Obama may be no FDR, but neither was FDR

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Apr 22, 2010 at 16:29


Shahien Nasiripour points out a gaping rhetorical contrast between President Obama's speech on Wall Street reform at Cooper Union, and a famous speech FDR in the closing days of his 1936 re-election campaign.  Obama, ever the unifier, reached out to Wall Street, while FDR drew a sharp, harsh contrast:

With Goldman Sachs's top leaders in attendance, President Barack Obama urged financial executives to work with him in passing the financial reform bill currently pending in the Senate.

"Ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation. So I urge you to join me -- to join those who are seeking to pass these commonsense reforms," according to Obama's prepared remarks for a speech in New York City. "And I urge you to do so not only because it is in the interests of your industry, but because it is in the interests of our country."

Obama's call for a more cooperative relationship stands in sharp contrast to another presidential address to financial executives in New York a few years removed from a financial crisis.

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace -- business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering," Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in a 1936 speech. "They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.

"They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."

The rhetorical difference between Obama and FDR could hardly be greater.  However, there is something else that Obama said today that actually reminded me of a rhetorical move FDR often made.  Like FDR, Obama emphasized that he believed in a free market.

White House talking points today:

The President is an ardent believer in the free market and a strong financial sector, and the reforms in this legislation are not about stifling competition or innovation. By laying out clear rules of the road and empowering our consumers with clear and concise information when making financial decisions, we'll offer more choices for consumers, more opportunities for businesses, and more stability in our financial system.

FDR writing to a friend in 1937:

In spite of defects as exhibited, I am still a believer in the capitalistic system... I do not see, however, why intelligent men in the world cannot do something toward remedying the effects of the capitalistic form of government.

From Obama's speech today

As I said two years ago on this stage, I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it.

Famous FDR speech, 1938:

"You undergraduates who see me for the first time have read your newspapers and heard on the air that I am, at the very least, an ogre - a consorter with communists, a destroyer of the rich... that I was driving the nation into bankruptcy, and that I breakfasted every morning on a dish of 'grilled millionaire.'

"Actually I am an exceedingly mild mannered person-a practitioner of peace, both domestic and foreign, a believer in the capitalistic system, and for my breakfast a devotee of scrambled eggs.

On these rhetorical points--emphasizing that they believe in capitalism, but feel its worst aspects must be reined in--FDR and Obama are nearly identical.

As the title implies, my point in this article is not actually to equate Obama and Roosevelt, but to call into question mythologies that have built up around progressive figures of the past (and Roosevelt actually refused to call himself a "progressive," opting for what at the time was the more right-wing "liberal").  It is true that Obama is far from the ideal of a progressive crusader, but the image as FDR achieving that ideal comes from viewing his presidency selectively and in distant hindsight.  FDR was in fact so far from that ideal at the time that he faced the very real prospect of being defeated for renomination--not re-election, renomination--in 1936 from a left-wing challenger.

Progressive mythology is an odd sort of thing, since we are supposed to be finding our ideals in a future that has not yet been achieved, not in a past that can never be regained and never actually happened (see conservatives on Ronald Reagan, life before the 1960's, and other matters).  We should pretty much always find our leaders to be unsatisfactory, but not because they failed to live up to a progressive figure of the past.

Chris Bowers :: Obama may be no FDR, but neither was FDR

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OK Chris... (4.00 / 4)
The reason Roosevelt was saying that at that time is because there was actually a large movement in the US designed around turning the country into a country that DID abolish capitalism. It was successful triangulation because he kinda did go in the middle between the marketeeres and the socialists.

Is there such a force today? I don't think so. It's not equivalent triangulation.  


Yes, There Was (4.00 / 6)
As Chris himself said, FDR was in danger of being primaried from the left.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Another contrast (4.00 / 9)
is that under FDR, there was "real" reform.  Under Obama, not so much.  

RATS! (0.00 / 0)
I have misquoted my byline.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR

I don't see that (0.00 / 0)
All you did was leave out the "We now know that" at the beginning.

[ Parent ]
Oh wait, did you fix it? (0.00 / 0)
What was it before?

