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The Age of Roosevelt: The Crisis of the Old Order

A quarter of a century, however, is time enough to dispel some of the myths that have accumulated around the crisis of the early Thirties and the emergence of the New Deal. There is, for example, the myth that world conditions rather than domestic errors and extravagances were entirely responsible for the depression. There is the myth that the depression was already over, as a consequence of the ministrations of the Hoover Administration, and that it was the loss of confidence resulting from the election of Roosevelt that gave it new life. There is the myth that the roots of what was good in the New Deal were in the Hoover Administration - that Hoover had actually inaugurated the era of government responsibility for the health of the economy and the society. There is the contrasting myth (for myths do not require inner consistency) that the New Deal was alien in origins and in philosophy; that - as Mr. Hoover put it - its philosophy was "the same philosophy of government which has poisoned all Europe: the fumes of the witches' cauldron which boiled in Russia."

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. devotes a substantial part of the first book of his projected four volume "Age of Roosevelt" to dispelling these myths. This involves an inquiry into the origins of the New Deal practices and principles, an investigation of conditions - chiefly economic - in the Twenties and a thorough re-evaluation of the Hoover Administration.

One of the valuable features of this book is the emphasis the contributions of political theory by intellectuals, philosophers and scholars. It does not purport to be a history of ideas, but it is very much a history that addresses itself to ideas.

I found Henry Steele Commager's 1957 review at NYTimes. Interesting to see what historians thought of the book at the time of its publication.


  1. Interesting start. It appears that Schlesinger is going to lay much (if not all) of the blame of the Depression on the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover years (The Old Order), when the US slipped into a self-imposed isolationism and a general unwillingness to address any of the global concerns that were rising during the time. He even lays a bit of scorn at the doorstep of the Wilson White House, which refused to heed the advice of the young turks in his administration and pretty much chose to ignore the changes taking place in Europe.

    Of course this dovetails nicely with the present, as 20+ years of Reaganomics and Cold War isolationism has resulted in a similar crisis. Looks like a good read, av.

  2. This passage really jumped out at me, where Schlesinger draws from Herbert Croly's The Promises of American Life,

    The promise of American life had been too long considered somehow self-fulfilling; the same automatic processes which had taken care of the past would take care of the future. Croly sharply challenged this whole spirit of optimism and drift. The traditional American confidence in individual freedom, he said, had resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth under which "the ideal Promise, instead of being automatically fulfilled, may well be automaticlly stifled." The only hope was to transform the national attitude toward social development, to convert the old unconscious sense of national destiny into a conscious sense of national purpose, to replace drift by management.

    pp. 20-21

  3. Excellent! I didn't start it last night, but will. I think the timing for reading about Roosevelt is as perfect as reading Coll about Afghanistan. Those who do not learn from history, etc.

  4. Started Schlesinger yesterday and will keep after him today. Good choice indeed. It's always a pleasure to read someone who can write well and tell a story. Plus, he was able to actually interview people who were there so that should add an extra dimension to what he's writing about. Look forward to talking about the book.

  5. Schlesinger's description of the Coolidge/Mellon White House Business Plan replete with tax rebates coming from the Treasury's office resonate 80 years later.

  6. Given that this book was written in 1957, before anyone had really even heard of Reagan or Bush or any of the Republicans who would push and promote supply-side economics in the 80s, it is quite telling how Schlesinger analyzes the failure of such economic thinking in the 20s.

    The Harding/Coolidge years play out like the Reagan/Bush years with much energy and resources given to building up big business at the expense of the little man, including an inordinate amount of tax breaks that translated into record profits rather than increased wages and social security, to the point that Schlesinger notes that the savings in the countries were vested largely in the top 1% of the nation, with the little man finding his buying power greatly limited.

    He notes that Ford and other businessmen saw the need to boost wages in order to create a broader consumer class but Coolidge apparently didn't give a rat's ass about the little man, as he pretty much carried forward Harding's policy of appeasing the rich.

  7. You're ahead of me, but I'll try to catch up this weekend. But yes, I agree. Everything I've read so far sounds awfully familiar.

  8. I read to the end of section I last night. There is so much politics and history wrapped up in that section, I almost feel like I need to go back and quickly reread it.

    Amazing how quickly this era of hope for the future died with those young people's dreams. Along with the belief that "the powers of government -- in other words, of the people -- should be expanded ... to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land."

    Granted, this is the populist platform, but it seems that Roosevelt picks that up in his weird, don't tread on me sort of way (what Schlesinger calls "middle-class standards of civic decency" -- I love that) and the belief that human rights are higher in purpose than property rights (thus, the need to regulate its use whenever the public welfare requires it). Oh yeah, and that government had to be stronger than business if democracy was to mean anything.

    He maintains that Wilson took over this progressive platform in 1912, but in spite of his optimism, war destroyed all of this. I think what he's saying is that the fear of becoming Russia was so great (or so manipulated) that people were willing to give up on all these ideas of democracy. That they became docile, and that "the Republican party [made] the most of their docility." Is this how you read section I?

    It's also interesting to think that he's writing this in the mid-1950s -- I'm assuming 55 or 56? -- against the backdrop of another period that fears Russia.

