers’, could be a ‘rebuke to the present’.”[8]

        It was Warren’s concern with democracy, regionalism, personal liberty and individual responsibility that led him to support the civil rights movement, which he depicted in his nonfiction works Segregation (1956) and Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965) as a struggle for identity and individualism. As Hugh Ruppersburg, among others, has argued, Warren’s support for the civil rights movement paradoxically stemmed from Agrarianism, which by the 1950s meant something very different to him from the Agrarianism of I’ll Take My Stand.[9] As Warren’s political and social views evolved, his notion of Agrarianism evolved with them. He came to support more progressive ideas and racial integration,[10] and was a close friend of the eminent African-American author Ralph Ellison.[11] While Donald Davidson took a leading role in the attempt to preserve the system of segregation, Warren took his stand against it. As Paul V. Murphy writes, “Loyalty to the southern past and the ambiguous lessons of Agrarianism led both men in very different directions.”[8]

        • Manju

          The Southern Dems were literally left, center, and right on a lot of issues except civil rights.

          Correct. Thats what I’ve been saying. You are in disagreement with dr.dick, not me.

          Good for you..

          • No, Manju, I said that Southern Dems were a broad spectrum of left, middle and right.

            You claim that they leaned left, and I claim they leaned all over the place.

            And of course, Dr Dick having had experience of OK by having been born and raised there isn’t academic and formalized for you to pay attention to what he says about the South.

            • Manju

              No, Manju, I said that Southern Dems were a broad spectrum of left, middle and right.

              You claim that they leaned left, and I claim they leaned all over the placee.

              Same thing. They were all over the place. Some right (Strom), some left ( Fulbright).

              So, DW-Nominate then ranks all of them from left to right. Then they provide the mean. For the era in question, the mean Southern Dem is a moderate who leans left:

              http://voteview.com/images/polar_house_means.jpg

              This is the most sophisticated and comprehensive research available. it is not liberal fascism. You should be pleased that your beliefs do not contradict this data.

              Good for you again.

              • They occupied the middle (leaning left).

                They were all over the place. Some right (Strom), some left ( Fulbright).

                Sorry, Manju, but both of these statements can’t be true simultaneously.

                You should be pleased that your beliefs do not contradict this data.

                So, if you have one foot in a bucket of cold water, and one in boiling water, on average, you should feel fine because the average between them isn’t uncomfortable.

                Thanks for playing, Manju. You’ll get it right in 20 years or so.

                • Manju

                  Sorry, Manju, but both of these statements can’t be true simultaneously.

                  of course they can. XYZ University students may have SAT scores that are all over the place, but when you look at the Uni as a whole, ie the avg or mean score, the students may very well end up occupying the middle.

                • Manju

                  So, if you have one foot in a bucket of cold water, and one in boiling water, on average, you should feel fine because the average between them isn’t uncomfortable.

                  Dixiecrats did not congregate around the ideological extreme endpoints. If you look at their individual scores in context, they actually congregate around the middle, with a few splintering off further right or left.

                  I’ll post the data laid out like that (instead of the graph above) some time later.

                • Nope, Msnju that’s not how averages work. You have an inability to grasp any form of statistics whatsoever.

                  As for Dixiecrats, or conservative Democrats, the Wiki has this to say:

                  “Conservative Manifesto”

                  However, the Southern Democrats controlled the entire south with only token Republican opposition, and thus had both liberal and conservative factions. While the South had many New Deal supporters it also had many conservatives opposed to the expansion of federal power. Among their leaders were Senators Harry Byrd and Carter Glass of Virginia and Vice-President John Nance Garner of Texas. U.S. Senator Josiah Bailey (D-NC) released a “Conservative Manifesto” in December 1937,[1] which included several statements of conservative philosophical tenets, including the line “Give enterprise a chance, and I will give you the guarantees of a happy and prosperous America.” The document called for a balanced federal budget, state’s rights, and an end to labor union violence and coercion.[1] Over 100,000 copies were distributed and it marked a turning point in terms of congressional support for New Deal legislation.[1]

                  During the post-war period, Republican presidents often owed their legislative victories to ad hoc coalitions between conservative Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party (elected mainly from Northern cities), on the other hand, tended to combine with Republicans from the west and the north to put their own legislation through.[4]

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_coalition

                • Manju

                  Nope, Msnju that’s not how averages work. You have an inability to grasp any form of statistics whatsoever.

