Watching The New Republic crew of the 90s just completely freak out over the 2020s is quite something to watch. Andrew Sullivan was always terrible, but he certainly isn’t less terrible today. For some reason Josh Marshall gives John Judis to keys to his kingdom at TPM for the occasionally awful column. And then there’s Michael Lind. His article on modern progressives wanting to “Cancel FDR” is a combination of incredible bad faith combined with complete ignorance about both the Roosevelt administration and contemporary left politics. Let’s take a look here:
Seventy-six years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, serving his fourth term in office, died in his “little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. The anniversary of FDR’s death raises the question: Why hasn’t the Democratic Party canceled him yet?
Well, at least Lind is starting this out with a clearly honest argument! CANCEL CULTURE!!!!
The political ancestors of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, have already been repudiated for being slaveowners and racists by 21st-century Democrats who have canceled or renamed the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day party dinners. Many contemporary Democrats would like to detach Franklin Roosevelt and his protégé Lyndon Johnson from the older Jefferson-Jackson tradition and honor them as founders of today’s Democratic Party, which celebrates New Deal programs like Social Security, and civil rights, Medicare, and Medicaid from the Johnson era. But separating them from their 19th-century forerunners is not that easy. In fact, Roosevelt and Johnson went out of their way to identify with the tradition of Jacksonian populism that modern-day progressives abhor.
In his second inauguration on Jan. 20, 1937, Roosevelt reviewed the inaugural parade from the Hermitage, a replica of Andrew Jackson’s plantation house that had been built in front of the White House. President Johnson hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office alongside portraits of FDR and Washington. After Johnson, the next president to display a portrait of Old Hickory in the Oval Office was Donald Trump.
This is already incredibly dumb. Yes, of course Roosevelt and Johnson embraced Jackson and Jefferson. I hate to break it to Lind, but modern progressives are not seeking to “cancel” people because of their historical references that made sense in 1937 and don’t in 2021. Evidently, this is what he thinks the left is about.
Contemporary historians and journalists seldom think of FDR and the New Dealers as latter-day Jacksonians. But the electoral base of the New Deal Democratic coalition from the 1930s to the 1970s remained the generations-old Jacksonian alliance between white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics,” particularly Irish Americans, symbolized by the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960. Until the last generation, college-educated professionals and executives in America tended to vote Republican, while Democrats received most of the votes of the high school-educated working class. The kinds of voters who supported populist candidates from Jackson to Jimmy Carter are now the backbone of the Republican Party.
Interesting how Black voters aren’t worth considering for Lind here, either as part of the New Deal coalition or who matters toady. Also, Jimmy Carter POPULIST is a new one. Other than just sort of being a common, decent man who would restore dignity to the Oval Office in the face of Nixon, it’s hard to think of anything populist about Carter at all. He certainly didn’t govern like it. He didn’t talk like it either. Nothing screams “populism” like asking people to turn down their thermostats in the winter!
For its part, the Democratic Party has been transforming itself into the older Republican Party under a new, ostensibly progressive label. In 2020, while losing some Black and Latino voters to Trump, the Democrats gained notably among only one major demographic—the affluent, highly-educated white men whose forebears were “country club Republicans.” It is no surprise that the geographic heartlands of today’s Democratic Party are those of the old Federalist-Whig-Republican coalition—New England and the regions of the Midwest and the West Coast that New Englanders settled in the 19th century. In addition to being in large part the children and grandchildren of yesteryear’s upscale Republican voters, today’s white Democrats have also inherited the causes of the liberal, old-money Republican establishment of Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay: conservationism (now “environmentalism”), family planning (now abortion rights and gender fluidity), and support for civil rights for racial minorities (now racial quotas in firms, government offices, university curricula, and literary and artistic canons).
Good god, where to even begin here. First, affluent, highly-educated white men are still….a core part of the Republican Party! Also, we have to cancel FDR because…..he wasn’t interested in conservation? Uh….FDR was a huge conservationist on his own land, created national parks, created the Civilian Conservation Corps, Tennessee Valley Authority, etc. Now, sure, you can critique the way New Dealers saw conservation as being about the maximization of resources that led to a world of high dams and not much concern about ecology, etc…but that’s definitely not what Lind is doing here. In fact, I can’t even tell how he thinks environmentalism was somehow the exclusive position of rich Republicans. They were involved, of course, but this is just, well, dumb. As for the family planning part of this, is Lind saying Democrats shouldn’t embraced abortion rights and the big scary GENDER FLUIDITY? I think that is what he’s saying. And where he is even getting racial quotas as the core racial policy of the Democratic Party I have no idea. I guess ever since people started reading James Baldwin more often than, I don’t know, Norman Mailer, Lind has been upset or something.
