FDR F’d US
While Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was an excellent US President who shaped history, no fundamental changes rivaling the Declaration of Independence, or the Emancipation Proclamation, were achieved. Nothing of great and lasting value was actually created under FDR’s tenure. To quote FDR himself, all he did was “save capitalism,” which, to be cynical, merely drew out the capitalists’ bloodletting of the workers of the US, continued to enrich the plutocracy, and delayed our current situation of being on the brink of extinction until today. No actual justice was created for the working people of the United States, and justice delayed is justice denied.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as Governor of New York in 1930 the deepening Depression highlighted the contrast between Roosevelt’s active role as governor and Herbert Hoover’s passive performance as President (Burns 123). Hoover saw his role in the economy as “cheerleader” rather than a participant (Rauchway 25-26).
New York was a microcosm of the nation and political office there was commonly a step to achieving national office (Burns 107). The state is large and diverse in area and population, and New York City’s array of ethnicities, religions, commerce, art, intellectualism, and finance, demands attention and agility from a politician (Burns 108). Franklin Roosevelt’s time as governor was an appropriate launching pad to a presidential campaign. The political battles in New York showcased and strengthened Roosevelt’s talent for juggling many demands, and, more importantly, his ability to appeal to multiple groups at the same time (Burns 117).
The policies of Roosevelt, or FDR, “as he liked to be called” (Foner 800), concerning labor, infrastructure, agriculture, and social improvements, foreshadowed programs later enacted nationally (Burns 114-117).
Legends grew about FDR’s change in demeanor after his polio attack, (Burns 88,) but that the “evidence is that Roosevelt’s illness did not alter but strengthened already existent or latent tendencies in his personality” (Burns 89). It is difficult to disagree with the assessment that FDR’s “position on the political spectrum remained the same—a little left of center” (Burns 89). During his recovery FDR produced little of concrete value but the scraps of abandoned works are interesting, especially his analysis of history and the “Great Man” theory that showed a “socio-economic interpretation, as against the ‘great man’ theory of history” (Burns 89). In other words, even FDR agreed that another born into his great wealth, with similar good fortune, could have achieved as much as he did. He was no messiah and no great benefactor to the people—though he may have saved his fellow rich brethren from the pitchforks.
FDR was literally baffled by US business owner’s anger, and of him being portrayed as betraying his class, (Burns 235), and as ushering in socialist policies, as business profits had greatly increased under his tenure.(Burns 239). FDR was criticized by his wealthy peers and he bridled at the criticism and said, "But I saved capitalism," which he did. But that's the problem. FDR was a wealthy politician, and when the shit hit the fan, and he had socialists pulling at him on one side and capitalists on the other, he gave money to the corporations which then doled it out to workers, after taking their cut. No reforms from FDR as those on his left demanded. No democratic cooperatives, as those on his left demanded. FDR basically just bailed out the big corporations by pumping money into the corporations, that actually did eventually pour down onto the citizens. But the levers of power were still with the millionaires, who now, after nearly 100 years, have been replaced by billionaires.
FDR was criticized from both the right and the left. Much of the Congress was more to the left than FDR, and at times the GOP could be to the left of, or to the right of, the “President’s erratic middle-of-the-road course” (Burns 184). The left criticized the President for the money tossed to organized corporate interests, while “labor and consumers” got the short end of the stick (Burns 190). FDR left the corporations intact, rather than reforming them, or nationalizing the railroads, or anything, and the cheap 'safety net' was easily shredded by the still powerful corporations.
Today’s hew and cry to return to New Deal policies are akin to saying the Jewish population would be greatly served by exiting the portals to the gas chambers and returning to languishing in the luxury of the concentration camps.
It is important to note that FDR and his advisors were keenly aware of the psychology unemployment played on the psyche of the citizen, as well as the detrimental effects on the economy (and the incomes of the wealthy).
[Editor/author’s note: Here I get rushed and sloppy and quote at length from Bremer’s work, “Along the ‘American Way’: The New Deal's Work Relief Programs for the Unemployed,” yet this is crucially important and I cannot improve on the original text from 1975.]