                  DW-Nominate uses mean.

                • Manju

                  As for Dixiecrats, or conservative Democrats, the Wiki has this to say

                  The existence of the Conservative Coalition doesn’t contradict anything I’ve been saying. Indeed, if you look at the Senate, you can see the influence of conservative Dems during the 2nd new deal. For this brief period, Southern Dems in the senate are moderates who lean right.

                  http://voteview.com/images/polar_senate_means.jpg

                • Malaclypse

                  DW-Nominate uses mean.

                  How much more Manju could this comment be? And the answer is none – none more Manju.

                • As you can see from this graph, Manju, Southern Democrats in the HOR were consistently less liberal than Democrats as a whole, and much more conservative than Northern Democrats.

                  Figure 1 shows the two-dimensional spatial map for the 2,763 unique members of the House and Senate for Congresses 80 to 107. The first dimension is liberal-conservative and the second dimension captures conflict over race and civil rights. The “S” tokens are Southern Democrats, the “D” tokens are Northern (non-South) Democrats, and the “R” tokens are Republicans. [5] Although there is much over striking, the S tokens are concentrated at the top of the configuration. Before the 1980s, the second dimension clearly divided the Democratic Party into Northern and Southern factions and there was, in effect, a three-party system in Congress. The Northern and Southern Democrats formed a coalition to organize the chambers and divide the spoils, the Northern Democrats and Republicans formed a coalition to pass civil rights legislation, and the Southern Democrats and the Republicans formed the “conservative coalition”.

                  http://voteview.com/chminds/chminds2.htm

      • Loud Liberal

        Being a Southern Democrat, from a long line of Southern Democrats, I would have to disagree with your characterization of Southern Democrats from the New Deal to Civil Rights. To the contrary, the majority of them were religious, conservative, bigots, and are now religious, conservative, republican, bigots.

        • Don’t confuse Manju with your experience, he can tell more from the voting records than what you’ve witnessed and lived through, LL.

          • Malaclypse

            The facts never confuse Manju. Robert Byrd today, Robert Byrd tomorrow, Robert Byrd forever!

  • Carbon Man

    FDR was a great wartime President but his economic policies utterly failed. Read The Forgotten Man for the real inside scoop on the total failure of the New Deal.

    The New Deal also set us up and laid the seeds for the national bankruptcy we are now facing due to overstretched entitlement programs. As Tytler once correctly noted, Democracy only survives until the public discovers it can vote itself largess from the public treasury. It then eventually dissolves into fiscal bankruptcy and dictatorship. FDR started us on that path.

    • JKTHs

      The New Deal also set us up and laid the seeds for the national bankruptcy we are now not facing.

      FTFY

    • Malaclypse

      Read The Forgotten Man for the real inside scoop on the total failure of the New Deal.

      Or read Eric Rauchway on why Amity Shlaes is bad at both history and economics. Rauchway, unlike Our Dear Dumb Jennie, knows things.

    • Malaclypse
      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Worth remembering, too, that her actual academic qualifications to analyze the economic history of the New Deal consist of a BA in English lit from Yale.

    • liberal

      As Tytler once correctly noted, Democracy only survives until the public discovers it can vote itself largess from the public treasury.

      Yawn. Landowners take 10–20% of GDP for doing absolutely nothing, with powers granted them by evil gubmint, but I don’t you complaining about that.

    • Barry

      “FDR was a great wartime President but his economic policies utterly failed. Read The Forgotten Man for the real inside scoop on the total failure of the New Deal.”

      BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!