Lind goes on to quote Norman Thomas about how the New Deal wasn’t really socialism to show that Bernie is somehow wrong. I am going to just skip this because it’s too dumb to bother with.
Indeed, the New Deal can be seen as a Jacksonian counterrevolution among farmers, small-town provincial business elites in the hinterland, and white working-class urbanites, pitting themselves against the alliance of Northern industrial capitalists and moralistic Greater New England Yankee Puritans who dominated the federal government between Abraham Lincoln and Herbert Hoover. The New Deal was a religious rebellion as much as it was an economic struggle. Support for the New Deal Democrats was strongest among groups of white outsiders that were long despised by the mainline Protestant elites of Greater New England: white Northern Catholics, Jews, and white Southern evangelical Protestants.
The problem with seeing the New Deal this way is that it is stupid. First, farmers just barely supported the New Deal, really only up to the point where it helped them. The first states to start moving away from the New Deal coalition, outside of the northern New England states that always hated Roosevelt, was the states dominated by farmers. See the 1940 and 1944 electoral maps here.
The white South was always going to vote Democratic at this time so that was hardly some new populist rebellion against the Rockefellers or whatever. Even in some industrial states such as Ohio and Michigan, rural people were so anti-New Deal that they could swing it to Willkie or Dewey. That entire interpretation of the New Deal simply doesn’t make sense. And while, yes, the New Deal was something of a triumph for the Catholic working class, when was it articulated this way, as Boston Catholics sticking it to those Protestants? No doubt on the local level, one can find evidence of outraged Brahmins and the Boston Democratic machine laughing at them, but this is not exactly a fundamental interpretation of the New Deal here.
Today many younger leftist academics and journalists understandably point to racist redlining practices under New Deal home-ownership programs, the initial exclusion of disproportionately Black farm workers and domestic servants from Social Security at the insistence of Southern Democrats. They also properly lament the wartime internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese American citizens and claim that the Roosevelt administration could have done more to rescue Jewish refugees before World War II.
FDR’s attitudes about race and ethnicity were indeed benighted by modern standards. But the only relevant question is whether Republican alternatives—Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, or Thomas Dewey—would have been any better. To complain that even race-neutral New Deal programs mostly benefited white Americans is wildly anachronistic, inasmuch as whites between the 1930s and the 1970s made up about 90% of the U.S. population. If the New Deal was so racist, why did Black Americans—who had long tended to support the party of Lincoln—begin a mass switch to the Democratic Party during the New Deal under FDR? In spite of his own prejudices, Roosevelt relented to pressure from Black civil rights leaders like A. Philip Randolph and integrated war production. The support of Jewish Americans for FDR—who privately shared the genteel snobbery toward Jews of his patrician class—was so fervent that it led Jonah J. Goldstein, a Jewish Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, to declare that “the Jews have three velten [worlds]— die velt [this world], yene velt [the next world], and Roosevelt.”
This part makes me laugh but he’s writing an article wondering FDR hasn’t been cancelled yet and then complains that leftist academics are cancelling FDR over race even though that is not what is happening. No one is arguing that voting for Landon was going to be better for racial issues. This is a complete strawman.
Lind goes on to go over what the New Deal accomplished and how it is different from progressive priorities today. Uh, OK? I was unaware that the left was demanding a complete rejection of everything from the past. Evidently discussing how energy policy of the mid-20th century causes problems we need to move beyond today is CANCELLING FDR or that because FDR was skeptical about public sector unions we are wanting to CANCEL FDR. This is because this isn’t happening.
And then there’s the closing paragraph, a master class is old elite strawman freak outs about the kidz and their new-fangled ideas:
The verdict seems clear. In the 21st century, there can be no room in the Democratic pantheon for a rich, white, male, heterosexual politician known for his extramarital affairs and who sought to identify himself in the public mind with Andrew Jackson, who disliked dense cities and wanted to promote suburban and exurban sprawl, who rejected single payer health care, who cultivated oil and gas tycoons, who condemned universal cash subsidies to all Americans as demoralizing and creating dependency, and whose typical supporters were the sort of non-college-educated, working-class voters who were drawn to Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Face it, Democrats. Dumping Jefferson and Jackson was only the beginning. It’s time to cancel FDR.
Chef’s kiss baby. Chef’s. Kiss.
In conclusion, if Michael Kelly was still alive, can one imagine what he might be writing these days to go along with his old pals Sully and Judis and Lind?