Commentary Magazine


Topic: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Gates Book Proves Obama Is No FDR

Robert Gates in his new book being published next week writes that “I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” The long war had become unpopular and Obama’s concern was, solely, domestic politics.

Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had allowed domestic politics to be the sole driver of his foreign policy. In 1939, when war broke out in Europe, the American population was overwhelmingly opposed to the country taking any part in it. The Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s as the war clouds darkened in Europe essentially forbade selling arms and ammunition to belligerent nations, aggressors and their victims alike. It would have been easy politics for Roosevelt to pander to the isolationist sentiment that ran so strong in the country.

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Robert Gates in his new book being published next week writes that “I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” The long war had become unpopular and Obama’s concern was, solely, domestic politics.

Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had allowed domestic politics to be the sole driver of his foreign policy. In 1939, when war broke out in Europe, the American population was overwhelmingly opposed to the country taking any part in it. The Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s as the war clouds darkened in Europe essentially forbade selling arms and ammunition to belligerent nations, aggressors and their victims alike. It would have been easy politics for Roosevelt to pander to the isolationist sentiment that ran so strong in the country.

But Roosevelt knew that Britain and France could not defeat Germany on their own and that if they fell, as France did in June 1940, that Hitler would be the master of Europe and soon of the Old World. He would then, from a vastly stronger position, move against the United States. The world, in Churchill’s immortal words, would “sink into the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science.”

So with extraordinary political deftness, Roosevelt began to nudge the country toward aiding the Allies. In November 1939, he convinced Congress to allow them to purchase arms and ammunition on a cash-and-carry basis. In September 1940, the first peacetime draft in American history was passed. That month as well, Roosevelt arranged for the transfer of fifty mothballed U.S. destroyers in exchange for U.S. bases on British territory. In March 1941, Roosevelt effectively gutted the Neutrality Act with Lend-Lease, in which we didn’t sell to the British (who were broke anyway) but lent them war materiel. Roosevelt justified this by using the analogy of lending a garden hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire.

He was not above being disingenuous. FDR had promised not to station U.S. forces outside the North American continent. So when he agreed to take over the defense of Iceland from the British in the summer of 1941, he simply declared Iceland to be part of North America. By that time, American naval forces were helping with escort duty in the western Atlantic.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and, four days later, Hitler’s strategically idiotic decision to declare war on the United States, Roosevelt’s efforts to bring the country into the war and save the world from the Nazis reached fruition. It had taken great political courage and deftness to achieve. The country and the world are forever in Roosevelt’s debt for taking the tough but necessary political road in the face of public opinion. That’s called leadership.

Imagine what the world would have been like today if Barack Obama had been president in the dark days of 1939-41.

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Obama’s Ominous FDR Precedent

Polls have consistently shown that far more Americans still blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic difficulties than those who were prepared to place responsibility on the man who has been president for the last few years. That fact, along with an economy that wasn’t very good but still not as terrible as many thought it might be, was enough to re-elect Barack Obama earlier this month. In doing so, Obama became the first president to successfully run for a second term, while blaming his predecessor for his own failures, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who buried Alf Landon in 1936 by running against his predecessor Herbert Hoover.

That was quite a trick, but President Obama should be wary of emulating FDR in every respect. As Amity Shlaes wrote yesterday in Bloomberg News, Roosevelt’s second term provides some ominous precedents for an Obama second term. As our colleague John Steele Gordon wrote earlier this year, it may always be 1936 for liberals who believe conservatives are doomed to perpetual defeat. But what the president and his supporters should be worrying about is whether 2013 turns out to be a repeat of 1937, when a country mired in the Great Depression suffered another economic setback that heightened the country’s misery. As Shlaes points out, signs abound that the “Great Recession” that Obama claimed to save the country from during the campaign may be about to get worse.

