Transcript #141

The Earth Is Flat, The Moon's Made Of Green Cheese, And The New Deal Was A Terrible Failure: Debunking The Latest Right-Wing Propaganda


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Your sources today include: the San Francisco Chronicle,, The Nation magazine, Time magazine, the New York Times and National Review online.


Remember a couple of podcasts ago I told you how right-wingers were absurdly claiming that the election proved the country wanted right-wing policies, because that was what Obama campaigned on?


This was from conservatives who days before had said Obama was advocating socialism.


Well, there's a new doozy from our rightward-leaning friends.


Back in March, progressive historian Howard Zinn was lamenting the fact that no Democratic contender for the presidential nomination was invoking the memory of the New Deal.


That's certainly changed.  All you need to look at is the November 24

cover of Time magazine.  There's this iconic photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in a car.  Except the face is Obama's, and it's titled "The New New Deal."


We all know about the right's opinion of FDR:


audio: Rush Limbaugh

Roosevelt is dead.  His policies may live on, but we're in the process of doing something about that as well.

But with the incoming Obama administration, right-wingers know an attack on the New Deal in the form of an anti-regulatory message would be a hard sell.  The public knows the Bush deregulation fervor led to the current financial crisis.


So what to do?


The right is attacking FDR's New Deal spending. 


This gives them the perfect opportunity to attack Obama's financial stimulus package.


This is their new mantra:


The New Deal failed.


It's not that right-wingers are heartless, and don't want a New Deal-type effort that will help people. No, it's that the New Deal made things worse, or was even the very cause of the Great Depression.  Right-wingers are just looking out for the little guy.


Gee, first Obama's a socialist, then he's a right-winger, now he's a far left, FDR liberal.  Consistency is apparently not a right-wing virtue.


Anyway, as Princeton economics professor and NYT columnist Paul Krugman put it:


[T]here's a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it's important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.

That about sums it up for you.


Onto the details.


The current right-wing propaganda campaign encompasses a wide spectrum of distortions, half-truths and lies. 


These are some of the varieties of it you may encounter.


The mildest type of criticism is like that from author Michael Barone.  He admits the New Deal spending did "break the downward spiral."  But it failed to restore growth.


Much more common is the right-wing claim that the New Deal actually made the economic situation worse. 


Here's conservative author and commentator, George Will:


audio: George Will

I mean, what you're proposing is reactionary liberalism. That is, whatever exists, double-down on it. Before we go into a new New Deal, can we just acknowledge the first New Deal didn't work? That is, the biggest collapse in industrial production in history occurred in 1937, eight years after the stock market collapse of 1929, five years into the New Deal.

National Review editor Jonah Goldberg asserted:


FDR's policies made the depression longer and deeper. Everywhere else in the world, they had the depression. In America, FDR made the depression great.

Pundit Monica Crowley even insisted that the "made the Depression worse" analysis was confirmed by "all kinds of studies and academic work."  A Fox News host chimed in that "I think historians pretty much agree on that."


Beyond this, are the right-wingers who claim that FDR actually turned what would have only been a recession, into an actual Depression.


If you've heard something like this from your friendly local right-winger, here's where they got it from.


Listen to Blast the Right favorite, radio host Bill Cunningham:


audio: Bill Cunningham

[F]ew people I know, John Tamney, believe that the liberal Democrats have an answer to help an ailing economy. Instead of putting grease in the wheels of the American economy, they're gonna put sand, and they're gonna exacerbate a recession into a depression, much like Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in 1933, -4, and -5. We were in a serious recession. By the time FDR got done, we were in a full-fledged depression. And I fear that's what coming.

Are you getting the picture?


It's a full-throated chorus.  Jim Quinn is another right-wing talker:


audio: Jim Quinn

QUINN: Yes. We'll have our Great Depression, OK, if they have anything to say about it, because --

TENNENT: Yeah, if it's the last thing they do.

QUINN: Well, that's -- well, what they're doing right now is exactly the template for what FDR did to create the Depression. Everybody thinks that the crash of '99 -- or '29 -- created the Depression. It didn't. It created a recession. It was what FDR did that turned it into a Great Depression. We are getting prepared to do exactly the same thing. He called it "priming the pump"; Obama calls it "stimulus."

President of the Club for Growth, Pat Toomey, got real detailed.  He wrote that:


Five major policy errors helped turn the 1929 downturn into a full-blown Depression lasting over ten years, and Barack Obama has promised to repeat all five of these. No wonder investors are running for the doors… Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s misguided policies on taxes, trade, spending, labor, and regulation surely cost millions of jobs and inflicted years of economic misery. Barack Obama is promising a return to those failed policies.

