His high tax rates on high earners -- the great white whale of the Ahab-like Obama -- plus something called the excess profits tax and the threat of onerous new regulation discouraged business investment, leading to what some called a capital strike.
In that setting many liberals, as historian Alan Brinkley writes, "reached the pessimistic conclusion that stagnation had become the normal condition of modern industrial economies." Sounds like Bill Clinton's argument: No one could do better.
Republicans gained 80 House seats in the 1938 off-year elections. A conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats dominated Congress for most of the next 20 years.
Polling in the run-up to the 1940 election showed Roosevelt and the Democratic Party in nothing like the dominant position they held in his first term. Gallup polls showed that most voters wanted a Republican as the next president.
Of course, we know that Roosevelt won a third term and then a fourth after that. The New Deal historians have taken that as evidence that Americans loved his big government policies.
But Roosevelt won in 1940 and 1944 on foreign affairs and as a war leader. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 overshadowed economic complaints.
In June 1940, Hitler overran France. With his then-ally Josef Stalin, he threatened to take over most of the landmass of Eurasia. We were as close as the world has ever gotten to George Orwell's "1984."
That crisis gave Roosevelt an enormous electoral advantage. Republicans' presidential hopefuls had no foreign policy credentials. Thomas Dewey was a 38-year-old district attorney, Robert Taft a second-year senator, Wendell Willkie -- the surprise nominee -- a utilities executive.
Democratic alternatives to Roosevelt were just as weak: a salty Texas vice president, a former campaign manager, an outgoing governor of Indiana. Roosevelt finagled his renomination in July 1940 and won a decisive victory in November.
Roosevelt and his party were rescued from his second term record by a world crisis. It's not clear what will rescue Obama's candidacy.
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