Recently, I reread the chapters on the New Deal in Larry Schweikart's superb "A Patriot's History of the United States" to review parallels with Barack Obama's radical economic agenda. Here is an eye-opening, side-by-side sampling, with Schweikart's observations on FDR and the New Deal, along with mine on President Obama and his policies.
Schweikart wrote, "During the campaign, FDR, a man whose presidency would feature by far the largest expansion of the federal government ever, called for a balanced budget and accused Hoover of heading the 'greatest spending Administration in all our history.'"
Obama's stimulus bill sets frightening new records for federal spending. But while campaigning, he said, "I'm running for president because I believe we can choose our own economic destiny to go another four years with the same reckless fiscal policies that have busted our budget, wreaked havoc in our economy, and mortgaged our children's future on a mountain of debt; or we can restore fiscal responsibility in Washington."
Schweikart wrote, "Roosevelt heaped dishonor on the defeated Hoover, denying him even a Secret Service guard out of town."
At Obama's inauguration, his supporters booed, heckled and chanted tauntingly at President George W. Bush. Obama went to dinner during President Bush's farewell speech and repudiated the Bush era in his inaugural address and on his new White House Web site.
Schweikart wrote, "Roosevelt hoped to capitalize on the terrifying collapse of the economy to bulldoze through a set of policies that fundamentally rearranged the business and welfare foundations of American life." He continued, "Above all emergency measures needed to be done quickly before opposition could mount to many of these breathtaking challenges to the Constitution."
When Obama peddled panic to rush his bill through Congress, he heeded this advice from Rahm Emanuel: "Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things." The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector said Obama's stimulus bill "will overturn the fiscal foundation of welfare reform. For the first time since 1996, the federal government would begin paying states bonuses to increase their welfare caseloads." Obama regards this legislation as just the first step ("a down payment") in his mission to restructure the American economy.
Schweikart chronicled the liberal historians' view that FDR "saved capitalism from itself by entrenching a number of regulatory measures and social programs that kept the market economy from its own 'excesses.'" Rexford Tugwell, FDR's assistant secretary of agriculture, exposed the "myths" of laissez-faire, saying: "The jig is up. There is no invisible hand. There never was. Virtually all of the New Dealers shared, to one degree or another, a distrust of business and entrepreneurship that they thought had landed the nation in its current distressed condition. The administration's aims were crudely simple: 'One objective (of New Deal power policy) was to enlarge the publicly owned sector of the power industry as a means of diminishing private control over the necessities of life.'"
Today Obama trashes capitalism while pretending not to and without naming it specifically, but only as "an economic philosophy that has failed." Likewise, Obama's Democrats intend to curb capitalism's "excesses" and punish Wall Street "greed" through such measures as imposing caps on executive bonuses. It's also undeniable that they are wildly expanding the public sector at the expense of the private sector.
According to Schweikart, most of FDR's "Brain Trust" subscribed to the Keynesian premise that government spending would spur demand and thus pull a nation out of a depression. Few were troubled by the fact that this hadn't worked in Britain. A number of these "Keynes acolytes" sought "to ensure that federal spending was transformed 'from a temporary expedient to a permanent institution of government.'"
It's hardly a secret that Obama is a Keynesian and that he is staggeringly untroubled by the consistent failures of Keynesian policy before and since the New Deal. Moreover, Robert Rector notes that Obama has more ambitious plans than merely stimulating the economy. "The real goal is to get 'the camel's nose under the tent' for a massive permanent expansion of the welfare state."
Finally, Schweikart related that FDR adviser Raymond Moley "was 'impressed by the scantiness of (FDR's) precise knowledge of things that he was talking about (and) by the immense and growing egotism that came from his office."
Obama has sometimes revealed himself to be similarly uninformed on matters about which he has revealed an inflexible certainty, such as the complexities and consequences of closing Gitmo. Attorney Debra Burlingame attended Obama's meeting with families of terrorist victims, where he tried to justify his decision to drop charges against the USS Cole bomber. She said Obama said the right words in general, but when it came to specifics, he was "uncertain, uninformed and sometimes just plain mistaken." In addition, many have begun to comment on Obama's egotism, some even calling it narcissism.