[ Parent ]
previously (0.00 / 0)
My tagline was "government by organized money is no better than government by...."

Have also seen (or heard) the same quote stated as: "just as bad as...." and, "just as evil as..."

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR


[ Parent ]
But FDR was no Obama!!!!!! (4.00 / 1)
While it's certainly true that FDR was not the FDR that we on the left tend to mostly glorify. On the other hand FDR was no OBAMA.

this is a test (0.00 / 0)
Hopefully it's fixed.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR

A Constraint on Obama That's Not Been Mentioned (0.00 / 0)
Has the constant hyperbolic yelling that Obama is a socialist had anything to do with his calm rational approach? Were he to get super fiery on this issue, would that not be grist for the Bachmann-Palin (or as someone named them the Paliban) hysteria mill?

and what would they do? scream louder? (4.00 / 3)
every day? every hour? is it clear that would present greater problems than the present hysteria mill? how so?

[ Parent ]
Bring bigger guns to their rallies. n.t (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
I'm not sure if he means this (0.00 / 0)
but I would argue the media too. this morning I sat through watching an eight minute segment that consisted of the most disgusting lies about the financial reform bill, I had to go back into the shower. A reporter actually insinuated that the bill would cost New York
"tens of thousands of jobs" (I live in NYC) and "send them to Chicago" in a secret corrupt plot to deliver the President's hometown more jobs at New York's expense.

And then they lied abotu teh $50 billion fund, calling it a "legalized taxpayer funded bailout"

FDR didn't have that.  


[ Parent ]
There were plenty of radical conservatives in FDR's day too (4.00 / 2)


[ Parent ]
They didn't have the forum the ones today have (0.00 / 0)
and there were less of them, because A.) the country was smaller and B.) Roosevelt won a 17 point landslide in 1932, not a seven point mandate Obama won. I mean the SOCIALIST candidate got over 2% of the vote. The guy who ran as a SOCIALST.  

[ Parent ]
Those folks don't need an excuse to squawk (4.00 / 2)
Trying to avoid being grist for their mill of negativism is a fool's quest for any prominent Dem., especially the President.

Why let the Bachmann, Palin, Overdrive define Obama's position or rhetoric?  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
actions vs. words (4.00 / 18)
Well, it's interesting to compare FDR's words to Obama's.

Now let's compare their actions.  

Bank holidays, the Works Projects Administration (implemented via Executive Order, I believe -- now THAT took some spine),the Rural Electrification Program, the Pecora Commission, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, Social Security.  The Hoover Dam, the TVA.  

Maybe after Obama's been in office for 5 0r 6 years, as FDR had been at the time he wrote those words you cite, Obama will have done as much to blunt the abuses of capitalism and to materially improve the lives of those who'd been victimized by such abuses.  In which case, the comparison would be apt.

Until then, comparing their words is an exercise in sophistry -- and to what purpose?  To make us feel better about Obama?

We're at over 12% unemployment in Californa.  Everyone I know -- Obama voters all -- are angry.  I don't know a single person out here who hasn't been suffering because of this crisis, who hasn't experienced either small business bankruptcy, foreclosure or unemployment.  Frankly, this post made me angry.

FDR WAS FDR.  He kept people in their homes; his administration prosecuted financial felons; he created millions of jobs; he enhanced (rather than danced around stripping away) the living standards of the old and the destitue.  He built infrastructure.  There is a reason why the elderly people I know who lived through the Great Depression revere him.  

Reading these sites, like Open Left, I begin to wonder if Democratic activists have a clue what is really going on in people's lives.    

Obama is no FDR.  Rather than reach for such comparison, we can agitate for him to become so.  And if he won't or he can't then we should focus our energies elsewhere.

 


This is what I wanted to say and probably expressed better than I would have. Thank you. (4.00 / 5)
As always with Obama, it is the actions, not the words that count.  Same is true of Roosevelt.  At times, his words were combative, at times more friendly, but he got a lot done that really helped the average person.  

