Friday, March 20, 2009

The commentariat, though not the bulk of the population, remains mired in an outmoded, neo-Reaganite paradigm that government must be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub, to borrow Grover Norquist’s famous phrase. It is almost a given that, with changed times, we need changed thinking. Two years ago, a friend who described his politics as “moderate,” spoke of the need for massive public works projects to get things moving again and foster better communal ties. Again, this was before the market crash. Yet, now, there is a reaction among certain circles that is deriding the plans on the table as socialistic. What is the alternative? Radical individualism and unremitting hostility to social democracy, which will atomize us further. It’s the wrong path, and we’ve been there before.

In William Leuchtenburg’s history of the pragmatic reforms of the 1930s, which thanks to revisionist historiography are now being reshaped into instruments of tyranny, we read that Franklin Roosevelt “refused to be awed by the warnings of economists and financial experts that government interference with the ‘laws’ of the economy was blasphemous. ‘We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature,’ the President stated. ‘They are made by human beings.’” This is no less true now than it was then. Henry Steele Commager and Richard Brandon Morris, in the introduction, write, “The character of the Republican ascendency of the twenties had been pervasively negative; the character of the New Deal was overwhelmingly positive. … Apathy, resignation, defeat, despair—these were the foes that Roosevelt routed from the scene; action, advance, confidence, hope—these were the sentiments that he inspired in his followers, the vast majority of the American people.”*

It is as if we as a society accept certain circumstances as immutable forces of nature that are beyond our control, and therefore cast attempts to remedy or reform them as wicked, for they oppose the divine will. The strategy is as foolish as it is corrupting. We need to be clear-headed and sober-sided about all of this. We need to recognize that the era of selfish acquisition and uncaring disposition toward our fellow citizens is dead and gone.

*Respectively, the quotations are from Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 344 and p. ix.

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