    This opening (and probably the book) is so dense with history and assumptions, I think I'll have to take this slow since I don't know much about this period (although it does put the National Parks movement in an interesting political perspective -- that Jefferson basically was wrong. Government should be "an affirmative agency of national progress and social betterment").

  9. Harding sounds a bit like George W, but with a nice streak -- he let Debs out of prison, something Wilson refused to do. But he was way out of his element in the presidency, thinking _it_ was a prison. And then he died.

  10. I'm enjoying your conversation and wish I could find the time to read this book. And talk about those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it!

    I wonder if the young people in this country will soon figure out that their parents have sold them down the financial river into economic servitude?

  11. Wish you could join us as well, Rick!

    It's going to be slow going for me because there are lots of references to people/events that have little meaning for me. Fortunately, I know who Debs is, but if I didn't, the relevance of that reference would have escaped me.

    But yes, this is an amazingly relevant book given that so much of it sounds so familiar to what we just went through. Scary when you think of it.

    The comment about the docility of the people that the republicans could take advantage of after the war really struck me.

    We'll see how it goes -- I have a couple novels I'd like to read -- but I may try to stick with the entire series. (I think the review said Schlesinger originally planned four? I think I have three after Gintaras noted my two volumes were incomplete.)

  12. I wonder how Robert is doing. He has no doubt read all of these.

  13. It was interesting the way the Progressives appeared torn between the Republican and Democrat camps. Alot of Progressives went with TR and the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and only reluctantly with Wilson in 1916. When the Progressives did reform behind LaFollette, they once again saw themselves on the outside looking in of the political situation as Americans seem content to stay with the two party system as static as it was. I guess all those violent upheavals going in Europe turned them off the Progressives. Eventually, it took FDR to provide the Progressives a home within the Democratic Party.

  14. I'll have to go back and see how he handles this, but I always got the impression (I read 1912 or whatever it was called about that election) that the Bull Moose party split the Republican vote so that Wilson could win. It definitely looks like that from a sheer numbers perspective but look at the state/electoral college outcome:,_1912

  15. That's the general impression. Wilson is not one of my favorites presidents. It seems Schlesinger treads lightly over him, being a Democrat, but I don't think Wilson had it in him from the beginning to be a "Progressive."

  16. I don't think Wilson was a progressive, that's for sure. For one thing, he was such a racist. I think I read that he introduced Jim Crow into the White House and then there was that interview as part of Birth of a Nation. This was not a "progressive" time for all Americans. Even TR had a better record on race -- which always sort of surprises me.

    I'll have to go back and see what exactly Schlesinger wrote about Wilson taking on the progressive platform -- I thought that's what he wrote but I could be wrong.

  17. In the meantime, though, this passage stunned me, which is what I think you were commenting about earlier. Sorry this is so long, but it is so good.

    After Coolidge pushed for massive tax cuts for the wealthy, with Mellon's idea that it would give them more money to speculate with (and thus, in theory, continue to grow the economy), he writes:

    "Nor was this a wholly unreasonable point of view. If the merit of an economic structure was to be judged by its surface performance, then the American economy of the early twenties ranked high...... [Standards of living increased, productivity rose, etc.] ... For a time, the country seemed to be on the edge of a new abundance....

    By the rules of orthodox economics, the reduction in production costs should have brought about either a reduction in prices or a rise in wages, or both. But the rigidities in the economy, in part the result of the process of concentration [of wealth], seemed to have anaesthetized the market. The price system, so exquisitely sensitive in classical theory, was turning out to be sluggish in practice.

    Denied outlet in lower prices because of accumulating rigidities, the gains of technological efficiency were equally denied outlet to higher wages or in higher farm prices because of the bargaining feebleness of the labor movement and of the farm bloc. As a result these gains were captured increasingly by the businessmen themselves in the form of profits. Through the decade, profits rose over 80 percent as a whole, or twice as much as productivity; the profits of financial institutions rose a fantastic 150 percent.

    The increase in profits naturally pushed up the prices of corporate securities; and as securities rose in value, corporations found that the easiest way to obtain new cash was to issue new securities. This was cheap money, because there was no need to pay a return on stock issues as one would pay interest on bank loans. In turn, the corporations used the cash to expand plant, thereby increasing the flood of goods into an already crowded market; or as time passed, they funneled their funds more and more into speculation. The result was to push stocks up again, repeating the whole process at a higher level. As the twenties proceeded, the stock market sucked off an increasing share of the undistributed gains of industrial efficiency....

  18. A bit later he writes:

    "The Mellon tax policy, placing its emphasis on relief for millionaires rather than for consumers, made the maldistribution of income and oversaving even worse. By 1929, the 2.3 percent of the population with incomes over $10,000 were responsible for two-thirds of the 15 billion dollars of savings. The 60,000 families in the nation with the highest incomes saved almost as much as the bottom 25 million. The mass of the population simply lacked the increase in purchasing power to enable them to absorb the increase in goods."

    Doesn't anyone in Washington ever read history? Or worse, any American voter? I read this and am stunned by the similarities to what the electorate willing agreed to in 2000. Or in the 1980s with Reagan.

  19. There's a scene in Moore's Capitalism where some commentator is saying the rising stock market must be an act of God. Here's what Schlesinger has to say about the 1920s:

    A NY business man named Barton wrote The Man Nobody knows:

    "Barton assimilated Jesus Christ into the new cult, observing admiringly of the Son of God that He had 'picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world.' Salvation was to be measured by success; and success thus became the visible evidence of spiritual merit. The individuals who made good deserved the gratitude of all mankind."

