Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Will the Real FDR Please Stand Up?

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The Bernie Sanders campaign is seeking to make the Senator’s self-described socialism palatable by drawing parallels to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pointing out that FDR’s enemies called him a socialist in his day.

Essential continuity of thought.

Essential continuity of thought.

There is some merit to this positioning, but what is there to learn about FDR and his policies? The memory of FDR that is kept alive in our high school history classes is a very incomplete picture of the man.

The key to understanding FDR is his own self-description:

You know I am a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does … and furthermore I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war.
— FDR to Henry Morgenthau, 1942. Quoted in Fleming, The New Dealers’ War.

It was known at the time that Roosevelt was not only willing to put duplicity in service of a national war effort, but any other cause that would further his ends.

If [Roosevelt] became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he needs so sorely, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House yard come Wednesday.
— H. L. Mencken, 1936.

Roosevelt left no political testament that states his principles, but even if he had, we would be wise to treat it with skepticism. His book Looking Forward — a play, for those in the know, on the utopian science fiction novel Looking Backward — was essentially a repackage of previous speeches and articles he had written. The principles to which he committed himself in action can be briefly enumerated:

  1. Power;
  2. More power.

Bernie Sanders is much more ideological, whereas Roosevelt was totally pragmatic. Sanders has been a socialist through fair weather and foul. I have full confidence that Sanders’ positions in the campaign are those that he believes fully.

Roosevelt was much more willing to shift his positions and tack with prevailing winds. The most notorious example of this was his behavior in 1940-41, when he sensed the strong isolationist current in America but knew he could not allow Britain to fail. He promised the country to not become involved in foreign wars, while at the same time calling for every act he could get Congress to pass to aid Britain, China and, after June 1941, the Soviet Union. His embargo of oil to Japan pushed the Japanese into a corner where they had to either initiate war or back down.

Roosevelt had no animosity toward business, banks or Wall Street provided they would do what he wanted them to do. His practical course of action is properly understood as corporatism: a private-public partnership of Big Business, Big Labor, Big Government, Big Education and Big Media. While all the sloganeers of the 1930s talked about “the little guy”, the only way the little guy had any chance was to become a member of something big.

In 1935, the Supreme Court handed down the Schechter decision that invalidated the National Recovery Administration. FDR launched a vendetta against the Supreme Court that has altered juridical history from then to now. No court has ever challenged broad delegation from Congress to the executive branch since.

The 2016 candidate who best matches the principles displayed in the actions of FDR is Donald Trump. It is undoubtedly true that FDR would have considered Trump vulgar, but much of public life has changed in eighty years.


Written by srojak

February 15, 2016 at 10:59 am

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