Eric Rauchway tracks the progress from The New Deal to The Green New DealHistorians in the News
tags: FDR, New Deal, Green New Deal
Modern American politics was born in the winter after the election of 1932. As President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt battled with lame-duck President Herbert Hoover over the nascent New Deal agenda, Americans discovered new ways to fight about their government.
Hoover’s no-holds-barred efforts to block Roosevelt’s program redefined the Republican Party, while the plans that FDR ultimately implemented became the bedrock of 20th-century American liberalism. Domestic political debate has largely operated within these parameters ever since.
That’s the thesis of University of California, Davis historian Eric Rauchway’s latest book, “Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt And The First Clash Over The New Deal” ― an engaging, character-driven tour through the philosophical debates and political knife-fighting at the nadir of the Great Depression. HuffPost spoke to Rauchway about the changing intellectual consensus surrounding the New Deal and its lessons for today’s Democratic Party. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Why write a book about the early stages of the New Deal in 2019?
I think it’s important to get into this question of how Roosevelt defined the New Deal when he was asking people to vote for him ― and why it was important in his view to ensure that he didn’t give in to Hoover or the blandishments of bipartisanship or cooperation, and instead made good on the promises he made on the stump. Because this was a time when the world and democracy were in peril.
Roosevelt felt it would be an essential illustration of the workings of democracy if he did what he said he was going to do. He believed democratic government was facing a very serious test, and that if he failed, the result would not just be fascism in Europe, but fascism at home. And so he put forward a massive public works agenda, new social insurance programs, a program to raise prices and incomes, and some trammeling of the Wall Street banks.
He did that on the campaign trail. It wasn’t slapped together when he was in office. And then of course after the election, there was a period of months in which it was impossible to do these things because the Hoover administration remained in office until March of 1933.
So why now? We hear a lot about the New Deal these days, through things like the Green New Deal, which like Roosevelt’s New Deal is under vigorous assault from vigorous ideological opponents. As we come into the 2020 campaign, it’s going to be vital to understand how Roosevelt’s New Deal succeeded both electorally and as a deliberate policy program.
This is a book about a presidential election and its transition. Do you see overtones for today?
There are a number of levels in which the parallels you’re suggesting between the early 1930s and today hold true. The least important one right this second is the practical effect of the New Deal, which is the recovery from the Depression. We’re not currently in a recession, let alone a depression. But why it’s vital for proponents of a Green New Deal to use that phrasing is that it rallies Americans to a sense of shared national purpose that recently has been ceded to the political right.
We’ve forgotten how successful Roosevelt and other politicians of the ’30s and ’40s were at creating a progressive sense of common purpose. And that’s certainly important for people on the left today.
And the other is the history of neoliberalism. There’s a long history within the Democratic Party, beginning at least with Jimmy Carter and going all the way through Barack Obama, which concedes to the right the idea that the market is the best way to organize the resources of society, that the best government can do is fiddle with or adjust the social outcomes created by the free market.
The Roosevelt era dawned with an acknowledgment that the market really screwed up. And that what we were calling “the market” was really a system that Republicans had built up to aid rich people and businesses. It wasn’t a market in any conventional sense. For young people who grew up in the Great Recession, there are similar lessons.
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