  20. It might be fun to market bumper stickers that play into the notion that success is evidence of salvation.

    My SUV is bigger than yours because God loves me more.

    Blessed are the rich for they own the earth.

  21. As they say, Rick, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I'm so glad to be reading this book.

    Plus, I love his style of dense economic and political history. Doesn't seem like history is written like that much anymore.

  22. Just got my copy of the book today - late start as usual for me! An early passage was very striking -- it mentioned how the USA was on the verge of extremist revolution (from both sides!) in the 30s. Luckily, the Dems under FDR had the vision to correct things that the GOP did not have.

    How true that remains to this day.

    It's just too bad Dems do not take the GOP to task like it did back then. But maybe some day they will ...

  23. Glad you got the book, Trippler! I don't know where Gintaras is, but you won't be too far behind me. I'm reading slowly.

    Early on, the democrats apparently didn't challenge the republicans, although they certainly didn't care for the no tax, no government, pro-business approach. They just kept assuming the American public would see through it. This is from chapter 12 (103-104 in my old version):

    "Ever since 1920 [FDR] wrote in 1925, 'we have been doing nothing -- waiting for the other fellow to put his foot in it.' The other fellow had put his foot in it, Roosevelt continued, with the Harding scandals and the Mellow tax plan; but the Democrats could not even carry the Congress. The trouble lay in the fact that 'in the minds of the average voter the Democratic Party has today no definite constructive aims.'"

    But FDR was trying to mobilize his party to change that.

    Still, you read that and think there's more history here that's still relevant than you (I should say _I_) thought.

  24. I'm going to keep going, but we can focus on the early part of the book as you read through it. Hopefully Gintaras will jump back in.

    One thing that's interesting early on is how highly Hoover was regarded. Robert always defended Hoover, which I though was way out in right field, but I should have known there was a reason for that. Hoover was considered the perfect choice at the time (check out the electoral map for this one:,_1928) and even promised "the abolition of poverty."

    I also came across this interesting insight about Al Smith: "Smith knew that reform would not endure except on the basis of popular understanding. His programs succeed in the end because he saw politics as an educational process."

    Do we ever need that in this country now!

  25. So that catches up to where I am. Happy to follow your lead now.

  26. Halloween consumed more energy than I planned this year, but I started back in on the book today. It was interesting reading how the farmers' plight eventually became part of the Progressive agenda, and how Al Smith, and afterward his son, became the leader of the forgotten farmers. Schlesinger does an excellent job of showing how all these issues eventually came to be a part of the 1932 Democratic Platform.

  27. I'm still chipping away at the book, but will follow your lead and Trippler's as he catches up.

    It reminds me a bit of reading Devoto -- but then I guess it was written at the same time. They sure don't seem to write political/economic histories like this much anymore.

  28. Early in the book Schlesinger discusses the largely forgotten, but highly significant role, third parties played in USA politics. First it was the Populists of the 1880/90s, then the Progressives. Initially, it was the Republicans who adopted Progressivism. Ultimately, that platform became an integral part of the Democratic Party and this advanced society's cause in alleviating the ravages of the Great Depression.

    Third parties played an important role in advancing social progress. Yet, what a terrible role third party pundit Ralph Nader played in electing Bush into the White House! We have him to thank for the Bush created Great Recession.

  29. It appears third parties will be making a comeback now, too. Did you see the Frank Rich column today?

  30. I don't know. You have to have grass roots, which was what the progressive parties had back in the 10's and 20's. Today they seem more like novelty acts, or some rich man's muse as was Perot's "Reform Party."

  31. Well, the conservative candidate in NY is definitely not grass roots since he doesn't even know the issues (said later the press should have given him the questions ahead of time!). He's an ideological third party candidate.

    I often vote for third party candidates, including Nader, if they are stronger on the environment, getting us out of the Middle East, or whatever. I'd definitely vote for a third party against Baucus when he comes up, particularly if they don't get a public option through. My liberal Democratic friends are appalled but why should these conservative Democrats have a lock on their seats?

    In the case of the populists and the Bull Mooses, etc., I wish we had more of that now. They definitely helped push issues that came around later with the Democrats and FDR. And educated the public on the issues -- I'm with Al Smith. That's what politics needs to do to be successful.

  32. I used to have a lot of respect for Nader, but he should have known how important the 2000 election was and thrown his support behind Gore. To make matters worse he ran again in 2004, although he was a non-factor in this case.

    Jackson could have mounted a strong third-party challenge in '88. Probably would have pulled in 10-15% of the popular vote, but chose to stay within the Democratic fold. Fat lot of good it did him, other than a brief chat show on CNN.

  33. I don't think many realized at the time how important 2000 was. I certainly didn't. But I didn't like either Bush or Gore and liked Nader's policies so that was an easy vote for me.

    In Montana, Nader actually won over a lot of independent republicans which, if we knew then what we know now, could have been capitalized on. Montana always goes Republican in presidential elections (although we gave them a run for their money this last time).

    In 2004, Nader knowingly ran as a spoiler, believing all parties are corrupt. I agree with him but was much more pragmatic, holding my nose and voting for Kerry (actually, I worked hard for him -- our little county went to the Democrats that year).

