Monday, March 7, 2011

Leuchtenburg - Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-40

Leuchtenburg, William Edward. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940. The New American Nation series. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

FDR's New Deal was not so much a revolution as a reshuffle of the old system that had failed with a new deal designed mainly to alleviate an economic crisis.

The Expansion of Government
Leuchtenburg acknowledges in the New Deal project (and FDR in particular) to the Progressives, but complicates that relationship. New Dealers lacked the desire for reform to the point of social transformation. They didn't want to change people, but rather wanted to make the world better for people. Unlike Progressivism, the New Deal was not sentimental: it avoided claiming relief was humanitarian, but rather justified it as something to stabilize the economy.
"The New Dealers reflected the tough-minded, hard-boiled attitude that pemeated much of America in the thirties." (338) Ex. Imagine James Cagney or Humphery Bogart working on economic policy.

The New Deal empowered workers and took on corporations as entities. It emphasized community and teamwork and took on individualism.

Part of the expansion was the inability of state and local governments to deal with the crisis. Ex. the crime sprees of John Dillinger, who could not be stopped much less kept in jail until federal authorities got involved.

The most revolutionary change was to the role of the executive. Not since Washington and Andrew Jackson had the role of the President been so changed. Congress had dominated legislative creation even into the Progressive Era, but after the New Deal Congress looked to the President to set the agenda and (like TR and Wilson) send drafts of bills on to Congress. The development that best symbolizes this is Roosevelt's order in 1939 to create the Executive Office of the President, which formalized a place for six bureaucrats working under him, eventually expanding to oversee bureaucracy like the budget, NSC, and CIA.

For all of these developments, Leuchtenburg ultimately credits FDR. His leadership, relationship with the public, administrative style, and creativity was the driving force of the New Deal.

Leuchtenburg is typical of the pro-New Dealers who agreed with FDR politically and thus view the New Deal positively. Anti-New Dealers fall into 2 camps, just as Bennett's lecture title suggests "Liberal hero, radical disappointment, Conservative Devil." Socialist critics feel he should not have propped up capitalism. Conservatives feel he abandoned the free market with dangerous results.

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