      Schlaes is full of it. Read
      http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/edgeofthewest/2012/08/30/the-gold-standard-for-falsehoods/

      And other material by Eric Rauchway.

      BTW, also google for a graph of unemployment over the 1930’s in the USA, and then see if the Schlaes book has one.

    • FDR was a great wartime President but his economic policies utterly failed.

      Of the ten years in American history with the highest GDP growth, six of them were under Frankly Roosevelt, before American entry into the war.

      • Malaclypse

        While I’m not doubting that for a second, do you have a cite for that? Because that factiod is one awesome cup of STFU.

        • Here

          It’s actually the ten best years since 1930.

          • Malaclypse

            Thanks.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Also note the 1938 number, when FDR and Congress embraced austerity and the economy cratered.

        • It’s not a “factoid” if it’s true. :(

          I am waging a lonely war against this.

          • JKTHs

            Yes. Factoid = something that a lot of people think is true that’s not.

            Factoid does not mean a minor fact.

            • Cody

              WHAT!? I honestly never knew this.

              Son of a bitch. I shall take up your crusade Mark.

              • Malaclypse

                Consider me properly chastened. Chastised, even.

                • The other day someone wrote about an interesting “factoid.” Since I didn’t know the truth, and since exposition was lacking due it being Twitter, I genuinely didn’t know what he was trying to say. That’s the only reason I bother people about it.

                • I’d given up the fight, mark f. Thank you.

              • JKTHs

                I remember it being from one of the Al Franken books. He points out that the generally assumed meaning of “factoid” is itself a factoid.

                • Therefore that’s the meaning of factoid I’m afraid. Best to never use the word ever again.

              • It’s an imitation of a fact, like an android is an imitation of a person.

                For example, “As Tytler once correctly noted, Democracy only survives until the public discovers it can vote itself largess from the public treasury,” is a factoid since no record of Tytler saying so exists.

                Welcome to the revolution, Comrade.

          • Murc

            I am waging a lonely war against this.

            … why?

            General use should almost always trump technical definition. What’s wrong with using “factoid” to mean “an interesting little fact?” That’s how most people use it, so that’s pretty much what it means now.

            It’s like when people yell at me for splitting infinitives. That rule is little-enforced because it doesn’t comport with actual use of the language, and it only exists because the Oxford dons who set about codifying the english language had ridiculous hard-ons for latin.

            • Malaclypse

              You are really begging the question here.

              /ducks

            • What’s wrong with using “factoid” to mean “an interesting little fact?”

              1. Because it’s wrong.
              2. Because that’s what “fact” is for.
              3. Often it’s used as, “here’s an interesting little factoid,” making its appropriation for “an interesting little fact” redundant.
              4. It was coined specifically to mean what it means.
              5. The “new” definition is the opposite of the correct definition, which creates frequent confusion.
              6. I’d say “it grates,” which it does, but I suppose that’s subjective & therefore a poor reason for making hard rules.

              • Anna in PDX

                Rock on, fellow grammar enthusiast. Or actually, make that semantics enthusiast.

              • Welcome to our wonderful evolving language.

            • What’s wrong with using “factoid” to mean “an interesting little fact?”

              Because we already have “triviality,” and we don’t want to lose the real meaning of factoid. That’s a good concept to have, given our society, and it’s becoming more necessary every day.

      • JKTHs

        Wouldn’t some of them also have come during the war?

        • JKTHs

          Now that I look at it (assuming I’m using the same data as JfL), he is right about the 6 years pre-US involvement in WWII. 3 of the other 4 years were during the war and the other was 1950.

          • Yes. But that’s not surprising, given that both the New Deal and World War Two were characterized by similar policies of very high government spending on highly labor-intensive projects.

            • Linnaeus

              Yes, and I point this out whenever I hear the argument that “the New Deal didn’t get us out of the Depression, it was World War II.”

              • Seriously. What, if not the government spending, would have lifted the economy?

                All the dead people?

                All the guys who aren’t working to make or grow or build things because they’re shooting them?