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Polls have consistently shown that far more Americans still blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic difficulties than those who were prepared to place responsibility on the man who has been president for the last few years. That fact, along with an economy that wasn’t very good but still not as terrible as many thought it might be, was enough to re-elect Barack Obama earlier this month. In doing so, Obama became the first president to successfully run for a second term, while blaming his predecessor for his own failures, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who buried Alf Landon in 1936 by running against his predecessor Herbert Hoover.

That was quite a trick, but President Obama should be wary of emulating FDR in every respect. As Amity Shlaes wrote yesterday in Bloomberg News, Roosevelt’s second term provides some ominous precedents for an Obama second term. As our colleague John Steele Gordon wrote earlier this year, it may always be 1936 for liberals who believe conservatives are doomed to perpetual defeat. But what the president and his supporters should be worrying about is whether 2013 turns out to be a repeat of 1937, when a country mired in the Great Depression suffered another economic setback that heightened the country’s misery. As Shlaes points out, signs abound that the “Great Recession” that Obama claimed to save the country from during the campaign may be about to get worse.

The key clue is the drop in industrial production that set off a decline in the stock market in the aftermath of the president’s victory. One can’t compare that drop to the precipitous decline that America suffered in 1937 (when most stocks lost half their value). But as Shlaes writes, the link between the two situations may be the federal government spending sprees that both Democratic presidents engaged in, followed by tax hikes that spiked any chance for growth.

Another troubling parallel is what she calls the fallout from first-term legislation. In FDR’s case, the New Deal may have given many Americans hope, but the result of the vast expansion of federal power and the consequent diversion of money from taxpayers to the government was “reduced available cash, increased uncertainty and lower business confidence.” As Bethany wrote earlier today, the impact of the implementation of ObamaCare on business has the potential to raise unemployment and send the country into another “Great Recession.” In both cases, governments that have tried to “play God” with the economy may bring down on the nation policies that can “spook markets and employers whatever the decade.”

While FDR was able to keep blaming the country’s ills on Hoover until Tojo and the Japanese imperialists bombed Pearl Harbor and finally ended the Depression, it remains to be seen whether Americans will still be grousing about George W. Bush if a year or two from now that they are stuck in another “Great Recession” brought about by Obama’s policies.

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Republicans Won’t Play By Liberal Rules

The headline of today’s front-page feature in the New York Times on the future of health care in this country, “This Election, a Stark Choice in Health Care,” is exactly right. The future of President Obama’s attempt to impose a government-run system on the country that will raise costs and intrude into the personal decisions of individuals is on the line in November. If the president is re-elected, ObamaCare will survive even if the Republicans win control of both houses of Congress. If Mitt Romney wins and the GOP takes the Congress, it is certain to be repealed.

That’s a rather straight-forward choice, but what is interesting about the article isn’t the editorializing in favor of the bill’s retention in what is ostensibly a news article, but the historical context in which the Times attempts to place this choice. As far as the paper is concerned, the Republicans are not playing by the unwritten rules of modern American politics that state that once liberals pass a major expansion of government power, conservatives are forever barred from rolling it back. That was the conceit behind the president’s decision to ram ObamaCare down the throat of a reluctant Congress and a disapproving American public. He believed that once passed, that would end the discussion for all time. But the funny thing about democracy is that the voters always get the last word and it is that, rather than the rule-braking Republicans, that is the president’s problem.

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The headline of today’s front-page feature in the New York Times on the future of health care in this country, “This Election, a Stark Choice in Health Care,” is exactly right. The future of President Obama’s attempt to impose a government-run system on the country that will raise costs and intrude into the personal decisions of individuals is on the line in November. If the president is re-elected, ObamaCare will survive even if the Republicans win control of both houses of Congress. If Mitt Romney wins and the GOP takes the Congress, it is certain to be repealed.