So far with Obama, we have student loan reform and a portion of the stimulus that really did some good.  Also, it looks like the new regulations on mountaintop removal coal mining might work well.  And the nuclear treaty is a modest first step.  
Beyond that, we have escalation of the war in Afghanistan, increase of the defense budget, defense of warrantless wiretapping, support for preventive detention, a policy of assassination of American citizens if they are designated "terrorist," a Republican health insurance reform that gives tens of billions to the greedy unethical insurance companies, etc.  


[ Parent ]
Exactly (4.00 / 3)
Who really cares whether or not FDR and Obama expressed some rhetorical similarities in certain parts of particular speeches one may choose to quote?

The important differences are in policy. Where's something comparable in terms of financial regulation? Where's the WPA, the CCC? Is there something comparable to Social Security? No, there is not and will not be. And the examples go on and on and on.

On the other hand, they faced different contexts. FDR came in at the tail end of several generations of rising left wing mobilization ranging from liberals to progressives to outright radicals. From 1900-1920 socialists and anarchists were rising political forces, though still minority movements. In the case of socialists, assuming 1000s of local and state elected offices, running an extensive press, and enjoying millions of sympathetic supporters. Palmer raids killed all that off. Then again in the 1930s labor militancy and mobilization of socialists and communists also made FDRs reforms mild in comparison. Indeed, FDR is known to have been motivated in part to forestall more radical reforms and 'save the capitalist system.'

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? And cold comfort for change?


[ Parent ]
Well, words and rhetoric DO matter (4.00 / 6)
in large part because they color people's opinions and shape their political ideologies and prejudices, and thus propel or constrain legislative actions.

Just look at Ronald Reagan's "government is the problem" rhetoric.  Never mind that Reagan passed the then-largest peacetime tax increase in history or that the deficit ballooned during his administration.  That anti-government rhetoric defines our political climate to this very day.

What we need now is a liberal anti-Reagan who will proudly declare that "government is the solution" and thus define the prevailing political climate for the next thirty years.  Is that person President Obama?  Judging by his speech, no...

A search for "government" produced: NOTHING

A search for "regulation" produced: NOTHING

A search for "community" produced: NOTHING

There was one hit for "regulator", as in: "The problem is these markets operated in the shadows of our economy, invisible to regulators, invisible to the public."

My point is, while the gist of the speech is towards new regulations (couched as "reforms" and "safeguards"), Obama, like most New Democrats, doesn't seem to want to give government the credit.  And so just as he is on so many other levels, on a rhetorical level, he's still a huge disappointment.


[ Parent ]
Words and rhetoric do matter, I agree (2.00 / 2)
My point was that if the rhetorical similarities do exist as suggested in the diary, that does not compensate for significant differences in policy actions between FDR and Obama. My point was not that words and rhetoric never matter.

But even when and to the degree words and rhetoric matter, actions matter more.

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? And cold comfort for change?


[ Parent ]
I think words and rhetoric drive action (0.00 / 0)
You can have words and rhetoric without action.  It's a lot harder to do action without having created the political impetus for it through words/rhetoric first.  It's in that way that I think words and rhetoric really do give the green light or red light to any given course of action.

For example, the anti-government political climate in the USA that was created by anti-government rhetoric was the reason why we were stuck clawing from a public option (and still failing) instead of cruising our way to the ("unrealistic") Medicare for All.


[ Parent ]
Oh, I understand you (0.00 / 0)
I get your point and I agree rhetoric can help drive action and if does, or if it impedes action, then it is all the more significant. It is of course impossible to clearly untangle complex relationships of cause and effect in a world of interacting causes and effects. And I do agree that anti-government rhetoric helped to impede efforts to realize the public option. As I read you, however, "green light or red light" attributes far too great a power in most circumstances.

In some senses we won the rhetorical war over the public option in as much as a strong majority of Americans favored including some version of a public option along with a bare majority of senators and who knows in the US House. Huge majorities respond favorably to polling using rhetoric of reducing military spending or raising taxes for the environment, and on down the line of progressive issues (there are exceptions). And yet these things do not happen. Everyone thinks 'Wall Street cheats' are the cause of the recent Great Recession, but only tepid policy proposals flow from the political system.