    I would have voted for Jackson in 88. I did in the primaries.

  34. I don't think by running as a third party candidate in 2000, Nader did much to rid the two parties of corruption.

    I hate the way the two parties have become so entrenched, but I think a third party has to be built from the ground up. The time maybe ripe to do this. I could see the Republican Party splitting, especially with this so-called Tea Party movement. Seems Dems are relatively content at the moment.

  35. Not this would-be Dem.

    I thoroughly admire Obama and even trust him most of the time to make the right decisions (except for Afghanistan -- that one worries me). But you never want to get complacent with any of these parties no matter how illustrious their elected leaders.

  36. Anyway, it is nothing like it was back in the 1920's when these issues had such a profound impact on people. Today there is enough of a social safety net to protect most Americans. Then there was nothing. Reading about the incredibly long hours, including those for women and children, in the factories, is enough to make even the most hardened soul today wince. Many of these persons were lucky to make a dollar a day. Only thing comparable today are the working conditions in China and SE Asia.

    Schlesinger really paints Coolidge as a nasty bastard. Schlesinger captured a bit of a soft spot in Harding and notes that Hoover did seem to think about the underclass to some extent, but Coolidge apparently paid no mind whatsoever to the underclass. No wonder the Republicans lost touch with America.

  37. Yes, Coolidge didn't seem to give a damn about anything but his breakfast. And money.

    I didn't realize that it was Coolidge who said the business of America is business. `But then there was his add on that factories were churches and the people who worked in them were worshipping there, convinced of the divine character of wealth.

    Very odd man from the sounds of it.

  38. As for Hoover, it appears he initially believed that allowing business free reign would result in the end of poverty. Sort of the original trickle down theorist.

    But I haven't yet reached his presidency, so I'm assuming that may change.

  39. When I was doing research in Yellowstone last time, I came across a letter requesting that, per TR's order, all contractors must adhere to an eight-hour day rule. I often think of the federal government as being at the fore-front of progressive enforcements of integration and non-discrimination, but it never occurred to me that TR was also enforcing the 8 hour rule at federal sites.

  40. "Free reign."

    That wasn't intended as a pun, but guess it's what comes with trying to engage the mind too early in the a.m.

  41. WELCOME Larch! Feel free to jump in anytime.

  42. I've must say Diane that a vote for Nader always looked like a wasted vote to me. I stop short, however, of blaming Nader voters for Bush. For Bush I blame Republicans and all the so-called independents who voted for him. Most of them are also Republicans, they just don't have the guts to admit it.

  43. ~~ Re the Mellon Tax Policy ... doesn't anyone read history? ~~

    There's an old line from Santayana about ''history teaches that mankind learns nothing from history''.

    War creates deficits. Instead of using excess profits taxes to pay for the wars, the middle class is taxed to pay for them. Taxes are reduced for the wealthy so that they can profit from their war machine investments and form other forms of speculation after the wars. This is precisely what happened in the Wilson-Coolidge-Hoover era and again under Reagan-Bush I, II. Whenever anyone sought changes in that they were immediately branded as communist or socialist just like today.

    Yup, Santayana was right.

  44. It is fascinating to see that the Republicans then as now still treat criticism of their views as anti-Americanism. Must be the fascist streak that runs through their party.

  45. You can understand resistance to federal programs back in the early 1930s, because business had pretty much had a free reign since the Civil War, but it is hard to understand the resistance today given that federal programs have saved industry time and time again in the country since the Great Depression. Yet, Republicans still spout the same "free market" mantra that characterized economoic thinking back in the 1920s.

    It is fascinating the way Schlesinger explores this "free market" thinking of the time and how empty it was when forced to deal with a crisis of the magnitude of the Great Depression. Seems a lot of the progressive ideas of the time, which went largely unread and unnnoticed, predated Keynesian economics.

  46. It is simply amazing, isn't it Trippler? There was an amazing rant the other day in the Times from a retired engineer professor in Oregon. He had a lot to say but the bottom line is that the country is failing because of greed.

    I was reading last night about the development of the original liberal philosophy. Some of these people I had never heard of.

  47. Amazing is right. Republicans and business pundits all cry ''free market'' but when the chips are down and the government bails them out, they take the money and run. That shows you how much ... correction, how little ... principle they have.

  48. Seems there are at least 4 of us reading the book now. I'm about 2/3's of the way through the book. Where should we start?

  49. You're ahead of me now so I'll follow your lead.

  50. We can start with the breakdown of the Wilson administration after Versailles. Schlesinger notes how Wilson lost several of his younger economic thinkers when he refused to acknowledge the shift that was occurring economically in the world toward national collectivism. The United States returned to business as usual after the war, with the American worker no better off than he was before the war.

  51. What struck me in that early section was how idealistic that group of young people was and how they sort of ran into a wall in Paris. I read Paris 1919 with the Times group, and really enjoyed it, but none of what Schlesinger writes about sounds familiar. Not sure if this is old ground or if his is just a different perspective on what happened there.

    As I posted earlier, it reminded me a bit of the young people working for/with Obama -- when idealism hits the realities and complexities of the real world, particularly when it comes to war.

    One comment I didn't fully understand was when someone -- Bullitt maybe? -- said the peace in Paris would result in perpetual war. I'm not sure I understand that period well enough to get the reference.

