New Deal Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

New Deal

Politically-motived objections to President Roosevelt's "New Deal" would long outlive FDR himself. In 2003, when Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman was looking for a term to describe the ideologically-driven motivations of President George W. Bush and his administration, the phrase he selected was "the great unraveling" -- Krugman's image saw Roosevelt's New Deal programs (above all Social Security) as having become the very fabric of the society in which we live, and the simpleminded libertarianism of the GOP attitude toward the social programs of the New Deal was a mistaken . Yet I think it would be easiest to answer the question of whether Republicans' libertarian objections to the New Deal are genuinely based on the New Deal's curtailment of actual liberty. I hope an examination of campaign speeches by both FDR and Roosevelt from the 1932 Presidential election will elucidate the relationship between individual freedom and the government that would be offered by the New Deal.

Certainly it was a form of libertarian ideology on Herbert Hoover's part that marked his unwillingness to invervene effectively in the wake of the Great Depression. One of the tremendous ironies of Hoover's long life (he would outlive JFK) and ideological career is that before his Presidency, when he was merely a private citizen and charitably-motivated Quaker in the wake of Europe's devastation during World War I, he was widely credited with having saved all of Europe from starvation after the Armistice: that, more than anything else, made Hoover's willingness to preside over starvation in the United States all the more outrageous in the eyes of the public. Yet Hoover objected to the social welfare programs of the New Deal more or less on principle. As he would say in his 1932 campaign speech,

This question is the basis upon which our opponents are appealing to the people in their fears and distress. They are proposing changes and so-called new deals which would destroy the very foundations of our American system. Our people should consider the primary facts before they come to the judgment -- not merely through political agitation, the glitter of promise, and the discouragement of temporary hardships -- whether they will support changes which radically affect the whole system which has been builded up by 150 years of the toil of our fathers.

From Hoover's perspective, the laissez-faire capitalism which had turned the U.S. Senate into a "billionaire boys' club" by the end of the nineteenth century, and was deemed to be sufficiently exploitative for Alexander Berkman to fire a bullet into the skull of Henry Clay Frick, was somehow the necessary essence of the American system. As Hoover put it:

It is founded on the conception that only through ordered liberty, through freedom to the individual, and equal opportunity to the individual will his initiative and enterprise be summoned to spur the march of progress…It is by the maintenance of equality of opportunity and therefore of a society absolutely fluid in freedom of the movement of its human particles that our individualism departs from the individualism of Europe. We resent class distinction because there can be no rise for the individual through the frozen strata of classes, and no stratification of classes can take place in a mass livened by the free rise of its particles. Thus in our ideals the able and ambitious are able to rise constantly from the bottom to leadership in the community.

Hoover's surreal rebuke to Marxist analysis here -- which swallows the myth of a class-free America whole -- surely could not have persuaded many Americans in 1932. The only way whereby Hoover could have employed this rhetoric with a straight-face is if he himself believed it, which indeed he did: Hoover's training as a mining engineer and his vast global success in the period immediately preceeding World War I had persuaded him of the reality of the American Dream (or day-dream) that he prefers to the New Deal.

But to compound the ironies of the 1932 campaign, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was precisely the opposite from Hoover: he was the…

Sources Used in Document:


Hoover, Herbert. "Campaign Speech, Madison Square Garden, October 31, 1932."

Krugman, Paul. The Great Unravelling. New York: Norton, 2003.

Roosevelt, Franklin D. "Campaign Speech to the Commonwealth Club."

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