Par­al­lels: How FDR, Obama took power

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - David Lim­baugh

Re­cently, I reread the chap­ters on the New Deal in Larry Sch­weikart’s su­perb “A Patriot‘s His­tory of the United States” to re­view par­al­lels with Pres­i­dent Obama’s rad­i­cal eco­nomic agenda. Here is an eye­open­ing, side-by-side sam­pling, with Mr. Sch­weikart’s ob­ser­va­tions on FDR and the New Deal, along with mine on Mr. Obama and his poli­cies.

Mr. Sch­weikart wrote, “Dur­ing the cam­paign, FDR, a man whose pres­i­dency would fea­ture by far the largest ex­pan­sion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ever, called for a bal­anced bud­get and ac­cused Hoover of head­ing the ‘great­est spending Ad­min­is­tra­tion in [. . .] all our his­tory.’”

Mr. Obama’s stim­u­lus bill sets fright­en­ing new records for fed­eral spending. But while cam­paign­ing, he said, “I’m run­ning for pres­i­dent be­cause I be­lieve we can choose our own eco­nomic des­tiny [. . .] to go an­other four years with the same reck­less fis­cal poli­cies that have busted our bud­get, wreaked havoc in our econ­omy, and mort­gaged our chil­dren’s fu­ture on a moun­tain of debt; or we can re­store fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity in Wash­ing­ton.”

Mr. Sch­weikart wrote, “Roo­sevelt heaped dis­honor on the de­feated Hoover, deny­ing him even a Se­cret Ser­vice guard out of town.”

At Mr. Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion, his sup­port­ers booed, heck­led and chanted taunt­ingly at Pres­i­dent Bush. Mr. Obama went to din­ner dur­ing Mr. Bush’s farewell speech and re­pu­di­ated the Bush era in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress and on his new White House Web site.

Mr. Sch­weikart wrote, “Roo­sevelt hoped to cap­i­tal­ize on the ter­ri­fy­ing col­lapse of the econ­omy [. . .] to bull­doze through a set of poli­cies that fun­da­men­tally re­ar­ranged the busi­ness and wel­fare foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can life.” He con­tin­ued, “Above all emer­gency mea­sures needed to be done quickly be­fore op­po­si­tion could mount to many of th­ese breath­tak­ing chal­lenges to the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

When Mr. Obama ped­dled panic to rush his bill through Congress, he heeded this ad­vice from Rahm Emanuel: “Never al­low a cri­sis to go to waste. They are op­por­tu­ni­ties to do big things.” The Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Robert Rec­tor said Mr. Obama’s stim­u­lus bill “will over­turn the fis­cal foun­da­tion of wel­fare re­form. [. . .] For the first time since 1996, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would be­gin pay­ing states bonuses to in­crease their wel­fare caseloads.” Mr. Obama re­gards this leg­is­la­tion as just the first step (“a down pay­ment”) in his mis­sion to re­struc­ture the Amer­i­can econ­omy.

Mr. Sch­weikart chron­i­cled the lib­eral his­to­ri­ans’ view that FDR “saved cap­i­tal­ism from it­self by en­trench­ing a num­ber of reg­u­la­tory mea­sures and so­cial pro­grams that kept the mar­ket econ­omy from its own ‘ex­cesses.’” Rexford Tug­well, FDR’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, ex­posed the “myths” of lais­sez-faire, say­ing: “The jig is up. There is no in­vis­i­ble hand. There never was. [. . .] Vir­tu­ally all of the New Dealers shared, to one de­gree or an­other, a dis­trust of busi­ness and en­trepreneur­ship that they thought had landed the na­tion in its cur­rent dis­tressed con­di­tion. [. . .] The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s aims were crudely sim­ple: ‘One ob­jec­tive (of New Deal power pol­icy) was to en­large the pub­licly owned sec­tor of the power in- dus­try [. . .] as a means of di­min­ish­ing pri­vate con­trol over the ne­ces­si­ties of life.’”

To­day Mr. Obama trashes cap­i­tal­ism while pre­tend­ing not to and without nam­ing it specif­i­cally, but only as “an eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy that has failed.” Like­wise, Mr. Obama’s Democrats in­tend to curb cap­i­tal­ism’s “ex­cesses” and pun­ish Wall Street “greed” through such mea­sures as im­pos­ing caps on ex­ec­u­tive bonuses. It’s also un­de­ni­able that they are wildly ex­pand­ing the pub­lic sec­tor at the ex­pense of the pri­vate sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to Sch­weikart, most of FDR’s “Brain Trust” sub­scribed to the Key­ne­sian premise that gov­ern­ment spending would spur de­mand and thus pull a na­tion out of a de­pres­sion. Few were trou­bled by the fact that this hadn’t worked in Bri­tain. A num­ber of th­ese “Keynes acolytes” sought “to en­sure that fed­eral spending was trans­formed ‘from a tem­po­rary ex­pe­di­ent to a per­ma­nent in­sti­tu­tion of gov­ern­ment.’”

It’s hardly a se­cret that Obama is a Key­ne­sian and that he is stag­ger­ingly un­trou­bled by the con­sis­tent fail­ures of Key­ne­sian pol­icy be­fore and since the New Deal. More­over, Robert Rec­tor notes that Mr. Obama has more am­bi­tious plans than merely stim­u­lat­ing the econ­omy. “The real goal is to get ‘the camel’s nose un­der the tent’ for a mas­sive per­ma­nent ex­pan­sion of the wel­fare state.”

Fi­nally, Mr. Sch­weikart re­lated that FDR ad­viser Ray­mond Mo­ley “was ‘im­pressed [. . .] by the [. . .] scant­i­ness of (FDR’s) pre­cise knowl­edge of things that he was talk­ing about (and) by the im­mense and grow­ing ego­tism that came from his of­fice.”

Mr. Obama has some­times re­vealed him­self to be sim­i­larly un­in­formed on mat­ters about which he has re­vealed an in­flex­i­ble cer­tainty, such as the com­plex­i­ties and con­se­quences of clos­ing Gitmo. At­tor­ney De­bra Burlingame at­tended Mr. Obama’s meet­ing with fam­i­lies of ter­ror­ist vic­tims, where he tried to jus­tify his de­ci­sion to drop charges against the USS Cole bomber. She said Mr. Obama said the right words in gen­eral, but when it came to specifics, he was “un­cer­tain, un­in­formed and some­times just plain mis­taken.” In ad­di­tion, many have be­gun to com­ment on Mr. Obama’s ego­tism, some even call­ing it nar­cis­sism.

David Lim­baugh is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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