I wonder if you'll agree with me that the award for most entertaining tirade goes to talk show host Mark Levin:


audio: Mark Levin

Schumer was talking about a little New Deal, another New Deal. They're very excited. Well, the New Deal almost destroyed this country. It extended the Depression for seven years. It's created massive debt that we've been carrying for 75 years, and one day, that will come due as well. The New Deal had nothing to do with our economic recovery, it was World War II. And everybody knows it who's honest -- 24.9 percent unemployment at the height of the New Deal.

And not until World War II did it come down from double digits. And they spent the country into a massive debt. They created program after program, law after law, bureaucracy after bureaucracy. They built roads and buildings. They built bridges and tunnels. And the people were miserable. They were poor. They were hungry.

The economic system was on its back, because all that does is move a pot of money from one citizen to another. All it does is spread the wealth, or spread the income, if you will. It doesn't fix anything. And that's the road we're on. Whatever this is, it's going to be deeper and longer, because the way the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve and the Congress and this president and the next president will have reacted.

Finally, on a nice grace note, Indiana representative Mike Pence throws LBJ's Great Society into the mix:


[T]he American people will soon tire of the flowery speeches and see the Democratic agenda for what it is -- the failed ideas of the Great Society and the New Deal. And they will come looking for the alternative.

Hmm, failed Great Society ideas like the civil rights acts, Medicare, Medicaid, and a War on Poverty that significantly cut the poverty rate?


But I digress.


Up next: I'll debunk for you the right's lies about the New Deal.  Stick around.






Debunking the right.


First off, contrary to what Monica Crowley claimed, the right-wing spin on the New Deal is hardly a widely shared belief.  Newsweek's Daniel Gross went so far as to say that


One would be very hard-pressed to find a serious professional historian who believes that the New Deal prolonged the Depression.

That might be, because the cold hard facts belie right-wing claims.


UC Davis history professor Eric Rauchway says that growth during the New Deal was spectacular, 9-10 percent a year.


Except for 1937-38 -- more on those two years later -- unemployment fell every year during FDR's first two terms.


And check this out.


Bloated unemployment numbers cited by right-wingers do not count New Deal workers as employed.




Yup, the New Deal put people to work in government jobs, but the stats don't count them as working.


How about the right-wing claim that the financial regulations of the New Deal worsened the Great Depression?


In response, here's no less a hard left ideologue than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake.  He said:


Only with the New Deal's rehabilitation of the financial system in 1933-35 did the economy begin its slow emergence from the Great Depression.

Not good enough?  How about conservative uber-economist Milton Friedman himself?  He said that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the FDIC, created by the New Deal was


the structural change most conducive to monetary stability since ... the Civil War.

You heard me mention the years 1937-38 earlier.  The right makes a big deal about a short recession between 1937 and 1938.


Why did that occur, since the previous four years of the New Deal had seen terrific economic progress?


Because FDR backed off New Deal policies at that point.  Paul Krugman:


F.D.R. wasn't just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion -- he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.

UC Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong agrees:


Private investment recovered in a very healthy fashion as Roosevelt's New Deal policies took effect. The interruption of the Roosevelt Recovery in 1937-1938 is, I think, wel[l] understood: Roosevelt's decision to adopt more 'orthodox' economic policies and try to move the budget toward balance  and  the Federal Reserve's decision to contract the money supply by raising bank reserve requirements provide ample explanation of that downturn.

So maybe we'll have a big danger with Obama, who's always trying to court the right.  Krugman again:


The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. F.D.R. thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.

In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.

Krugman nails it.  Isn't Krugman great?  If he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.


Obama has the benefit of hindsight.  Does he have the courage?



Let's get beyond dueling statistics.


A couple of purely logical points.


Were not the American people in the 1930's experiencing first-hand what was going on?  Were they not in the best position to tell if FDR's policies were working?


FDR was elected president four times.


What does that tell you?


Right-wingers had been condemning the New Deal from the git-go.  In 1934 H.L. Mencken labeled it "a saturnalia of expropriation and waste."  In 1936 the Heart newspapers claimed that "Moscow Backs Roosevelt."


But, as the New York Times' Adam Cohen writes:


…Americans were not fooled. They knew F.D.R. was on their side in a way that Herbert Hoover and his fellow free-marketers hadn’t been. They could see first-hand the good that Roosevelt’s jobs programs were doing for the Depression’s victims and the slow but unmistakable improvements in the economy.