                The artificial consumer and industrial shortages created by the war industries’ demands?

                The severing of established international trade relationships?

      • Joe – yes, and if we measure FDR’s recovery against Kennedy/Johnson, Nixon/Ford/Carter, Reagan, and Clinton, it’s the best both on GDP growth and job recovery.

    • Scott P.

      There is no evidence Tytler ever said such a thing.

      • rea

        He was too busy inventing the bra (a/k/a, “the Tytler Sling”).

        • Bill Murray

          Wait I thought the bra was originally called the over the shoulder boulder holder? Or was I lied to when I was 12. I mean about this, of course I was lied to when I was 12

    • Cody

      True, the Great Depression was alright for some people. Long as you have no morals, it always works out.

      • Linnaeus

        If you had a job, your money went a lot further.

        • FormerBBTFer

          Everybody had to grift. It was either that or work!

    • witless chum

      As Tytler once correctly noted, Democracy only survives until the public discovers it can vote itself largess from the public treasury. It then eventually dissolves into fiscal bankruptcy and dictatorship. FDR started us on that path.

      This is the king quote of the dumb libertarian trying to sound smart and really should be followed by “Wake up Sheeple1!!!!!1111!!”

      Maybe if we wait another 80 years it’ll finally come true?

    • Loud Liberal

      You have no idea what you’re talking about. You know nothing aboute economics. The New Deal only failed the ambitions of the ultra-rich who sought the assassination of FDR. For everyone else, the New Deal was the seed that initiated the creation of the most prosperous economy in the history of the World.

  • Carbon Man

    The government that governs best, governs least. Neither Hoover nor FDR understood that.

    • Ronan

      Amazing. You’re a genius

    • sparks

      Wow, a third-hand jingoistic sloganeer is our Jennie. He gets the stack of rice-flour cakes with pure corn syrup.

      He really deserves no better.

    • sibusisodan

      – which always reminds me of the next line: ‘…and on that basis, we have created a fabulous government in Iraq…’

    • ChristianPinko

      Then why did we have to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution?

      • To make the term “confederacy” available for southern traitors.

    • gocart mozart

      Viva Somalia!

    • burritoboy

      Why haven’t you moved to Somalia yet, then?

      • Ronan

        Somalia’s actually not doing so badly..leave Somalia alone!

      • ironic irony

        They have a government now.

        Looks like Carbon Man has to move to space. Darn it. /snark

    • We must move forward… not backwards, not to the side, not forwards, but always whirling, whirling, whirling towards freedom!!!

    • Loud Liberal

      Sean Hannity: “The government that governs least governs best.”
      Carbon Man: “Squawk, the government that governs least governs best, SQUAAAAAWK.”

  • Ronan

    A genuine question though, what is the difference (morally, I guess)between the reality Katznelson outlines in the book, and the Southern strategy?

    • Seems pretty simple. One worked around it, the other embraced it wholeheartedly.

      • Hogan

        Yeah, Roosevelt didn’t set out to build a party with a strong segregationist faction; that was the one he had to work with.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Yes, that’s a pretty crucial difference.

      • I’d say more strongly than worked around it – FDR tried to bring down the Dixiecrat wing of his party, not just in 1938 with his failed purge in Democratic primaries, but also in 1944, when he tried to do a party realignment with Wilkie (which would have fused the moderate-to-liberal wing of the GOP with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party while jettisoning the Dixiecrats).

        Didn’t work, but he tried.

    • DocAmazing

      Simple first answer: the Southern Strategy was for purely partisan advantage, not to advance a set of policies. Nixon could not have cared less if Jim Crow were reinstated or if poll taxes were restored, as long as the Republicans were winning Southern seats. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was attempting to put together a program, a set of initiatives to change the way government related to people. Though no one would deny that Roosevelt was a Democratic partisan, he was more than that.

    • Murc

      The only way to answer that is to discuss goals.