They do not happen for many reasons, including failed framing a la Lakoff, but, in my judgment, more because of the usually dominant political power of entrenched economic interests. I subscribe more to Ferguson's investment theory of politics than to the political alignment theory of politics. One can talk until they are blue in the face but most of the time most elites cannot be persuaded and must be overcome, beaten. The rhetorical dimensions of political struggle clearly play a role in such efforts, but rarely, in my view, a determinative role in the absence of other conditions.

This discussion - it's not really a debate because we both agree rhetoric and other things matter but may disagree over their relative importance - is a classic one in political theory and in the political traditions that have helped to inform my worldview. I am confident we (mostly) understand each other and this may just be a case of reading the political theory tea leaves differently.

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? And cold comfort for change?


[ Parent ]
Yeah, I think we agree (0.00 / 0)
You make a good point that people are mostly progressive if you ask them about actual issues, but on the meta-question of "what should the role of government be?" most people will automatically respond with some "less government!" drivel that blatantly contradicts what they feel on the issues.  And this is what frustrates me, because not only is the contradiction irritating as an academic matter, it at the very least colors people's perceptions of new issues that they might not have heard of and had the chance to form an opinion on.  If people's default mode is "government sucks", once they come across something new and they're told it's "government", they'll have a prejudiced view of it as being sucky.


[ Parent ]
12% - Is that all? (4.00 / 1)
MI is only at 14.1% instead of 15.2%.  For the last nine years, we've had the highest unemployment rate of any state.   What do we win?  The opportunity to bribe even more companies into coming or not leaving with tax money this state doesn't have.  


[ Parent ]
"What do we win?" (4.00 / 1)
You get to have Detroit [!] Not every state can say that.

Disclaimer: I grew up a few miles up Woodward Ave. from the Motor City.  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Michigan (4.00 / 2)
Yes:  I'm astounded at what the US has allowed to happen in Michigan and in particular to Detroit -- how little people seem to know or care.  It's the epicenter of how little the nation, the politicans, or even, for that matter, much of the left seem to know or care about how the American economy has decimated those left behind by the financialization of the economy.  

[ Parent ]
Nothing wrong with historical revisionism (0.00 / 0)
What you point to here is just how people think: as Kiekergaard put it, we live forward but think backward. We're historical creatures, and as any thoughtful historian will tell you documenting the past always involves reinterpreation and revision. History is always  already selective. That's just how it works. Progressives are as deeply rooted in teh past as conservatives, and conservatives have as much utopian longing in their ideals as we do. Maybe more, actually.

I think, at base, this comes down to a rhetorical binary between the terms "progressivism" and "capitalism" (or maybe its closely allied companion "corporations"), as if the two are  fundamentally at odds with each other. Therefore, to be a "progressive" FDR had to be "anti-capitalist", whatever that means. And Obama, to the extent that he embraces "capitalism" (or "corporations") - whatever the heck that is - is therefore no progressive. You know, its the same logic that suggests that corporations are by definition the enemy of the people, that health care reform was not "real" reform because the drug industry benefited from it, and that we live in a "capitalist" society, despite government spending being a cornerstone of the economy, because we let homeless people die in the street. Its as if capitalist = bad and progressive = good and therefore the two can't have anyting to do with each other.

These terms don't mean much. They are just rhetorical placeholders for value statements about the condition of our society. In general, if you are on the left you say "capitalist" or "corporation" when you mean "bad". In general, if you are on the right you say "socialist" when  you mean "bad." If you consider yourself on the left, but also consider the corporate form to be a significant moral advance, well then you are just sort of weird. That's just sort of the way it goes.



You Make A Good Point, Chris (4.00 / 14)
about not deifying figures of the past and papering over their shortcomings.

But various commentators--particularly dandelion--beat me to the punch in making the even more important point that FDR's actions were a heck of a lot bolder than Obama's, thus giving even very similar words a very different context, and hence a very different meaning.

What's more, we should never forget that FDR was experimenting.  Macroeconomics was just being invented by Keynes at the time.  Obama, OTOH, had all that past experience to draw on, and a much clearer understanding of the irreplaceable role of deficit spending fiscal policy when monetary measures have exhausted themselves.  And he quite deliberately chose a path that would cause enormous pain for working and middle-class Americans.

