Jonah Goldberg

Still, it's worth noting for the record that the New Deal didn't really do what most of these people think it did. It didn't, for example, end the Great Depression. It prolonged it - by years. It didn't really crack down on big business - it gave big business unprecedented power to regulate itself, to the detriment of small businessmen.

But when you point out these facts, the usual response is, "So what?"

Well, if you're going to proclaim that what we need is a new New Deal when you're conceding that the New Deal didn't work, you've got a problem on your hands.

But the problems go deeper than that. Some say what they love about the New Deal was its "bold, persistent experimentation," in FDR's famous words.

"We need our leaders to recapture the urgency of the New Deal era, an enthusiasm for experimentation that attempts to address Americans' core challenges and not just win elections," writes Andrea Batista Schlesinger in the April 7 issue of The Nation.

Others, like Emanuel, suggest that "planning" was the essence of the New Deal. But planning and experimentation are, in fact, opposites. You don't "experiment" when performing an appendectomy or when building a house; you follow a plan.

More important, these New Deal nostalgists don't like experiments in the first place. It's all one-way, about finding new ways to expand government, not new ways to solve problems. Experiments like school vouchers or social security privatization: These are completely taboo to the same people clamoring for a new New Deal.

Others will tell you that what was great about the New Deal was its spirit of "hope" and "unity" - two words we hear a lot these days. But hope for what? Unity about what?

The answer is obvious. The hope for power that comes with unity. "Experimentation" is really just a dishonest word for allowing the would-be Brain Trusters to do whatever they want. And if it fails, well, that's no reason to take away their licenses, because they warned us they were "experimenting."


Jonah Goldberg

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