In the 1934 midterm elections, the voters delivered their first verdict on the New Deal, expanding the Democrats’ margins in Congress. In 1936, F.D.R. won in a bigger landslide than he had four years earlier. By 1940, the Republican nominee, Wendell Willkie, was supporting much of Roosevelt’s social welfare and regulatory regime.

Another point for you to ponder:


Those right-wingers who say it was WWII that got us out of the Great Depression, not the New Deal -- maybe like me, you're scratching your head at that one.


What on earth are they talking about?


Was WWII the free market working?  Was it small government allowing the market to run its course?


What was WWII, but a massive government spending program?


In fact, Paul Krugman actually says that:


[T]he New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious.

…What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.

Can you guess what Blast The Right mantra I'm going to invoke in the next segment?  Stay tuned.






Sometimes a comedian begins a joke and the audience anticipates the punch line and starts laughing and the comedian admonishes the audience, don't get ahead of me now.


So especially if you've been listening a long time to Blast The Right, I actually hope you are ahead of me now, and know what's the worst thing about the "New Deal is bad" meme, this thought virus the right is trying to spread.


Yes, in typical right-wing fashion, their analysis ignores the New Deal's effect on flesh-and-blood-humans.


The New Deal reduced human misery, suffering, pain and death, both back then, and continuing until the present.


That's irrelevant to the right wing.  It doesn't enter into their calculations.


[T]he criticism overlooks the relief Roosevelt’s programs brought to millions…The difference that the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and other New Deal public works programs made in people’s lives is incalculable.

…Congressional Republicans say Mr. Obama’s stimulus will cost too much, and that over time the economy will cure itself. When critics raised the same objections to F.D.R.’s programs, his relief administrator, Harry Hopkins, had a ready answer: “People don’t eat in the long run. They eat every day.”


You want to hear a political take on all this?  I'd say:


Hey, right-wingers, continue on your course.  Continue to bash the New Deal.  It'll do you a lot of good politically, just like your immigrant-bashing did.


Many shows ago,  I read an email directly on point.  Here again is Aaron, who proudly describes himself as a progressive Christian and former Republican from West Hartford, CT:


Your broadcast on Rush L and how some right wingers are like the BTK killer really kind of freaked me out.  That first quote (Roosevelt is dead) horrified me, because, in spite of my [being] moderately conservative, I had great respect for Roosevelt and the New Deal.  My grandparents were crushed by the Great Depression, especially my grandfather who lost his job and couldn't find work for years.  He was saved by Roosevelt's project to build roads through the Smoky Mountains, which is how he met my grand[mother].  Anyway, that single quote by Rush horrified me and began to open my eyes.

The reason right-wingers hate FDR so much isn't because the New Deal failed, it's because it succeeded, and it's obvious to everyone.


They're scared to death Obama's new New Deal will succeed, and set the stage for Democratic Party -- dare I also say, at least mildly progressive -- rule, for decades to come.



Let me add a final note.


I don't want you to think I'm some sort of FDR worshipper. Far from it.


As Howard Zinn points out, the New Deal left out a lot:


The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn't qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies.

Plus I know FDR's foreign policy towards Latin America was toxic.  FDR supported Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for example.  There's that perhaps apocryphal line of FDR, speaking of Somoza: "He may be an SOB, but he's our SOB."


But getting back to our present day reality, Zinn's advice, written back in March when it wasn't clear at all who'd be the next president, still should be our guide:


The innovations of the New Deal were fueled by the militant demands for change that swept the country as FDR began his presidency: the tenants' groups; the Unemployed Councils; the millions on strike on the West Coast, in the Midwest and the South; the disruptive actions of desperate people seeking food, housing, jobs--the turmoil threatening the foundations of American capitalism. We will need a similar mobilization of citizens today, to unmoor from corporate control whoever becomes President. To match the New Deal, to go beyond it, is an idea whose time has come.

To help do this, listener John from Oregon suggested I mention, and I'm glad he did, that there's a truly truly progressive Democrat running for Rahm Emmanuel's vacated House seat. 


His name is Tom Geoghegan and his website is  T-o-m zero nine, dot com.


He's worthy of your support.  He can help prod Obama, and support our grass roots efforts to do the same.


Let's all pitch in, you and I, in this and a million other ways, to both counter the right's propaganda, and push Obama in an ever-more-progressive direction.


The battle is joined.



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