Kennedy-New Deal Did

Kennedy-New Deal Did - What the New Deal Did DAVID M...

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Unformatted text preview: What the New Deal Did DAVID M. KENNEDY The United States now confronts a cascading economic crisis. Venerable banking houses collapse, once-mighty industries teeter on the brink of oblivion, and unemployment mounts. The air thickens with recollections of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and with comparisons between Barack Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt. So what was the Great Depression, and what did FDR do about it? The short answer is that the Great Depression was a rare political opportunity, and Roosevelt made the most of it, to the nation ʼ s lasting benefit. A longer answer would acknowledge that the Great Depression was a catastrophic economic crisis that Roosevelt failed to resolve, at least not until World War II came along, some eight years after he assumed office. A still longer answer would recognize the connection between FDR ʼ s short-term economic policy failure and the New Deal ʼ s long-term political success. Much misunderstanding surrounds these matters. “ At the heart of the New Deal, ” the distinguished historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote, “ there was not a philosophy but a temperament. ” As a writer in The New York Times put it not long ago, “ F.D.R. threw a bunch of policies against the wall, and the ones that stuck became the New Deal. ” 1 That view of the New Deal — as a kind of unprincipled, harum-scarum frenzy of random, incoherent policies that failed to slay the Depression demon — has become deeply embedded in our national folklore. It is badly mistaken. If we are to understand the Great Depression ʼ s relevance to our own time, it is imperative to understand the relationship between the economic crisis of the 1930s and that decade ʼ s signature political legacy, the New Deal. Into the years of the New Deal was crowded more social and institutional change than in virtually any comparable compass of time in the nation ʼ s past. DAVID M. KENNEDY is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus and Co-Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929 – 1945. 1 Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), XXX; The New York Times , 16 January 2001, Sec. A, p. 23. Political Science Quarterly Volume 124 Number 2 2009 251 Change is always controversial. Change on the scale the New Deal wrought has proved interminably controversial. Debate about the New Deal ʼ s histori- cal significance, its ideological identity, and its political, social, and economic consequences has ground on for three quarters of a century. Roosevelt ʼ s re- forms have become a perpetual touchstone of American political argument, a talisman invoked by all parties to legitimate or condemn as the occasion re- quires, an emblem and barometer of American attitudes toward government itself. So just what, exactly, did...
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Kennedy-New Deal Did - What the New Deal Did DAVID M...

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