      Many political strategies are, facially, morally neutral. “I will make a bargain with group X in order to pass legislation Y” doesn’t really have any moral weight to it at all until you know the nature of the bargain and the legislation in question.

      I would say that the moral difference between the reality Katznelson outlines in his book and the Southern strategy is this: New Dealers made a deal with the devil in order to get legislation that was significantly better than the status quo passed. Said deal with the devil was morally compromised, but it was not so awful morally compromised as to not be worth doing. As opposed to, say, if Southern Democrats had demanded the repeal of the 15th Amendment or the right to shoot blacks on sight.

      So the New Dealers made a moral compromise in order to deliver a massive set of positive goods.

      In contrast, the Southern Strategy involved a bunch of plutocrats embracing the racism of the most reactionary elements of the South in order to try and return us to the Gilded Age, because they didn’t really care about social justice one way or the other except inasmuch as exploiting racial animus allowed them to take and hold power.

      That’s the moral difference. One side made a difficult choice of moral calculus in order to save the country, the other side made an easy choice based avarice. The tactics were similar, near-identical in some cases, but you have to evaluate goals before you can assign them moral weight.

    • Ronan

      Fair points one and all.
      I had a follow up question, but I’ve forgotten it now. Was kind of idiotic anyway I’d imagine

      • Bill Murray

        you’ll never make it on the internet if you let that stop you

  • “First, there was the fear about whether democracy could survive the Great Depression as countries such as Germany, Italy, and Japan turned to authoritarian responses.”

    This is one of those things that has been completely excised from the right wing id when they talk about how Roosevelt destroyed the country. Lindbergh and his various compatriots and admirers really thought all these pesky freedoms were an unsustainable luxury. After a war spent inveighing against totalitarianism, and with the Cold War settling in against the equally authoritarian Soviet Union, the right glommed onto the glories of (small d) democracy, but they’ve never really liked it. Fast forward six decades or so and you don’t hear much about the wonderful power of democracy while they’re doing everything they can to restrict the vote and talk about the “takers”.

    • Hogan

      Which may be just as well, because when they do come out in favor of democracy, it means they’re about to invade someone.

      • firefall

        thats a bit of a misreading … they’re ALWAYS about to invade someone, except when they’re actually invading someone

        • Cody

          This isn’t really true. See: Iraq.

          They thought they were safe. “The Republicans are invading Afghanistan and it’s really costly… we’re safe for another 3-4 years!”

          BAM

          • FormerBBTFer

            To my recollection, the “two war” scenario was contemplated quite openly and frequently in the 90s.

            I think there’s PNAC stuff about that and other places.

    • LeeEsq

      Was America really in danger of becoming an authoritarian state like Germany, Italy, and Japan. Before WWI, Germany was a prosperous authoritarian but relatively fair monarchy. After WWI it became a chaotic, poorly organized, and very partisan Repbulic. Italy was a corrupt, constitutional monarchy where politics was more about patronage than getting anything idealistic before WWI. It quickly turned authoritarian in the afterfath of WWI. Japan was under an authoritarian government with some democratic insitutions but leaned towards authoritarianism since the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution.

      Neither Germany, Italy, or Japan had the long history of democracy that the United States did. Germany and Japan had long histories of authoritarian government and were only democratic for brief periods after WWI. Italy was more democratic but the political culture was like Tammany Hall writ large with politicians caring more about doing something for themselves than their constiuents let alone the country. So neither could wither the economic troubles of the Great Depression like the United States.

      Without FDR, Americans would have suffered more materially but I can’t really see the United States going in a remotely similar manner as Germany, Italy, or Japan. The extremists weren’t that well-organized and would have faced the usual problems that the Constitution imposes on third parties. Neither the GOP or the Democratic Party would likely go fascist either. There was enough of an ideological mix in both parties to prevent this. I think American political institutions were to strong for the United States to go authoritiarian.

      • Malaclypse

        Was America really in danger of becoming an authoritarian state like Germany, Italy, and Japan.


        Quite possibly.