That’s a rather straight-forward choice, but what is interesting about the article isn’t the editorializing in favor of the bill’s retention in what is ostensibly a news article, but the historical context in which the Times attempts to place this choice. As far as the paper is concerned, the Republicans are not playing by the unwritten rules of modern American politics that state that once liberals pass a major expansion of government power, conservatives are forever barred from rolling it back. That was the conceit behind the president’s decision to ram ObamaCare down the throat of a reluctant Congress and a disapproving American public. He believed that once passed, that would end the discussion for all time. But the funny thing about democracy is that the voters always get the last word and it is that, rather than the rule-braking Republicans, that is the president’s problem.

The Times comparison of ObamaCare to the passage of Social Security is no accident. Democrats believe that the election of Barack Obama meant they had carte blanche to change the country in much the same way that Franklin Roosevelt did after 1932. Indeed, Obama is seeking to duplicate FDR’s trick of winning a second term by running again against the man he replaced four years earlier. Yet even if George W. Bush is still unpopular (though not as unpopular as Herbert Hoover), Mitt Romney is not Alf Landon, the 1936 GOP nominee whose name the Times drags out of the dustbin of history in order to bolster the case for the retention of ObamaCare.

While the Times frames the issue as one of mean cost-conscious Republicans seeking to take benefits away from the people, they largely ignore the fact that the majority of Americans have always opposed the bill and that the 2010 midterm election was as much a referendum on it as it was on the president and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Unlike Social Security, a measure that filled a gaping void in the needs of the vast majority of the electorate, ObamaCare attempts to fix a problem faced by a minority by transforming the health care system that, despite problems, largely works for most people. In doing so, it will aggrandize government, raise costs and, via the HHS Mandate, impinge on the religious freedom of many Americans.

That is why so many people are deeply anxious that ObamaCare be repealed. That may outrage the sensibilities of liberals who think conservatives must always accept as permanent any legislative defeat. The voters will decide the fate of both the president and his namesake. But whatever choice they make, it will be based on their beliefs about what is right for the country, not the unwritten rules of politics that liberals seek to enforce.

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Are We Better Off? Democrats Plead Guilty With an Explanation

Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

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Heading into their convention this week, leading Democrats are being asked a simple question about the administration they think Americans should re-elect in November: Are we better off today than we were four years ago? The answers have been variable, but they all have the feel of someone in the dock pleading “guilty with an explanation.”

Given the high unemployment rate, the lack of economic growth matched by a startling hike in the deficit fueled by administration spending programs, it’s little wonder that most Americans tell pollsters they are not better off and that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley admitted as much on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday: “No, but that’s not the question.” He amended that answer on CNN to say that we were but the damage was already done. Senior Obama campaign officials weren’t much better than O’Malley.

David Plouffe, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” tried to finesse it, and just said the country would be worse off if Mitt Romney wins. David Axelrod was similarly vague. But all agree that everything is George W. Bush’s fault and think President Obama should continue blaming his predecessor rather than owning up to the fact that things got worse on his watch and that he doesn’t have a plan for fixing that. All of which sets us up for a week in which Democrats will spend more time damning the 43rd president than extolling the virtues of his successor. That’s an odd strategy but one the Obama campaign feels is their only choice.

It may be that after three days of non-stop Bush-bashing, claims that the Republicans are liars and a defense of the status quo on entitlements, the Democrats will get some sort of a bounce out of their convention. All the while, they will be praying that the monthly jobs report due out on Friday will bring some good news rather than a negative report that might undo any positive vibes earned from the focus on their arguments.

Fairly or unfairly, President Bush is still deeply unpopular and blamed for an economic downturn caused more by a federal intervention in the housing market that was the doing of Democrats than anything he did. But what the Obama campaign is asking the voters to do is not so much to give him a second try as to veto a third term for Bush. That’s a neat trick if they can pull it off, but their claim that Republicans are trying to make voters forget about Bush’s record is complicated by a concurrent request that they also forget Obama’s. The nuanced answers to the “are you better off” queries betray the fact that Democrats understand that few believe a trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle or the vast expansion of entitlements and government power created by ObamaCare has done anything to improve the nation’s lot.