    I was also intrigued by the agreement he made with the Russians, which resulted in major concessions, which were then ignored with the rise of the whites. Didn't the U.S. actually occupy a part of Russia after the war?

    Very interesting period of time about which I wish I knew more.

  52. Nothing was really resolved after WWI. Richard Evans does a very good job illustrating the situation in Europe at the time in "The Coming of the Third Reich." Not that I'm a big fan of Wilson, but Congress didn't give him much authority in the end, refusing to sign onto the League of Nations, which essentially made it a paper tiger, and retreating into the same protectionist policies that characterized the US before the War. Seems the US wasn't ready to accept any global responsibilities. It still wanted to play politics and business by the old rules, while the nature of politics and business changed dramatically in Europe. Wilson, being a pragmatist, accepted that.

  53. At some point I should probably reread Paris 1919. I remember some of that book distinctly but other parts of it have sort of disappeared. Although it appears that US "free market" policies had as much to do with what happened here and abroad as any carving up of the globe.

    What did they call them? Was it mandates? I remember it was a very strange word they used as they carved up the Middle East and gave it away.

  54. Yea, Mandate is the right word. The Palestine Mandate was overseen by the British, and what a mess they made of it.

  55. I thought that sounded right -- it's your "mandate" to take over that country. Another weird idea when you think of it.

  56. In regard to your comments about there not being much that is personal, av, wait till you get to the second half of the book. Schlesinger builds a very nice bio on Franklin and Eleanor, going back and showing how FDR rose to prominence, pretty much modelling his political career on his cousin Teddy, who by the way gave away Eleanor's hand in marriage, as his brother Elliot was no longer around to do the honor. I hadn't realized FDR and TR were that closely related.

    However, they appeared to diverge considerably when it came to Wilson, although TR didn't seem to grudge young FDR for it, continueing to encourage his younger cousin as he took the job of Assistant Sec. of Navy in the Wilson administration.

  57. What I find amusing is all the Keynesian references to Roosevelt. From what I've read, Keynesian theory really didn't come into play until the Kennedy-Johnson administration. Roosevelt was content to read Stuart Chase and other American economists from the era, who pretty much had the same ideas. But, I guess over time Keynes has come to personify "demand-side economics," for lack of a better description.

    This is probably what I'm gaining the most from this book is an understanding of the economic thinking of the era, and that it was anything but uniform in its view.

  58. Yes, but there does seem to be a general agreement that government needs to guide the economy. And that it's not a question of soaking the rich but saving the rich. Which is what has happened again when you think about it.

    Keynes seems at this early stage at least as the English observer -- there were several American economic thinkers who were saying basically the same thing.

    I recently read the section on Foster who warns against turning the economy over the "lazy fairies" -- I loved that.

  59. The idea of "managed government" seemed to arise out of the move toward socialism in Europe. But, of course the Republicans, and many of the Democrats were having none of that. They still held to the principle of laissez-faire economics, if it had any principles. The idea of government having any control over business was considered taboo. About the only principle that seems to exist. Hoover probably best epitomized this thinking and so he helplessly looked on as the economy went into free fall with business powerless to do anything about it. Throughout his four years he viewed the depression as a cyclical downturn, trying to cheer the economy on from the White House, while Mellon provided tax rebates from the Sec. of Treasury to the wealthy business owners who were laying workers off in droves. Sound familiar.

  60. I know. This is why this book fascinates. Sorry I"m not making more progress on it, but I'll catch up with you eventually. Too much other reading/work at the moment.

    And per your new post above, I have enjoyed the references to Dos Passos et al. This, among many things, is what has reminded me a bit of Devoto.

    I read 1919 with the intent of reading the entire series, but never got to the others. An amazing time that should have taught us more about the limits of capitalism and the lazy faires. That these huge corporations would somehow collectively regulate themselves seems laughable, and yet that's what Greenspan etc. were saying.

  61. Alot of Republicans continue to sing the same tune. The Libertarians would prefer smaller government and smaller businesses, which was one of the currents Schlesinger notes at the time, but the progressives seemed to want to do away with the antitrust laws so that big business would remain intact but be subject to government regulations and planning.

    Seems like the idea of central government and industries was very appealling to progressives then. Not so much now.

  62. Just about finished with the book, av. Not sure whether to go onto the next book in the series or explore the same time through Freedom From Fear by David Kennedy.

  63. I don't know that book, but did read Kennedy's Over Here, which was really good -- albeit from a conservative point of view. His look at the depression would definitely be different than Schlesinger's.

    I'll stick with this one and then maybe pick up one of the lighter versions of the next period -- although I'm sort of hooked on Schlesinger at the moment. I haven't reached the wedding, so am still deep in the politics and economics. There's not enough of that kind of history written anymore.

    As limited as the Jonathan Alter book apparently is, it might be a good read of FDR's first 100 days. I like Alter generally as a political commentator.

  64. It is part of the Oxford series on American History,

    I bought it a few years ago with the intention of reading it but never got around to doing so.

  65. Wrapped up the book tonight. Turns back nicely on itself, explaining the tension betweeen Roosevelt and Hoover at the tea party. Amazing what Hoover tried to force down Roosevelt's throat at the last minute.

    Makes me think if the tea party between Bush and Obama.

