Noemie Emery: Why There Will Never Be Another FDR





...[T]he problem [with the New Deal] was that what most of the country thought of as the ceiling, the progressive faction continued to see as the floor. They talked of the New Deal’s “unfinished business” and kept on seeking a hero to take care of it, believing that history moves to the left and that progressive eras are followed by times of consolidation, which in turn are followed by times of still further action, in which the country will move left again. Lyndon Johnson tried to fulfill this hope, but his excesses set off a whole new dynamic, consisting of liberal overreach, a conservative backlash against it, and then a moment of more-or-less moderation — to be followed, once memories faded, by liberal excess again. This was back-and-forth alternation, instead of progress in a single direction interrupted with pauses. Johnson’s Great Society ran into a wall in the 1966 midterms, and then spawned a run of Republican presidents....

Clinton, after running as a moderate against the moderate George H. W. Bush, got carried away and tried to pass a health-care reform that spawned the Republican capture of Congress. Clinton then triangulated his way back to the center, permitting (or forcing) the younger George Bush to run as a compassionate conservative. After this, Obama won in a landslide after the fiscal implosion, made a swerve to the left sharper than Bill Clinton’s, and triggered the Tea Party’s rise. This led to the Democrats’ drubbing in the 2010 midterms, which progressives saw as racist, fascist, hateful, and simply vicious, but which was in fact completely predictable and similar to what had happened quite often before....

In 1933, government had to get bigger. Now it has to reform, devolve, cut back, and control itself, before it shoves us off the cliff into catastrophe. This is why “the new FDR” is now in such trouble — and why the search for the next one will end in more tears.



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