Unemployed, a man lost his "self-respect. . . ambition and pride," testified settlement head worker Lillian D. Wald. New Deal administer to Harry L. Hopkins noted, "a workless man has little status at home and less with his friends, "a condition which reinforces his own sense of failure … “
The implementation of work relief programs during the Great Depression exemplified the New Dealers' concern with the psychological impact of their policies and programs. If general economic recovery and the physical well-being of the unemployed had been their overriding concerns, then New Dealers might have appropriately supported massive deficit expenditures for direct relief to give jobless people money to support the economy and themselves. ...
New Dealers' conception of work relief derived from values inherent in a capitalistic ethos and incorporated many of the practices of private employment. Therefore, despite the New Dealers' emphasis on psychological concerns, the history of work relief serves as a case study for their acceptance of capitalism and their proclivity to innovate within the confines of the capitalistic order. In the case of work relief, the New Dealers' desire to preserve the morale of the unemployed eventually collided with their assumption that they must maintain the capitalistic system, on which work relief depended for many of its distinguishing features. If work programs had precisely duplicated conditions of employment in private industry and fully satisfied the psychological needs of the unemployed then the government would have entered into direct competition with private employers, possibly forcing more severe economic contractions and perhaps undermining the nation's private enterprise system. In addition, the unemployed might have become permanently dependent upon government for work. New Dealers responded to their dilemma by keeping work relief employment less attractive than private employment, thereby protecting private employers against public competition and assuring clear incentives to direct the unemployed back into private industry. ...
When the New Deal reversed course and abandoned CWA, demonstrations were organized to protest Roosevelt's decision, letters poured into the White House and Congress, congressional hearings were called …
In addition to being bound by traditional relief procedures, FERA and WPA conformed to an unwritten conservative rule that prohibited government interference with an ongoing capitalistic economy. "Policy from the first was not to compete with private business," Hopkins explained. New Dealers banned construction projects that might take business away from private contractors as well as projects that would involve the government in the production, distribution, or sale of goods and services normally provided by private employers. Projects were restricted to work that "would not otherwise be done," and job assignments had to exclude such fields as manufacturing, merchandising, and marketing. ...
Clearly, FERA and WPA provided work, but was it "real" work as was it free of the stigma of charity? The political left attacked New Deal work programs as hypocritical reforms intended to save capitalism rather than the unemployed, while the right charged them with destroying American traditions of self-reliant individualism.
Bremer, William W. “Along the ‘American Way’: The New Deal's Work Relief Programs for the Unemployed.” The Journal of American History, vol. 62, no. 3, 1975, pp. 636–652. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2936218.
Burns, James MacGregor. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956. Kindle file.
Doyle, William. Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton. New York: Kodansha International, 1999. Print.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. Print.
Persico, Joseph E. Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.
Rauchway, Eric. The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
My point in cobbling together this “essay” was to highlight that FDR was basically the neo-liberal of his day, much like HRC today. He resisted the pull from the leftist reformers of the day. The benefits that accrued to the workers of the day, which many are thankful for today, are much like praising the bank bailouts of 2008 because they themselves eventually profited in their 401k’s.
The benefits of FDR’s, and Obama’s bailouts, were consciously designed to primarily benefit the capitalists, and the trickle-down benefits to the non-wealthy was inadvertent and cosmetic, and could be termed as similar to ‘economic collateral damage’ in reverse. Like concave, or convex, or whatever. When they saved the Rockefellers and the Carnegies back in the day, or the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates more recently, a few Joe Blows, and Joe Shikspaks, also benefited somewhat—and that’s a questionable premise for glorifying FDR, or Obama. FDR consciously kept wages below the going rate so as to entice the citizenry to return to creating profits for their masters. This seems similar to Andrew Yang’s positions: you can barely survive, or you can return to creating a profit for your masters, but there will be no reforms of the capitalistic system!
While I would support Sanders, I fear he will be too middle-of-the road, resisting actual reform, and ideals will collide with the assumption that he must maintain the capitalistic system.