by Daniel Flynn
Happy days are here again – not for America, but for meddlers promising to scheme the nation out of the doldrums. Ideas that would have been derided during the presidencies of Bill Clinton (“the era of big government is over”), George H.W. Bush (“A president…. must see to it that government intrudes as little as possible in the lives of the people”), and Ronald Reagan (“government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”) are now de rigueur. That those presidents were unfaithful to their rhetoric does nothing to blunt the sense that they strode the stage during a different act. America has again crossed a Rubicon. Not since the Great Depression have cranks had the ear of the nation as they do now.
For much of the past year, a strange breed of past-pining progressive has demanded a “new” New Deal. Time pictured an in-color Obama on its black-and-white cover as a bespectacled Franklin Roosevelt triumphantly tilting his cigarette upwards. Politico labeled Obama’s program “a twenty-first century New Deal.” Paul Krugman dubbed the new president “Franklin Delano Obama” in the New York Times and contended that the New Deal had much to impart to Barack Obama, particularly the lesson that the 32nd president’s “economic policies were too cautious.”
The “new” New Deal recidivism reveals a sclerotic movement stuck in the past. The ubiquitous prefix “new” stamped on any old program reflects the movement’s horror that its ancient pedigree might be discovered. What self-respecting “progressive” xeroxes the past to boldly remake the future? The old New Deal was a mish-mash of the populist, progressive, and social gospel movements that antedated it. If the New Deal’s abandonment of the gold standard did not spark flashbacks to William Jennings Bryan, and its National Recovery Administration did not immediately bring Woodrow Wilson’s War Industries Board to mind, then its very name should have jogged memories. The Madison Avenue-style marketing ploy, an amalgamation of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” and Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal,” served as a clue to the atavistic nature of the New Deal. The “new” New Deal, then, recycles a 75-year-old political gimmick that, even when first unveiled, was stale.
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