It's not just that his actions have been so Repubican in their indifference to widespread suffering.  dandelion already made that point quite eloquently.  The point I'm trying to add here is that unlike FDR, Obama knew for certain what he was failing to do when he praised Collins for gutting close to half the state stimulus funding--funding that was already less than half what was needed.

And that was just one of many similar examples.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


Chris, the Last Paragraph of this Post (0.00 / 0)
clearly has echoes of this:

http://mydd.com/2006/7/18/star...

Still probably one of my favorite pieces you have ever written.  


FWIW, FDR ran as a budget-balancing, cut-government-spending fiscal conservative in 1932 (4.00 / 2)
which is really bizarre in hindsight.

Thank you for this post. There's too much deification of FDR (4.00 / 1)
w/out even bothering to look at context. One is that there was a strong far left movement that doesn't exist today. Another is that Americans (primarily whites) have bought into the anti-government views. That wasn't the case during FDR's time. As bad as this economy is, people are not suffering from depravity as they did during the Great Depression.

Check. FDR came to office (4.00 / 1)
after 3 solid years of horrible Depression, which involved unemployment of a quarter of the nation's workforce.  And the worse of it occurred in the long months between the 32 election and FDR's taking office (then it was March).  Obama came in after one year of recession and, what, 9% or so official unemployment  

Roosevelt won with 57% or so majority vote and enjoyed some 70% and more Dems in Congress when he began.  Obama had a good, but not Rooseveltian, 53% majority win and 60% roughly of Dem Congress on his side.  FDR also had some Rs to work with; Obama none.

There was some grumbling among the left and regular folks in late 34/early 35 as it was perceived FDR wasn't doing nearly as much as he could to get people back to work and with jobs that paid more than starvation wages, as some of Roosevelt's programs did.   FDR eventually responded in 1935 with what has come to be known as the Second New Deal, which historians regard as a stronger set of economic and social programs than the famous ones of his first hundred days.  

But that happened only in the 3d year of his presidency.  Obama is not even halfway into his 2d year.  

Let's see what he does with the financial reg bill and immigration this year.  Then there's that second pick for Scotus to evaluate him on.


[ Parent ]
I don't want to say this is nonsense, (4.00 / 6)
but even on your own terms it makes little sense. FDR was criticized as he should have been by the left, vociferously and actively. He wasn't nationalizing industry, he didn't even fully support CIO organizing; his non-intervention act doomed the Spanish republic; one can go on and on. But you yourself say the left was much, much stronger then. It is a tribute to how very much FDR did, how very different he is than the corporatist Obama (yes by all means let's wait and see, and then after that we can wait and see, and then perhaps we can ...well wait and see), that this much stronger and powerful and representative left criticized him (of course)but did not view him as an enemy. It is the moderation of the left criticism, rather than its vehemence that proves how fundamentally different political sides have been taken by Obama and FDR. (Go back and look at the left documents of the day. Read even the communist and socialist literature of the time. They opposed FDR but boy did they support him as well) That is the fundamental insight you are entirely blind too. Of course they criticized FDR; FDR was not a leftist; but hecared about the populace and the measures he took were on the behalf of suffering multitudes. This is entirely different from Obama. Obama is tied to the ruling elite; his measures are not in relief of the suffering caused by the great corporate and financial and military power.

This entire post is ahistorical with no understanding historical process. The very criticism both FDR and Obama get from the left is proof of their distinctness politically, of their absolute distance politically, not of a similarity.


[ Parent ]
I think you're conflating (0.00 / 0)
my post with Micheline's, with which I mostly agreed.  To be clear, I post here in support of Chris's motion that the left has tended over the yrs to deify FDR, and so it was necessary of course to note how in some important respects Roosevelt had a much freer hand to govern, and govern very boldly if he chose, as compared to Obama today.  I do not post to support a view that FDR was a lousy president or doesn't deserve to be considered among the very best presidents ever, despite some mid-sized to large mistakes over time.