  66. I'll be catching up with you soon. I'll see if I can post some of the comments I marked in the early section of the book in case anyone else wants to join in.

    But if not, I'm totally enjoying the random conversation.

  67. Looking back through the opening of the book, I'm struck by how Hoover is the director of American relief in Europe but later refuses to provide relief to his own fellow citizens. What happens to a man to turn against his own people?

    Only slightly out of context "Never in the lifetime of men now living has the universal element in the soul of man burnt so dimly."

  68. Hoover was the technocrat, who figured he could come up with a scheme to solve most any problem. He also got high marks for the management of the 1927 Mississippi Flood relief, which is why many felt he would make a good president. Unfortunately, it seems he was too much in bed with businessmen to see clearly on economics.

  69. {AH! Terribly far behind you guys!}

    I was just reading how Hoover got a huge build up as the political wonder boy of the 1920s. He was greatly admired by the Dems & Reps. Heck, from the way he was characterized you would have thought he could walk on water! But then the bottom fell out with the stock market crash.

    As in the days of Reagan and Bush, laissez-faire capitalism is highly praised by the delusionals of the far right. People like me will caution others against such high expecations only to run into the usual political Cassandra complex that exists in USA society. And then, BOOM! The bottom falls out.

  70. Robert always talked about how highly regarded Hoover was but I never believed him. But it's clear that he was seen as the man of the hour. Sort of the little engineer who could. That also seems to be part of that progressive faith in experts.

  71. Schlesinger's book shows that Americans back then, like today, have a tendency to see the surface of things rather than to take an in depth look at conditions. Once the rose colored glasses are taken off, then we see that conditions are not as picturesque as they appear or as so many of us want to believe.

    In the 20s there was seeming prosperity. But for whom? Middle and upper class flappers wore short skirts and cloche hats and danced the Charleston with their beaus. This led to the popular ''Roaring Twenties'' image with America as ideal paradise at that time. But was it all as rosy as so many thought (and still think to this day)?

    The farmers were in severe crisis. The Indian reservations were in worse shape than many impoverished areas in the Third World.* While the Harlem Renaissance took place, there were terrible racial riots with the rise of hate groups such as the KKK:

    And much of society was in debt from either too much credit or because of war related problems. Thus, society was FAR from perfect. But Americans saw only the superficiality of success.

    Hoover was elected because of that appearance. And we all know what happened next.

    * A thought occurred to me re Indian reservations: have we ever discussed or considered John Collier's crusade for Native American reform?

  72. The worst part about The Office of Indian Affairs, as it was called then, was the attempt at assimilation, which involved moving native Americans from one region to another and placing them in OIA schools that attempted to drive out any native ethnicity and replace it with a kind of Americanism that bordered on Fascism. After the Meriam Commission Report, Hoover apparently made an effort to reform this assimilation policy and unfair land allotments, but like everything else it didn't go very far. I think Schlesinger mentioned this in passing.

  73. This is one of the better books I've read about the history of US relations with Native tribes:

    It wasn't just "Americanism" but also Christianity that they promoted. And their very language and sense of self that they sought to destroy.

    The mainstreaming of tribes was another travesty, but that as much a land grab as anything else.

    I'll watch for that in Schlesinger. I don't think I read Hoover's comments yet.

  74. John Collier, who Tip noted, was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Roosevelt. During this time many of the reforms were finally carried out and much relief was provided for the Native American communities.

  75. Schlesinger spends more time on the farming crisis, which did suffer terribly during the 20s, unable to regain its pre-WWI level. Alot of this was because of Harding-Coolidge policies favored big business and not agriculture, which was still relatively diffuse and not the agricultural industry like we have today. Hoover was apparently concerned by this, and initiated changes in agriculture policy, but there was a lot of concern over his attitude toward agriculture. Basically, he wanted to fix the prices by limiting production, but there was little way to put this into effect given the relatively small scale of farming practices at the time, as I remember reading. I have to look back to find some of Schlesinger's more salient observations.

  76. BTW, the Hamby book is good as it places the depression in a global context, which Schlesinger chose not to do. Seems Schlesinger was of the same mind as most Progressives at the time that the Depression was primarily a domestic issue.

  77. Lincoln Steffens' Autobiography sounds like required reading. This quote jumped off the page, thinking of how people say they don't want to lose their so-called liberty by providing people with health care or whatever:

    "Don't we always abolish liberty when we are afraid or in trouble? Isn't liberty a psychological matter? Isn't it something that depends, not upon laws and constitutions, but upon our state of mind? Isn't liberty a measure of our sense of security and nothing else? Like democracy, like peace, liberty has to be founded in economic arrangements that abolish fear."

  78. But what struck me most in my reading last night was that Hoover was a dead ringer for George W, or vice versa. They both seem so wedded to their dogma and removed from what others are going through that they are unable to even consider other points of view.

    Unlike Wilson and TR, Hoover would only solicit the opinions of those he already agreed with. Stunning how similar that is. There's reason to complain that Obama and Clinton before him "waffle" on issues, but it shows that they consider both sides of the story before making a decision. These ideologues don't seem interested in the other side.

    Then there was his classic comment, which I read at first as a bad joke but was apparently meant seriously by Hoover (he wrote these many years later): "Many people left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples."

