May 22, 2010

Desperate to change their miserable present, Republicans are traveling back in time to rewrite the past. And so it is with President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Hoping to block President Obama's stimulus program designed to prevent the next Great Depression, right-wing authors, pundits, and politicians insisted FDR failed to cure the first one. Now, Glenn Beck tells us, Americans reacted to the death of the man who led America back from economic collapse to victory in World War II by claiming with relief, "I'm glad he's dead."

On his Friday show, Beck featured regular guest Burton Folsom Jr. to peddle his book proclaiming the New Deal a failure. (Citing the thoroughly debunked work of Amity Shlaes, GOP leaders like John McCain and Mitch McConnell in 2009 similarly called he New Deal a bust, while Ohio Rep. Steve Austria amazingly declared that FDR "put our country into a Great Depression") After Folsom praised the Republican Roaring Twenties for producing Scotch Tape and zippers, Beck summed up his feelings for Roosevelt:

BECK: Roosevelt...Am I wrong by saying there was a good portion of people that thought, "Holy cow, I'm glad he's dead. He was turning into a dictator."

FOLSOM: Well, there were a lot of people who thought that. As you pointed out, we immediately had a constitutional amendment to prevent any other president from serving longer than two terms...It had not worked well with four terms under Franklin Roosevelt.

Of course, Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945 brought shock, disbelief and national mourning. And he was wildly popular. His approval rating, which reached 84% in 1942, never dipped below 48% (in 1938). His passing on the eve of victory in Europe stunned Americans, whose approval of him topped 70%.

And with good reason. He had been overwhelmingly elected in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. (He never won less than 36 states and 432 electoral votes.) Even before the onset of World War II, FDR slashed unemployment by more than half and largely restored industrial production and GDP growth. (Only when Roosevelt wavered in the face of conservative pressure in 1937 did his New Deal temporarily falter.)

Among FDR's ardent backers were the Schecter brothers, whose 1935 Supreme Court challenge to his National Recovery Administration struck down much of his New Deal regulatory program. As David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times review of Amity Shlaes' book:

Among Roosevelt's supporters, evidently, were a family of chicken butchers in Brooklyn named the Schechters. "Their major political concern in the 1930s was anti-Semitism," Shlaes's appendix quotes one of their descendants as saying. "They believed that if Roosevelt had not solved the problems of the Depression, the U.S. could have gone the way of Nazi Germany." The Schechters apparently voted for Roosevelt every time he ran.

(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)

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