Paul Moreno: Obama's Re-Election Model Is FDR

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Moreno is a professor of history at Hillsdale College and the author of "Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History," (Louisiana State University Press, 2006).

President Obama is cozying up to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, intending to make resentment of big business a central theme of his re-election campaign. Here he's following the lead of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who tried to convince the public that Wall Street was to blame for the double-dip recession that plagued his second administration.

In late 1937 the American economy, which had been recovering slowly since 1932, contracted even more sharply than it had after the stock market crash in late 1929. Industrial production fell by a third, stock prices fell by 50%, durable goods production by almost 80%. Payrolls fell 35%, and unemployment climbed back to 20%.

Roosevelt was initially nonplused, slow to appreciate the severity of the downturn. But once he saw the need for action, he called Congress into special session and undertook a massive new public-spending program....

While his lieutenants were trying to depict American industrialists as brownshirts, Roosevelt's 1937 efforts to "pack" the Supreme Court and to purge conservatives in the 1938 Democratic primaries made him look like the real threat to democracy. In March of that year he felt compelled to tell the press that he had "no inclination to be a dictator." Nevertheless, the Republicans recovered from near-extinction in the midterm and the New Deal came to a halt.

President Obama is perfectly capable of resorting to antibusiness demagoguery....

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