  79. One of the more interesting coincidences was reading that the banks didn't feel it was their responsibility to band together to keep the banks afloat but the government's.

    Then I heard GW say he regretted going against his free market impulses when he authorized the bailout of the banks to avoid a serious depression.

    Those weren't his exact words, but they were very similar. If he'd said he regretted bailing out the banks I'd give him some credit. I regret the way that was handled too. But that he added to prevent a depression gets to his real philosophy. Let them eat cake.

  80. As bad as Hoover misjudged the extent of the depression, he was a lot more on the ball than Dubya, who didn't even recognize there was a recession occurring until it was too late.

    Hamby makes an interesting point in his book that when Congress finally gotten around to approving the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932, which Hoover actively promoted, it was too late to do much in the way of distribution before the 1932 election. Hamby says that if the RFC had been set up the year before when initially proposed it might have done some good. Instead, Hoover and Congress quibbled over the amount and how it should be distributed for the better part of a year.

    I think there is a big difference between Hoover and Dubya. Hoover was ideologically bound in many ways but he was also intelligent and had successes in distribution programs. Unlike Dubya, who botched Katrina, Hoover was given accolades for the way he handled the 1927 Mississippi Flood, under Coolidge's administration.

  81. Hoover comes across as a tragic figure. Someone who obviously had great managerial skills, many ideas, and seemed ideally suited to take the US to the next level, ending poverty as he promised in his campaign. In the end, he presided over the worst unemployment the US had ever seen, and seemed completely at a loss at how to reverse situation.

    All though, it does seem Congress aided him a bit in his downfall.

  82. Almost makes me want to read a biography of him -- maybe I'll try one of those short ones at some point. He is an enigma. How can someone so efficiently serve the people of Europe in their hour of need and then turn his back on the people of America in theirs?

    I marked yet another one of those comments but can't find it now... It was something to the effect that to keep their liberty it was okay to let the American people starve. (Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that extreme, but that was the underlying message -- and children were literally starving to death.)

  83. Made it through the nominating process last night. Reminded me a bit of the Lincoln nomination -- at little chaotic and uncertain. FDR definitely didn't seem to represent the mainstream of the Democratic party. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had nominated one of the "lazy fairy" types? (I still love that comment -- can't help it.)

    Also loved the comment about Al Smith, which seemed to explain it all. He started hanging out with rich guys. He'd taken up golf!

  84. Here's the quote about Smith, from Mencken (of course):

    "The Al of today is no longer a politician of the first chop. His association with the rich has apparently wobbled him and changed him. He has become a golf player.... It is a sad spectacle."

  85. And here's the quote about looking out for the poor by doing nothing for them:

    "The respectable classes had long claimed to oppose federal relief out of their concern for the moral health of the recipients. But this explanation was in 1932 decreasingly convincing. Many now found the realistic thesis advanced by Gifford Pinchot more impressive. 'Local relief means making the poor man pay,' Pinchot said. '...The force behind the stubborn opposition to federal relief is fear lest taxes to provide that relief be levied on concentrated wealth.'"

    Ain't it the truth.....

  86. A couple more tidbits ... I can't stop now that I've started (I love this book):

    Putting together his political philosophy, FDR developed a strong commitment to conservation/preservation in the spirit of his cousin.

    But this really struck me: this led to his ideas about the struggle for the liberty of the community as opposed to the liberty of the individual.

    "Every beneficial measure advanced in the last fifty years, he added, came under this definition, from conservation and antitrust action to state regulation of common carriers and commission government...."

    Roosevelt said:

    "If we call the method regulation, people hold up their hands in horror and say 'Unamerican' or 'dangerous.' But if we call the same identical process cooperation these same old fogies will cry out 'well done.'"

  87. Argh! I'm having a problem with a wicked sinus condition and cannot do any reading at the moment. Please keep posting and I'll try to keep up.

  88. Schlesinger has a way of finding juicy quotes. Al Smith is a tough one to figure out. I guess he was so smitten with himself that he couldn't see anyone other than himself as the Democratic nominee, despite having lost in a landslide to Hoover in 1928.

    The part that amazed me was that FDR had given Smith's nomination speech in 1928 and I believe in '24 as well, the year Davis was the Democratic nominee. Yet, Smith didn't have a single good word to say for Roosevelt, and went out of his way to try to undermine his nomination, despite being the consensus favorite.

    I guess all is fair in love, war and politics.

  89. Not a problem Trippler. I had a stretch there when I couldn't read either.

    But I'm back -- almost to the end now. I can see why you picked up another book right away, Gintaras. The end is only the beginning....

  90. For some reason I thought Rick was a fan of Mencken. Did we lose Rick?

    The Mencken quote is one of the reasons Schlesinger reminds me a bit of Devoto. I wonder if that was sort of a "style" then -- to weave these quotes and sources seamlessly into the narrative.

  91. As for Smith, I got the impression he was a real progressive in the day, but as the quote suggests, started hanging out too much with rich people and moving to the right. Plus, he seems to have been embittered by the fact that the electorate would never accept a Catholic president.

    It may have been in relation to Smith that Roosevelt made his quip that he hoped he never became reactionary when he got older. I don't know about the rest of you, but I distinctly remember saying that when I was younger ....