        • LeeEsq

          The Business Plot was laughable, very poorly organzied, and had very little to no support from the American military.

          What I’m saying is that the democratic institutions of the United States were much more entrenched than the ones in Germany, Italy, and Japan and were therefore less likely to lead to an authoritarian state. Canada really did not have a New Deal and the Canadian government did not deal with the Great Depression very well. Democracy wasn’t in danger there though.

          • You’ve got a point; North America is not Europe.

            I wonder how much of American exceptionalism is really North American exceptionalism, or even western hemisphere exceptionalism.

            • Goethe thought we had an advantage, and saw us grow for 50 odd years after the Revolution:

              Amerika, du hast es besser—als unser Kontinent, der alte.
              America, you have it better than our continent, the old one.
              Wendts Musen-Almanach (1831).

      • burritoboy

        You’re ignoring what the global Right was doing in the 1920s and 1930s. The Right of our day wants us to forget that, and also wants to pretend that the Right in Germany, Japan and Italy were completely different from the Right in the UK and the USA. It’s simply not true:

        The key test case is in France. If the Right of the day had really been against authoritarianism, they would have supported the Popular Front, which was a strong bulwark against fascism and also provided some possible routes against Stalinism. Instead, the Right in France undermined the Popular Front, eventually undermining democracy entirely. In general, the Right worldwide strongly opposed the Popular Front.

        What that means is, when the Right globally was confronted with a choice between very moderate socialism (that largely preserved property and capitalism) and fascism, they chose fascism preferentially.

        Note that the leading figures of the Anglophone Right strongly opposed the Popular Front in France, and also opposed similar things in the US and UK. To the extent that the UK also eventually had a national unity government in WWII (since Churchill needed Labour’s support and he had to make figures like Attlee Ministers), the pre-war Right had opposed such an effort until they realized they were either going to get Attlee or they were going to get Hitler. The Right in the US consistently opposed similar efforts – indeed, the Right in the US had a worse record than it did in the UK. The US Right opposed FDR’s effort in WWII and refused to participate in a national unity government against global fascism.

      • “Was America really in danger of becoming an authoritarian state like Germany, Italy, and Japan.”

        Much less so, for many of the reasons you state. But how close the U.S. came to fascism is a side issue. The point I was trying to make is that the American right wingers of the 1930s, who are the direct intellectual antecedents of today’s right wingers, were the ones hanging out at cocktail parties and writing articles about how we needed “a Hitler” (or something similar), to get the country going, that democracy, freedom of speech and all the rest inevitably led to Bolshevism and anarchism.

        The on the ground political realities in the U.S. never got as bad as they did in Europe (though there were places in rural America where bank agents and even law enforcement feared to tread). But in terms of the intellectual debates of the time, fascism or something approximating it was seriously proposed as an alternative. The modern American right came directly from opposition to fighting Germany because, hey, they weren’t that bad, and it’s not something they like to talk about or remember today.

    • Yes. People conveniently threw the Black Legion, the Silver Legion, the German American Bund, etc. into the memory hole after the war, but there were real fascist groups in the U.S during the 1930s and they were being funded by Nazi Germany.

      The American Legion loved them some Mussolini in the 1920s, several of their leadership were tight with Lindbergh and the America Firsters.

  • Bitter Scribe

    FDR really did save capitalism from itself. More precisely, he saved it from a bunch of very rich people who were too stupid to see the situation clearly, much less be grateful.

    • Humanities Grad

      This was a point one of my grad school professors made. FDR himself, of course, came from a very privileged background, and throughout his presidency he was subjected to the most vicious attacks, many of which labeled him a “class traitor.”

      But his critics missed the point. The choice of political and economic visions that existed in the U.S. by the mid-1930s was NOT between the visions of FDR and Hoover. It was a choice between the visions of FDR and those of people like Huey Long. FDR’s objective with the New Deal was to _save_ the American capitalist system, not to destroy it. And the very people who were labeling him as a traitor to his class were, for the most part, the people who should’ve been kissing his feet.