As for the strength of the left then, which Micheline brought up, compared to today, I wouldn't doubt.  But FDR likely responded in his bolder Second Hundred Days of his 3d year both from discontent from the left and from a personal reaction to the Court's knocking out several of his major reform policies.  It's to his credit that instead of meekly accepting the Ct's adverse rulings and throwing up his hands in frustration, he set about finding constructive ways around the problem.  In 1935 that produced some solid legislation, including SS, signing into law the Wagner Act, a new jobs bill, increasing the tax rate on the rich and adding a non-trivial corporation tax, among other progressive measures.  1937 of course would bring a different reaction by FDR to the Court ...

As for Obama, he's been only 60% of what I hoped for, so a semi-disappointment so far, particularly in the nat'l security/civil liberties areas.  But I do think checking the calendar once in a while and taking a deep breath is helpful.  He's only 15 months into his presidency, and in this midterm election year will probably need to produce at least one more good piece of legislation -- the financial reg bill -- plus a solid Scotus pick before Dems can anticipate fewer losses than expected in Nov.


[ Parent ]
I guarantee you'll be saying the same thing in 5 years. (4.00 / 2)
As for Obama, he's been only 60% of what I hoped for, so a semi-disappointment so far, particularly in the nat'l security/civil liberties areas.  But I do think checking the calendar once in a while and taking a deep breath is helpful.

How many more Friedman Units will you actually require to make up your mind?

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
Perhaps he'll end up (0.00 / 0)
a disappointment in 5 yrs.  Better that scenario than one which has the far Right taking over the WH in 2012.  We won't be talking disappointment then of course, but how long our democratic processes and Constitution will survive the radical extremists with their Tea Bagger armed shock troops.

Meanwhile, last I checked, it's about 20 months until the primaries get under way and I don't yet have to get off the fence about Obama.  We have midterms coming up, and a few Obama promises and other items to deliver.  Plenty of things to judge him on before one or two folks from the left  decide whether to primary him.  

And if Obama hasn't delivered on promises, if the Scotus pick is overly cautious, or the jobs situation is still very bad, then we can talk about another run by Dennis Kucinich (and his lovely wife Elizabeth), or perhaps someone taller.


[ Parent ]
What makes you think the Far Right isn't occupying the WH? (4.00 / 1)
We won't be talking disappointment then of course, but how long our democratic processes and Constitution will survive the radical extremists with their Tea Bagger armed shock troops.

Except for the Tea Bagger Contingent, all the rest of that sentence applies perfectly well to this administration. The allegedly NOT-right wing one.

We're still kidnapping and torturing innocent people. They've even institutionalized the practice of extra-judicial murder of Americans abroad. Indefinite detention. Warrantless surveillance. Denial of habeus corpus. Creation of an extra-legal secret military "court system" to deal with people that can't be legally convicted of anything in REAL courts. Eviscerating, one piece at a time, the Endangered Species Act. Refusal to act in the national interest when it comes to the economy or finance or energy or the environment. Expanding wars for profit all over the world.

How is that not a Right-Wing extremist agenda? Just because Obama has a "D" after his last name?


"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
Just a few responses (4.00 / 3)
"in some important respects Roosevelt had a much freer hand to govern, and govern very boldly if he chose, as compared to Obama today."...of course, entirely right. FDR could and did go much further in helping those being crushed by the ravages of the depression than Obama could for those ravaged by the Great Recession. So here is where it gets tricky. Having stated the obvious, we now have to deal with the reality of today. Is this the best that could be done given  the configuration of political forces? Is it close to the best that can be done? Has Obama and his administration, stocked with conservative, make-no-waves hang-overs from the old politics of placating and advancing the agenda of the ruling financial elites, even attempted to do what is needed or even to really help those in need? If he had, he would be criticized from the left sure for what he did not do, but he would not be  villified as he is (correctly, justifiably, righteously) for being an essential part of the problem that we the people must overcome. However Bowers blathers about Obama having won the "messaging war" with "progressive bloggers" (who????), the actual "war" to divide our resources and our opportunities equitably seems to continue. In the end, now as then, it is a question of whose side you are on and tippy-toeing on the line doesn't put you on the people's side.