John Steele Gordon wrote yesterday that, “For liberals, it’s always 1936” because they have never quite absorbed the fact that New Deal liberalism and contempt for conservatives is a relic of a vanished age. But in order to win this election, Democrats are faced with the difficult task of duplicating Franklin Roosevelt’s successful campaign for a second term by running against the man he defeated four years ago.

George W. Bush may not be quite as unpopular as Herbert Hoover was then but, as his absence from the GOP convention proved, he’s still a liability to his party. However, there is no comparison of the economy Obama inherited to the one FDR confronted. As much as Democrats are now retrospectively trying to paint the state of the nation in January 2009 as comparable to the Great Depression, I doubt many will buy it. FDR was the only president re-elected on the proposition that four years was not long enough for him to acquire ownership of the state of the nation. Democrats are betting their political lives that Obama can do the same under vastly different circumstances.

While in 1936 Roosevelt could claim to have at least improved the morale of the American people by giving them the impression that the country was heading in the right direction, Obama can’t.

Guilty with an explanation doesn’t usually work when it comes to evading fines for traffic tickets. We’re about to find out whether it can re-elect a president.

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For Liberals It’s Always 1936

On June 14th, 1936, two days after Alf Landon accepted the nomination of the Republican Party for president, a New York Times columnist wrote:

The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man . . . and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.

Oh, wait a minute. My mistake. That was Maureen Dowd writing yesterday. My, how time stands still when you’re having fun.

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On June 14th, 1936, two days after Alf Landon accepted the nomination of the Republican Party for president, a New York Times columnist wrote:

The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man . . . and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.

Oh, wait a minute. My mistake. That was Maureen Dowd writing yesterday. My, how time stands still when you’re having fun.

In 1936, the Republicans were indeed wondering why they weren’t still running the country. They had been, after all, since 1896, with the exception of 1913-1921, when a split in the party had given the election to Woodrow Wilson. And they certainly hankered for a return to the glory days of Calvin Coolidge, while the Democrats recognized that the Great Depression had changed things forever. While the country was still mired in depression, it was in much better shape than it had been four years earlier. In 1936, unemployment averaged a dismal 16.9 percent. But that was down from over 25 percent. The Dow reached 194.40 in June 1936. It had been at 40.21 in June 1932, barely half a point above its first-ever close in 1896.

In his great Second Inaugural Address (after trouncing Alf Landon in the election) FDR said, quite accurately, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” But as Michael Ledeen points out, the economic world of 1936 is a vanished world. No one today in this country lives in anything like the sort of poverty that millions of sharecroppers in the South and unskilled industrial laborers in the North knew in 1936. By the standards of 1936, most American families are filthy rich and those who aren’t receive massive assistance to raise them above the poverty line.

The national debt in 1936 was 40 percent of GDP. Today it is over 100 percent. The deficit in 1936 was 5.5 percent of GDP, this year it will be over 7 percent.

But for liberals like Maureen Dowd it is always 1936. The problems of 1936 are the problems today. The solutions for 1936 are the solutions for today. And the Republicans are a few people in mink coats and dinner jackets going down to the long-vanished Trans-Lux theater to hiss Roosevelt.

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Will Obama Try to Blow Up the Court?

The wait for the Supreme Court to release its decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare is fraying the nerves of the chattering classes as they ponder its impact on the presidential election. Until the decision is announced, all both parties and the pundits can do is engage in idle speculation, but the pessimism on the left about the possibility of the president’s signature health care legislation being thrown out is leading to some interesting, if intemperate ideas. A good example comes from Juan Williams, who writes in The Hill to urge President Obama to try to make political hay out of what might otherwise be considered a disaster if the bill is junked.

Williams proposes that the president react by attempting to “blow up the system” in a manner that has not been seen since Franklin Roosevelt’s failed attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1938. According to Williams, rather than the end of ObamaCare being seen as a humiliating failure, it would merely serve as an invitation to:

Use the bully pulpit of the White House, and the national stage of a presidential campaign, to launch a bitter attack on the current court as a corrupt tool of the Republican right wing.