    • catclub

      Also credit Smedley Butler. I may have learned about him here. He was a great man.

    • Sly

      I hear grilled millionaire is tasty.

    • LeeEsq

      Does this make FDR to something like Bismarck, who tried to save the German rich with his bread and butter laws?

    • Although there were a bunch of very rich people–in particular those oriented toward international commerce and capitol-intensive industries, as well as retailers who anticipated a consumer-based economy–who were all-in with FDR. It was most of Wall St aligned with FDR against JP Morgan aligned with the Republicans.

      • LeeEsq

        This. FDR had a lot of support among business people, it just wasn’t with the traditional businesses. The Hollywood moguls, retailers, and basically people in the newer businesses tended to support FDR over the older branches of the economy.

  • ChesterNut

    Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to impose the New Deal upon the American people by assuming extraordinary, exceptional powers to cope with the Great Depression by presenting his actions as those of a Commander during a WAR:

    I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.…I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.…But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take [the necessary measures] and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

    The New Deal was realized by delegating to the president unlimited power to control every aspect of the economic life of the USA.

    • Malaclypse

      The New Deal was realized by delegating to the president unlimited power to control every aspect of the economic life of the USA.

      So, we can add the history of the New Deal to the long list of things Dagney knows nothing about. Good to know.

      • JKTHs

        I knew it! The Social Security, Wagner Act, FLSA, etc. were all smokescreens. They were really all created by executive order during WWII.

        • bobbyp

          Wait. I thought WWII was created by executive order as a smokescreen for insidious socialism and to facilitate the career of that ultimate communist tool, Eisenhower.

    • Barry

      “The New Deal was realized by delegating to the president unlimited power to control every aspect of the economic life of the USA.”

      Well, wrong. You might want to find out WTF you’re talking about first.

    • Murc

      I’m not sure, but I don’t think you can ‘assume’ powers that are granted to you by another party and that they can revoke at will.

      • Barry

        Three other parties: Congress, the Supreme Court and the voters.

    • ralphdibny

      Ah yes, I remember it well. The Supreme Court didn’t even meet during FDR’s presidency–they just delegated to the President unlimited power, and then went to the beach. Where they fcked walruses. Walri? Just walrus (like moose, or fish)? I can never keep that straight.

      • wjts

        Actually, they met regularly – mostly to welcome and meet the literally hundreds of new justices regularly appointed under FDR’s wildly popular court-packing scheme. (Factoid of the Day: the highest number of justices ever to sit on the Supreme Court was reached in 1940, when it stood at 5,329 making the Supreme Court more populous than Bellefonte, PA.)

    • Did you not see the conditional? Congress took the “necessary measures,” FDR never asked for economic war powers in peacetime, and when the Supreme Court invalidated several measures, FDR notably didn’t ignore them.

  • Since you mention his “work” in your (excellent) review, here’s Jonah Goldberg writing on the New Deal today:

    One thing nearly everybody agrees upon is that the “sequester” is a silly sideshow to the real challenge facing America: unsustainable spending on entitlements [. . .] Perhaps it’s time for both sides to consider an underappreciated fact of American life: The system we are trying to perpetuate was created for the explicit benefit of the so-called greatest generation, the most coddled and cared for cohort in American history.

    I’m not really into the whole Greatest Generation thing myself, but I’m pretty sure “sons of the wealthy and well-connected” count as a cohort and that my WWII-vet grandfather was less coddled or cared for than such people.

    One of the egalitarian precepts that all Americans are supposed to subscribe to is the idea that one citizen isn’t more worthy than another, simply by accident of birth.

    Wait . . . Jonah agrees with me?

    If you stormed the beaches of Normandy, you are due praise and honor. If you were simply born the same year as those who stormed the beaches, you’re no more deserving of praise than someone born of any other generation.

    Oh, nope; same Dumb Jonah.

