The Earth Is Flat, The Moon's Made Of Green
Cheese, And The New Deal Was A Terrible Failure: Debunking The Latest Right-Wing
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Your sources today include: the San
Francisco Chronicle, mediamatters.org, 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
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
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
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
So what to do?
The right is attacking FDR's New Deal
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
[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
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
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
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
President of the Club for Growth, Pat
Toomey, got real detailed. He wrote
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
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
the poverty rate?
But I digress.
Up next: I'll debunk for you the
right's lies about the New Deal. Stick
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
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.
How about the right-wing claim that
the financial regulations of the New Deal worsened the Great Depression?
here's no less a hard left ideologue than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake.
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.
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
heard me mention the years 1937-38 earlier.
The right makes a big deal about a short recession between 1937 and 1938.
did that occur, since the previous four years of the New Deal had seen terrific
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
Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong agrees:
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
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
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
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
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
…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
[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?
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.
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
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
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
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 www.tom09.com.
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
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.