It is a move that could energize Democrats and independents even as Republicans celebrate a major legal victory.

Some Democrats, sensing a political windfall, can’t wait to start the offensive.

But while an attack on the conservative majority on the High Court would be very popular with the liberal base of his party, it’s far from clear it would help him with independents or moderate Democrats. The comparison with FDR’s court spat should serve as a warning to the White House of the pitfalls of running against the separation of powers.

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The wait for the Supreme Court to release its decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare is fraying the nerves of the chattering classes as they ponder its impact on the presidential election. Until the decision is announced, all both parties and the pundits can do is engage in idle speculation, but the pessimism on the left about the possibility of the president’s signature health care legislation being thrown out is leading to some interesting, if intemperate ideas. A good example comes from Juan Williams, who writes in The Hill to urge President Obama to try to make political hay out of what might otherwise be considered a disaster if the bill is junked.

Williams proposes that the president react by attempting to “blow up the system” in a manner that has not been seen since Franklin Roosevelt’s failed attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1938. According to Williams, rather than the end of ObamaCare being seen as a humiliating failure, it would merely serve as an invitation to:

Use the bully pulpit of the White House, and the national stage of a presidential campaign, to launch a bitter attack on the current court as a corrupt tool of the Republican right wing.

It is a move that could energize Democrats and independents even as Republicans celebrate a major legal victory.

Some Democrats, sensing a political windfall, can’t wait to start the offensive.

But while an attack on the conservative majority on the High Court would be very popular with the liberal base of his party, it’s far from clear it would help him with independents or moderate Democrats. The comparison with FDR’s court spat should serve as a warning to the White House of the pitfalls of running against the separation of powers.

Roosevelt thought he was on solid ground when he sought to change the political balance of the Court because some of the New Deal legislation that it had overturned was popular. But his Court-packing plan was defeated because even members of his own party believed he was overreaching and seeking to grab even more power for an executive branch that increased its influence on his watch.

But if FDR’s anti-Court offensive failed in spite of the popularity of the New Deal, how can Obama possibly hope to succeed when what he would be protesting would be the demise of legislation that most Americans oppose? If, as conservatives hope and liberals fear, the Court decides that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause cannot be interpreted to allow government to create commerce in order to regulate it and thereby compel citizens to make purchases, then it will be doing what the majority wants them to do.

There’s no doubt the president will seek to demagogue the issue if the health care law is invalid and try to portray the Court and the bill’s Republican opponents as seeking to snatch medicine out of the mouths of sick people, babies and the elderly. That’s a tactic that has had some success when it comes to defending entitlements against reform efforts. But a re-election campaign focused on defending the vast expansion of federal power and the budget that ObamaCare would mandate would be an invitation to a rerun of the 2010 midterms that ended in Democratic defeat.

Even more to the point, though the president might get some traction out of Court-bashing, too much attention paid to the Court would make him look like a politician seeking to overturn the traditional checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution. Instead of a conservative Court being labeled as radical, such a stance would brand the president in that fashion. That’s an unforced error that could further erode his chances of re-election.

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Only FDR Could Sell Obama’s Reset

As we noted yesterday and earlier today, President Obama’s attempt to make the election a referendum on George W. Bush is a rather slender reed to use as the foundation for his re-election campaign. As expected, the president’s speech in Ohio today on the economy pushed the idea that the choice this year was between his policies and those of the preceding decade, for which he blamed all of the nation’s problems. Obama’s call for a “reset” may have satisfied panicked liberals who want him to be nastier about his opponents. In a nearly hour-long rant, the president sought to refute criticisms of his administration as being too dependent on government intervention to save the economy, but at the same time claimed the way forward was to spend a lot more on public sector jobs. Predictably, he also threw in a red herring about Mitt Romney ending Medicare without reference to any ideas of his own about reforming the entitlement spending that is dragging the country into insolvency.