    Moreover, government was bending to the needs of the greatest generation — for good and ill — long before they did anything great [. . .] When GIs were children, the White House held its first Conference on Children, and Congress created the first U.S. Children’s Bureau and passed the first federal child labor law. They benefited from government-run schools in large numbers

    Fucking mooching parasite children.

    and after the war from the aptly named GI Bill. And when the first wave of GIs approached old age, Howe and Strauss noted, the White House held its first Conference on Aging. Congress created the National Institute on Aging and passed the first federal age discrimination law.

    I thought he was talking about the “before the war”? Did he forget?

    [A bunch of non-sequiturs about uniforms and FDR saying “moral equivalent of war,” which isn’t really about spending or entitlement so who-tf knows what he’s on about.]

    And then the amazing conclusion:

    I have neither the space nor the inclination to pronounce on what was good or bad about all this.

    *Fart*

    But as Washington grapples with the legacy costs of the “greatest generation” — including the unsustainable burden of paying the retirement bills for the GIs’ supremely entitled children, the Baby Boomers

    Random adverbs are just good writing, especially when they refute your whole premise. Does Jonah know that “supremely entitled children” and “most coddled and cared for cohort” mean the same thing?

    • brewmn

      Jonah’s right. Creating and sustaining a middle class in a country of a couple hundred million people sure is expensive, innit?

  • Sly

    When the New Deal ends depends on what you mean by the term New Deal.

    As a programmatic effort to reform American economics, the New Deal never ended completely, owing mostly to the fact that the New Deal touched on almost everything. The public employment programs may have ended with the dissolution of the WPA, the CCC, and the like. The labor reforms may have ended with Taft Hartley. The banking reforms are (largely) intact today. The social insurance reforms have been expanded well beyond their initial offering.

    As a political coalition, the New Deal had a definite end and that end came on July 2nd, 1964, upon the realization that what Katznelson called the Third Fear was rapidly becoming a reality.

  • Reilly

    I just put Fear Itself on my wish list at Amazon, happy to look forward to an informative work of scholarship that digs beneath presidential glorification and personality-centered political history when I happened to glance down at the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” display, and saw the latest offering by Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit, which “captures the Progressive Era through the story of the broken friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, culminating in their running against one another for president in 1912.” It’s due out October 1st. Since Goodwin and her bourgeoise presidentialism can make my skin crawl just by proximity to my wish list, I probably should unplug my television during September.

  • David B.

    What this misses is that several New Deal policies didn’t simply avoid helping African Americans, they were absolute disasters for African Americans, and were known to be so when they passed. Both AAAs, and the federal minimum wage law (FLSA) were passed not despite it was known they would devastate African American employment, but in part because of it. See Gavin Wright, Old South, New South (who nevertheless defends these policies on the grounds that this shock was necessary to bring the South of its primitive feudalism and into the modern economy. Can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs of hundreds of thousands of destitute southern blacks thrown out of work, and all that).

    • Murc

      What this misses is that several New Deal policies didn’t simply avoid helping African Americans, they were absolute disasters for African Americans, and were known to be so when they passed.

      I don’t think it missed that at all. This is a commonly known fact, is it not? The only way to get the New Deal was to either avoid helping African Americans, or to actively put the boot in.

      Both AAAs, and the federal minimum wage law (FLSA) were passed not despite it was known they would devastate African American employment, but in part because of it.

      Yes. Absolutely true. With jobs at a premium, every black man who had a job was seen as doing work that could be done by a white man.

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  • I had the Kindle version pre-ordered, so tore through it quickly.

    I greatly admire Katznelson’s work, but I do think there’s a significant error in this book that’s relevant to the discussion of Shlaes above – he uses the same unemployment numbers she does, on 4-5 different occasions.

    And these aren’t minor things – it feeds directly into how Katznelson describes FDR’s re-election in 1936 (was he re-elected with 17% unemployment or 10% unemployment?) and his third term in 1940 (was unemployment still 14.6% or was it 9.6%?), and the impact of the Roosevelt Recession (did unemployment spike to 19% or 12%?).

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