The Second New Deal was closely connected to the prevailing political pressures facing FDR at the time. For one thing, the first New Deal hadn't made anywhere near enough of an impact on the nation's economy. Unemployment remained stubbornly high, businesses were still failing at an alarming rate, and the...
The Second New Deal was closely connected to the prevailing political pressures facing FDR at the time. For one thing, the first New Deal hadn't made anywhere near enough of an impact on the nation's economy. Unemployment remained stubbornly high, businesses were still failing at an alarming rate, and the threat of another Depression seemed always just around the corner.
This led some to believe that FDR had been too cautious in his approach, too conservative in tackling the major structural problems in the American economy. The much more aggressive, more ostensibly liberal character of the second New Deal should be seen against this background. Although some, undoubtedly, supported the New Deal out of ideological conviction, FDR, for his part, remained something of a pragmatist. The point can be illustrated by the establishment of the WPA in 1935. The emphasis here was not on government competing for the creation of jobs with the private sector, but rather on rebuilding America's shattered infrastructure.
The growing power of labor was also a significant component of the second New Deal, culminating in the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner Act of 1935. But again, the impetus for change was practical, rather than ideological. Labor unions were becoming an increasingly important part of the coalition that would keep the Democrats in the White House for twenty years from 1933 onwards. Under these conditions the Roosevelt administration simply couldn't afford to ignore the concerns of organized labor.
The momentum of the second New Deal slowed considerably in the face of judicial assault, with the Supreme Court striking down both the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. FDR's cumbersome attempt at packing the Court with sympathetic justices merely served to heighten suspicion of the New Deal and slow its progress considerably. The ensuing tactical retreat led to a new downturn, popularly labelled the "Roosevelt recession." Tellingly, it was both liberals and conservatives alike who pinned this label firmly on FDR, albeit for different reasons.
At various stages of the second New Deal, we see FDR as the arch pragmatist, the consummate politician, trying to salvage what he could from a legislative program under increasing threat. It wasn't until the United States entered World War II after Pearl Harbor that the spirit of the New Deal was fully implemented. But even here, this was a hard-headed response to a national crisis rather than an attempt at effecting deep structural change in American economic life.