But the attacks on Romney and his personal wealth and branding Republicans in Congress as heartless wretches who want to throw grandma under the bus is still secondary to persuading the nation that even though he has been president for three and a half years, he should be held blameless for a bad economy. Gaining re-election by avoiding discussion of his failures and focusing solely on those of his predecessor is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly that in 1936 when, despite the fact that his policies hadn’t been enough to pull the country out of the Great Depression, the overwhelming majority of Americans were still prepared to blame Herbert Hoover for their woes. But this notable precedent shouldn’t provide much reassurance for Democrats who worry about the prospects of a president who thinks a troubled private sector is doing “just fine” and (as he showed again today) has no new ideas to present about the economy.

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As we noted yesterday and earlier today, President Obama’s attempt to make the election a referendum on George W. Bush is a rather slender reed to use as the foundation for his re-election campaign. As expected, the president’s speech in Ohio today on the economy pushed the idea that the choice this year was between his policies and those of the preceding decade, for which he blamed all of the nation’s problems. Obama’s call for a “reset” may have satisfied panicked liberals who want him to be nastier about his opponents. In a nearly hour-long rant, the president sought to refute criticisms of his administration as being too dependent on government intervention to save the economy, but at the same time claimed the way forward was to spend a lot more on public sector jobs. Predictably, he also threw in a red herring about Mitt Romney ending Medicare without reference to any ideas of his own about reforming the entitlement spending that is dragging the country into insolvency.

But the attacks on Romney and his personal wealth and branding Republicans in Congress as heartless wretches who want to throw grandma under the bus is still secondary to persuading the nation that even though he has been president for three and a half years, he should be held blameless for a bad economy. Gaining re-election by avoiding discussion of his failures and focusing solely on those of his predecessor is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Franklin D. Roosevelt did exactly that in 1936 when, despite the fact that his policies hadn’t been enough to pull the country out of the Great Depression, the overwhelming majority of Americans were still prepared to blame Herbert Hoover for their woes. But this notable precedent shouldn’t provide much reassurance for Democrats who worry about the prospects of a president who thinks a troubled private sector is doing “just fine” and (as he showed again today) has no new ideas to present about the economy.

It’s not hard to see why FDR managed to beat Hoover twice, although the “Great Engineer” was not on the ballot in 1936. The suffering caused by the Great Depression was on a scale that is almost unimaginable to us today. Under the circumstances, a Roosevelt plea for more time seemed reasonable. Moreover, even after four years of the New Deal, Republicans still seem to own the country’s problems. Hoover was wrongly blasted at the time as a do-nothing though his ill-advised interventions in the crisis did more harm than good. But because the collapse occurred in his first year in office (1929), his identification with the Depression was so thorough that it would be another decade (which would include a World War that would finally end the Depression) before Republicans would be able to shake off Hoover’s taint.

But FDR’s ability to go to the people in 1936 without being held accountable for the continuance of the disaster on his watch wasn’t simply a matter of blaming the GOP. It was just as much due to the way he persuaded the country that he knew the way forward and that their only hope was to trust in him. We can look back now dispassionately and understand, as Amity Shlaes wrote in her classic history of the Depression, The Forgotten Man, that the New Deal failed in large measure to heal the economy. In fact, Roosevelt’s policies could fairly be blamed for the severe downturn in his second term that mired the country even deeper in the ditch from which it was extricated by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But Roosevelt’s leadership skills were such that he gave Americans the impression things would get better. As Jonah Goldberg has rightly pointed out, some of the ideas of the New Deal had more in common with fascism than democracy, but it could not be said in 1936 that FDR was going back to the people without any new proposals or by merely castigating Hoover.

