Postwar perceptions of the New Deal, clouded by conservative criticisms of federal interventions in the nation’s economy, are due for a jolt thanks to Jordan A. Schwarz’s superbly crafted and downright exciting The New Dealers: Power Politics in the Age of Roosevelt
The “New Deal,” a term coined by Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his acceptance speech as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1932, was Roosevelt’s encapsulated campaign promise to take bold action to address the United States’ economic woes, a hemorrhaging fiscal nightmare brought on by Wall Street’s precipitous crash in October, 1929. In January of 1933, after his landslide victory over incumbent Republican president Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt sat in the White House’s Oval Office with a commanding mandate to convert his campaign pledge into actual governmental policy. With a largely cooperative Congress, Roosevelt rapidly pushed through a large number of emergency programs designed to offer immediate economic relief and eventual recovery and stabilization. Among these were the agendas of the so-called alphabet agencies, the NRA (National Recovery Administration), the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration), the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and the PWA (Public Works Administration). In its first year, then, the New Deal was transformed into an interlocking web of federal initiatives, a panoply of programs that would continue to grow until the nation turned its attention to the gathering storm clouds over Europe in the late 1930’s.
While surveying the purviews of these Depression-era programs, Schwarz focuses his astute gaze on the brains, conceptual and political, behind the evolution of the New Deal’s approach to governing. In doing so, Schwarz sketches lively portraits, enlarged verissimo snapshots capturing wrinkles and warts as well as strokes of genius and plain good fortune. Almost without exception, the movers and shakers who gave substance to the New Deal were ambitious men. Though they were pushed by desires for personal power and influence, what is most striking in Schwarz’s account of these singular men is their transcendent aim to serve their country, their regions, and their constituencies through government service devoted to economic growth and development.
Indeed, Schwarz’s most intriguing, and controversial theme is that the truly bona fide New Dealers were capitalists. They were not the laissez-faire fiscal conservatives of the Republican Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations of the 1920’s, who upheld that government should take a hands-off approach to the economy whatever its condition. Nor did they view the upheavals of unfettered capitalism as necessary yet eventually self-correcting manifestations of an economic Darwinism in which only the fiscally fit were privileged to survive. Instead, the New Dealers put their faith in what Schwarz calls “state capitalism” or “public investment.”
Schwarz, distinguished research professor at Northern Illinois University and the biographer of New Dealers Bernard Baruch and Adolf Berle, states in his introduction that the “New Dealers,” as they were called during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration,
sought to create long-tenn markets by building an infrastructure in undeveloped regions of America. The New Dealers believed that national economic growth was stifled by the monopolization of capital and manufacturing in the Northeast quadrant of the country-making the South and the West undeveloped countries.
They became convinced that relief and recovery programs were but stopgap measures, that the larger problems of unemployment and stagnation needed...
(The entire section is 1513 words.)