Jonah Goldberg

Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been having a good year. Inspired by George W. Bush's - alas, sputtering - Social Security reform proposals, liberals have sought to elevate FDR to a rank just a few hairs shy of divinity.

On another front, in response to the fight over Bush's judicial nominations, some liberal legal scholars have invented a movement to rally around what they call "the Constitution in exile." According to these frightened acolytes of the "living Constitution," a secretive band of Federalist Society types is hell-bent on restoring the pre-New Deal constitutional order.

Meanwhile, Cass Sunstein - a legal scholar who has never failed to find a pulse in our founding charter - has written a book urging the adoption of FDR's "Second Bill of Rights," arguing that Roosevelt's socialist - or "statist," if that word goes down easier - 1944 plea for sweeping new economic rights should be injected into the living constitution like a new stem cell therapy.

Sunstein's appeal may not seem nutty, even if its goal is. Everybody - including Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich - has lionized FDR to the point that all that's necessary to clinch an argument for X or Y is to postulate that Roosevelt would have wanted it. It's like discovering a new page from the Bible which speaks to, say, the budget deficit.

Hence the batty disputes between various would-be oracles over whether the Great FDR Spirit supports add-on or carve-out private accounts for Social Security. In case you're wondering, the correct answer is: Who cares?

The idea that there was this defined, ideologically and intellectually coherent thing called "The New Deal" is nonsense, as almost any historian worth his salt will tell you. And it's even a little funny that liberals so uniformly admire FDR's "legacy." After all, the military-industrial complex and the marriage of big business and government are as central to his legacy as Social Security.

Indeed, the notion that FDR had a clear idea about what he wanted to do, what needed to be done, or anything else that might be described as "New Deal" liberalism is poppycock, too.

"To look upon these policies as the result of a unified plan," wrote Raymond Moley, FDR's right hand man during much of the New Deal, "was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter's tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy's bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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