Things are thankfully not nearly so bad today, but the contrast between FDR’s ability to galvanize the nation with the 44th president’s lackluster appeals for support could not be greater. Having been swept into office as much by the Wall Street collapse that occurred in the fall of 2008 as by the “hope and change” mantra that focused on the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, he hasn’t much to offer to solve the nation’s problems other than a deeply unpopular health care bill and a stimulus that few outside of the left would even think of repeating.

As history shows, the White House’s plan to shift blame for the economy to the president who left office four years ago is not unprecedented. But even if Americans could be persuaded that George W. Bush was another Hoover, getting them to believe that Obama is another FDR is a bridge too far even for the Democrats.

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The Party of the Nomenklatura

Steve Hayward over at Power Line has an interesting quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit… It is in violation of the traditions of America.

Roosevelt wanted Social Security to be a contributory system, where people pay in when they are young and take out when they are old. What he didn’t want was a “dole,” to use the term he knew and which we call welfare today. When the original Social Security proposal didn’t meet FDR’s specifications, he ordered it rewritten. Robert Samuelson details in the Washington Post how Roosevelt’s conception was slowly turned into the Ponzi scheme that Social Security is today. The process began with an override of an FDR veto in 1942 of the Revenue Act of that year, the act that transformed the personal income tax from a tax on the rich to a tax on all but the poor.

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Steve Hayward over at Power Line has an interesting quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit… It is in violation of the traditions of America.

Roosevelt wanted Social Security to be a contributory system, where people pay in when they are young and take out when they are old. What he didn’t want was a “dole,” to use the term he knew and which we call welfare today. When the original Social Security proposal didn’t meet FDR’s specifications, he ordered it rewritten. Robert Samuelson details in the Washington Post how Roosevelt’s conception was slowly turned into the Ponzi scheme that Social Security is today. The process began with an override of an FDR veto in 1942 of the Revenue Act of that year, the act that transformed the personal income tax from a tax on the rich to a tax on all but the poor.

It is a measure of how much the Democratic Party has changed since the 1930s. With millions out of work, their savings gone with thousands of bank failures, immediate help was needed (and, indeed, the federal government began to deliver that help, in unprecedented amounts, during the Hoover administration). But the help was intended to be temporary. The idea of a permanent underclass living off government handouts or dependent on government for their livelihoods was repugnant to Roosevelt and most people in his “brain trust.”

Today, the Democratic Party is not a party devoted to helping the poor help themselves, but one devoted to the interests of an American “nomenklatura” whose rice bowl is an ever-larger number of people dependent on government for services and income. This nomenklatura is made up of bureaucrats, public-service union officials, non-governmental organizations such as environmental and civil rights groups, some corporations, such as big pharmaceutical companies, that are dependent on government regulators, colleges and universities, and others.

The Democratic Party, which once had a valid claim to being the party of the little guy–even while headed by the quintessential American aristocrat–is now the party of a vast coalition of interest groups devoted only to ever larger and more intrusive government, the “traditions of America” that FDR championed be damned.

 

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Obama’s Debt: More Red Ink Than Bush

The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

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The Obama administration has encountered another pothole on the road to re-election.  CBS is reporting that the national debt taken on in the three years and two months of the Obama administration now exceeds the debt added during the Bush administration’s entire eight years in office: $4.899 trillion for Bush, $4.939 for Obama.

In other words, Bush ran up the tab at the rate of $51 billion a month, while Obama is running it up at the rate of $137 billion a month, 2.6 times as fast.  The debt now stands at $15.566 trillion, over 100 percent of GDP for the first time since the immediate aftermath of World War II. Obama’s own budget projections show no end in sight: $16.3 trillion by the end of 2012, $17.5 in 2013, $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s second term if, heaven forefend, he wins one. That would mean an increase of 87 percent in the total debt over Obama’s two terms.

Obama, to be sure, faced a tough economic situation when he was inaugurated in January 2009. The economy was shrinking rapidly, the stock market was down by nearly fifty percent, and unemployment was headed towards 10.2 percent. Deficit spending is inescapable in those circumstances and, in fact, desirable. And Obama has rarely missed a chance to let us know that he faced the worst economy since the Great Depression, although as Peter Wehner has pointed out, that is, to say the least, an arguable proposition.