[ Parent ]
Obama could and should have (0.00 / 0)
acted more robustly in his first Hundred Days especially in helping Main St with jobs while producing a stronger HCR bill.  But my guess is he didn't or couldn't grasp the depth of the economic problem and was smooth-talked by some of his ex Goldman economic advisors.  His admin's failure to go after Bush admin illegalities and improprieties in the US Atty politicization, in domestic spying and torture abroad has been more than disappointing.

No, far from the best he could have done in these areas.  But he's done some good things if not perfect things.  And the jury is still out, from my pov, since he needs to deliver on financial industry reform, one liberal Scotus pick (a moderate choice this time is not a smart move), immigration reform (this yr or next), beginning withdrawal from Afghan as pledged next yr, and completing the Iraq withdrawal as announced.  DADT repeal too.  

Yes, the guy has kicked some cans down the road.  But by the end of 2011 it should be clearer than now whether he's all hat and no cattle.  I'm willing to watch things closely until then before deciding whether to pull the plug.  YMMV ...    


[ Parent ]
agree and disagree (4.00 / 1)
"No, far from the best he could have done in these areas.  But he's done some good things if not perfect things.  "

I agree with this entirely. And FDR was lousy in a number of important ways. But that is not the discussion here. Bowers points out that not only is Obama no FDR, but FDR was not an FDR. This is implicitly (at least roughly) equating the progressive bona fides of the two by roughing out the huge differences. It is self-serving for Bowers who seems to have settled comfortably in his role of providing left cover for Obama. Your quote above for example could easily be applied to FDR but I think by any reasonable standard FDR followed a mostly left-leaning progressive (albeit non-revolutionary) policy with new innovative, mostly original-thinking advisers with the goal of providing relief to the dire circumstances Americans found themselves in. Only a deranged Obama fanatic would argue that any part of this applies to Obama. I do not know what 2011 will bring (I DO know and you do too that Obama's promise to draw down combat trooops in Afghanistan in one year's time is a blatant, deliberate lie. It will not happen. It cannot logistically happen), but there is nothing in what Obama has done and said to indicate anything different will occur. We all can hope of course. While we are at that productive activity we can also hope the Republicans come to their senses and act reasonably and morally.


[ Parent ]
Pipe dream (4.00 / 1)
Nothing in Obama's actions suggests anything like the "second 100 days" you have described for FDR will ocurr in the remainder of his first term.



"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
My complaint isn't even that he hasn't enough done enough (4.00 / 1)
My complaint is what he's already done in those 15 months.  For example, cheating on me with the hospital and pharmaceutical lobbies.

[ Parent ]
re: fdr (4.00 / 2)
"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace -- business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering," Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in a 1936 speech. "They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today.

"They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."

that is a thing of beauty

and it depresses me so damn much when I compare it to the crap we get these days...


I totally agree (4.00 / 3)
Obama is a political and intellectual midget in comparison to FDR.  

[ Parent ]
This post is as much to convince yourself (4.00 / 1)
As it is to convince us.

It's very hard to feel angry all the time at people who are supposed to be on the same side as us.

One therefore looks for good signs everywhere and anywhere.

Maybe this time he will surprise us and go for all the best things that really make a big difference in finanical reform.  Like the Brown Kaufman bill...which got a surprisngly good vote in the Senate committee.

If we see him fighting for progressive things, going for the gusto as they say, then we can all start looking for the best instead of being suspicious and only expecting half hearted efforts.


"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


All in all, quite useful, Chris (0.00 / 0)
FDR not only had Huey Long and the Socialists (Norman Thomas) to contend with but Communists as well, who were at their apogee during the depression.  And even that wasn't all - there were local general strikes in cities like Toledo and Minneapolis as well that had participation far beyond members of the organized Left.  The threat that "it could happen here" enabled Roosevelt to play the "traitor to his class" role, saving his class from itself.

No such forces are in play today.  The pathetic Tea Party is blown up beyond all proportion.  I saw their rally in Chicago last week - a small crowd of maybe 500 - ¿Cómo se dice en Inglés? - Republicans.  It got respectful coverage far beyond what it deserved.  Whereas the Netroots have basically refused to consider any politics outside the electoral arena since the failure of the 2002-3 protests to stop the Iraq War.  But there is a different dynamic in place today and perhaps this needs to be rethought.

