In “Reaching for a New Deal,” Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs recall with bemusement the sepia-tinged excitement that greeted Obama’s victory in 2008. What the FDR-obsessed pundits missed, the two political scientists say, was that “the timing, nature, and severity” of the economic crises the two presidents faced were very different.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932, three years into the Great Depression. The unemployment rate that year was 23.6 percent. Obama won the presidency in 2008, mere months into the financial crisis; unemployment was at 6.8 percent. Consequently, the two presidents faced political systems prepared to do very different things.
In his new book, “The New Deal: A Modern History,” Michael Hiltzik makes clear that though FDR was an unusually energetic and ambitious president, he was paired with an unusually energetic and ambitious Congress.
Take the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which ended traditional bank runs by insuring commercial bank deposits. FDR opposed it. He believed that “the weak banks will pull down the strong.” But senators from rural states represented those small, weak banks. Deposit insurance was part of the price they exacted to pass the Glass-Steagall banking law. “You will have to come to a deposit guarantee eventually, Cap’n,” Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, told him. He did — but only because Congress forced him into it.
This happened again and again throughout the New Deal. FDR wanted to go far. But Congress often wanted to go further — occasionally over the president’s objections.Read the whole thing.