But not even Obama argues that he faced a worse situation than Franklin Roosevelt faced in March 1933. The GDP had fallen by half, unemployment was above 25 percent, and the stock market was down not by 50 percent but by 90 percent. Farms were being foreclosed at the rate of 20,000 a month. Banks were entirely closed in 38 states and in only very limited operation in the other ten. Hoovervilles dotted the landscape of American cities.

So how did FDR do in his first three years? The debt increased in those years by 73 percent, but from a very low base (only 33.6 percent of GDP). While Obama’s debt/GDP ratio has increased 33 percentage points, FDR’s increased only 7 percentage points in the same time frame. In his first eight years, as the Great Depression lingered on and on, FDR presided over an increase in the debt of 124 percent and saw the debt rise as a percentage of GDP from 33.6 percent to 50.85 percent. As a percentage of GDP, in other words, Obama has increased the national debt more in three years of moderate economic troubles than FDR did in eight years of economic catastrophe.

Not much of a record to run on, is it?

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Obama’s Triumphal Statist Presidency

In the March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris offers a long essay in defense of Barack Obama. Titled, “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama,” it is, in its own way, the clearest and most helpful analysis of the Obama presidency that’s been written so far. Glastris’s main contention is that Obama has “gotten more done in three years than any president in decades.” Yet, “the American public still thinks he hasn’t accomplished anything.” He’s right:

Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Glastris has unwittingly created a glossary of radical statism as a defense of Obama. His own words: “legislative tonnage,” “reform,” “takeover,” “biggest stimulus in history,” “sweeping regulations,” “protection,” “vast expansion,” “Net neutrality,” “greatest increase” in still more “protection,” and “revolutionary reform.” To liberals, this is the poetry of paternalism but to the rest of America it’s a nightmare lexicon.

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In the March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris offers a long essay in defense of Barack Obama. Titled, “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama,” it is, in its own way, the clearest and most helpful analysis of the Obama presidency that’s been written so far. Glastris’s main contention is that Obama has “gotten more done in three years than any president in decades.” Yet, “the American public still thinks he hasn’t accomplished anything.” He’s right:

Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Glastris has unwittingly created a glossary of radical statism as a defense of Obama. His own words: “legislative tonnage,” “reform,” “takeover,” “biggest stimulus in history,” “sweeping regulations,” “protection,” “vast expansion,” “Net neutrality,” “greatest increase” in still more “protection,” and “revolutionary reform.” To liberals, this is the poetry of paternalism but to the rest of America it’s a nightmare lexicon.

Glastris is equally candid about the long-term impact of these policies. “Some are structured to have modest effects now but major ones later,” he writes. “Others emerged in a crimped and compromised form that, if history is a guide, may well be filled out and strengthened down the road.” In other words, Obama initiatives that look measured or restrained today will only expand and calcify in time. He makes the comparison to FDR’s creation of Social Security. “Only in subsequent decades, as benefits were raised and expanded, did Social Security become the country’s most beloved government program.” Right, and only in decades subsequent to that did it become an unsustainable addiction that we can neither stop nor afford in its present form.

So, the case for Obama’s greatness goes as follows: He came to office with an array of statist notions. He forced “the sheer tonnage” of them upon the country. And he will leave the rest of the leftist dream’s fleshing out to that inexorable statist force-multiplier: time.

You start to see why Obama is okay being thought of as merely ineffective.

As for the foreign policy mentions, it’s a different matter altogether and one that Glastris never really unpacks after that paragraph. But even the administration now understands that its Russia policy is a disaster. And even if you approve the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” you must acknowledge that it’s been replaced with the catastrophic Obama-instituted military doctrine of “don’t win, don’t lose.”

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Bibi Responds

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

Read Less




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