Sitting back on the Web and criticizing Obama may be correct, but it's not necessarily useful in and of itself.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


FDR (0.00 / 0)
Sorry, but there are problems with this.  What about the 75-94% top income tax rate?  In fact the rates associated with Eisenhower were merely inherited by him; they were really started by FDR.  What about the large-scale government intervention in the economy? Through such entities as the TVA, the RFC, and others, the government quasi-nationalized a number of important industries, and imposed severe controls upon others.  What about the large scale expansion of labor unions?  What about the establishment of social security, the only universal social service that we have?  What about the Economic Bill Of Rights?

It is true that Huey Long pushed him in a certain direction, yet in fact FDR was planning on going in that direction anyway, Long's pressure just caused him to accelerate the pace.

It is more probable to look upon FDR as a social democrat of sorts, as were most progressives were back then.  The great change came in the mid 50's when Democrats suddenly became much more centrist on economic and fiscal issues.  Such Democrats used various rights and poverty issues as a substitute for doing anything else.


Did FDR initiate the 75-94% top income tax rate? (0.00 / 0)
I'm not snarking here, I genuinely don't know.  We all know the story of how these rates were under Eisenhower, but I never read anything about when they were set that high.  It's not on the list of New Deal initiatives that I am familiar with which doesn't mean you aren't right.  I never thought about when they were instituted.  Were the rates jacked up in the thirties and if so, when?

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

[ Parent ]
Great Depression + WWII (0.00 / 0)
Top rates went to 90% in World War II.

I found some historical data and they went to 60% in 1932, and up to 79% later in the 30s. Apparently they were 25% in the mid-20s.  

http://www.taxfoundation.org/p...

Does 1932 mean it happened under Hoover? I don't know and I don't have time to check.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.


[ Parent ]
The question of FDR's intentions (0.00 / 0)
is one that I don't think you are really able to provide a definitive answer for.  Was he pushed by Huey Long or did he go there of his own volition?  How do you know?  And if it was of his own volition, that still doesn't mean that Long, as well as the Socialist and Communist pressure didn't provide the cover he needed to get the job done.

Again and again, the various assessments of Obama expressed on sites like Open Left don't mean much.  I take for granted that he's a corporate centrist.  The important question is how we push him further.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


[ Parent ]
FDR (0.00 / 0)
Sorry I should have been clearer.

The 75% top rate was set up by the 1935 Income Tax Law, the first of Roosevelt's two tax laws.  The second, the 1942 Income Tax Law, set the top rate at 94%.

As for Roosevelt always wanting to go in the direction that he eventually did take in 1935, many historians (Freidel, Schlesinger) have said as much.  He always wanted to have Social Security, for instance.


Yes, the rate went up under (0.00 / 0)
FDR in 1935, but a couple of caveats.  

First, it was under Hoover (!) in 1932 that the top rate saw a big bump upward from 25% to 63%.  Second, while Roosevelt brought that rate up further, he also raised the amount earned at which the top rate would apply, from $1 million to $5 mill.  Probably very few people would have been affected at $5m.  Again, FDR the non-radical but generally progressive in action.


[ Parent ]
OBAMA NOT AS POLITICALLY SMART AS FDR (0.00 / 0)
Obama keeps referring to his belief the "Free" market. He ought to know there is no such thing, and his use of the term only validates the conservative economic paradigm.  

FDR (0.00 / 0)
Yes, you are right about the 1932 income tax rate hike.  Still, two points:  how much was this the Administration's responsibility, and how much was this caused by others?  In particular, radicals in Congress could have pushed Hoover leftward; FDR was'nt the only one pushed leftward.
And:  notice that this came out in the last year of his first term, and in an election year.  It could be that Hoover, after years of frantically resisting change, suddenly came out in favor of it so as to get re-elected.  This is the problem with Hoover's so-called progressivism-many of these laws came out at the last minute.

As for raising the level being taxed to $5 million:  that still means that those below, but only just below-the $1-5 million crowd-were being taxed pretty heavily-not at 75%, but still at 65-75%.

FDR is still the radical president for me.  


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