  92. This was my favorite quote from last night, comparing Roosevelt and Wilson:

    Roosevelt after Harding's victory: "Every war brings after it a period of materialism and conservatism; people tire quickly of ideals and we are now repeating history."

    Wilson had said earlier: "It is only once in a generation that a people can be lifted above material things. That is why conservative government is in the saddle two-thirds of the time."

  93. A thought occurred to me as I read the part about economic theory (Ch 17) - theories which lack any manifest concreteness, yet are defended vigorously by the elite who benefit from them. Quote: ''The models which balance out so perfectly in the textbooks bore ... no relation to what actually happened in the market place. If economists could not account for concrete economic institutions and economic behavior ... they were futile; worse, they were helping the exploiting class conceal from its victims the true nature of the system.''

    p 137

    I was reminded of Reaganomics and its 'trickle down' theory. It promised that if the wealthy elites were allowed to accumulate capital without restraint, wealth would ultimately trickle down in huge amounts to the masses. After 28 years we have seen no such thing occur in our society.

    Reagan dissolved the Office of International Operations of the IRS in order to insure that wealthy elites and corporations could shelter their monies overseas. This enabled the wealthy to shelter $12 trillion in untaxed capital accounts. Thus, instead of trickling down to the masses, the elites kept the monies to themselves. As Schlesinger shows, this is pretty much what liberal economic theorists were warning about in the 1920s.

    We have had this Reaganomics theoretical nonsense taking place for 28 years. And never once has it worked to the public's advantage nor will it ever do so. Yet, people foolishly continue to vote Republican in the vote that it will work as promised because they succumbed to the incessant lies and propaganda of the far right. It is time for deluded people to open their eyes and minds before another economic catastrophe takes place.

  94. There is this innate gullibility in Americans that is extremely frustrating each election cycle.

    The supply-side economic theory was soundly repudiated in the 1930s and here was Reagan, or rather than Friedmanites around him, trotting it out once again. Of course, it didn't hurt that Friedman came with a Nobel Prize in economics, which does make one wonder what the Nobel committee was thinking when they awarded their prize to this guy.

    I suppose the GOP'ers thought it was a question of tactics, and that they would do a better job of making it work than had Harding-Coolidge-Hoover. The S&L collapse should have been an early warning sign but instead Gramm and others in Congress sought to deregulate banking to the point that it was just as vulnerable as were the S&L's in the 80s. But, as long as there were jobs few persons even batted an eyelash. Even Greenspan looked the other way.

  95. I think what the Democrats need to do is associate supply-side economics with the Depression and recessionary economics in general in the public mind, maybe then John Q. Public might have second thoughts the next time some Republican starts spouting the virtues of supply-side economics.

  96. There are so many ways the Democrats could attack this kind of deluded thinking, but for some reason they are never willing to go that far.

    It's like watching the fight over the 32 nomination or the healthcare process (I think we should call it that now -- we don't get healthcare -- we get a process).

    There are big money interests who may support certain aspects of social reform but not at the expense of big capital/big business.

    I found that chapter on theory extremely interesting.

  97. I didn't quite finish the book last night because Sherlock Holmes called. But will today. Once I started reading again, it's hard to stop. It's too good.

    I'm transfixed watching FDR construct his team and his message. (And watching him head out across the country in spite of his obvious pain.)

  98. Another parallel that struck me last night was how, unlike Obama, the Roosevelt team seems to have rejected the idea of bringing business leaders into the team since they were the ones who got them into the mess in the first place. Instead they looked to the academy for fresh ideas.

    I was also struck with how conflicting the proposed solutions really were. At one point Roosevelt, as he's finding his own voice, tells his speechwriters to integrate two different points of view into one speech. Now _that's_ a politician!

  99. Yea, but Roosevelt soon found out how difficult it was to reverse trends. Hamby does a good job of showing the fits and jerks of the first New Deal and how futile initial efforts were to get industry and banking going again, because there was no organized way of dealing with these two sectors. Hamby noted that it was easier in agriculture, where programs already existed, but even here the FDR team found themselves searching for answers. I think Roosevelt's stubborness when it came to big business cost him in the early going.

    It will be interesting to move onto the second book in the series and see how Schlesinger addresses the New Deal.

  100. Are you thinking of reading that one next? I was thinking of jumping to Alter's book since he does the first 100 days but maybe I should just stick with Schlesinger. Or both I suppose, depending on how fast the reading goes.

  101. I'm about half way through Hamby's book, For the Survival of Democracy, in which he covers the New Deal, its successes and failures, comparing and contrasting it with Germany and Britain at the time. Alot of interesting parallels as well as stark contrasts. He makes a couple of digs at Schlesinger in a playful sort of way. So, I'm curious to read Schlesinger's take on the New Deal.

  102. I finished Schlesinger so picked up Alter's 100 Days. It has a little background on FDR to start but then moves right into the first days after his inauguration so it appears to be a good complement to Schlesinger.

    When I was a graduate student the first time, I worked as a TA and remember the discussion I led on the New Deal. It was to save capitalism was my impression -- and so far that appears to be true. It certainly worked in the long run, giving US capitalism an opportunity to stick it again to the American people.

    But Roosevelt also appears to have been committed to saving democracy as you say. Alter found a draft for the inaugural address that includes this comment (that was never used):

    "As new commander-in-chief under the oath to which you are still bound I reserve to myself the right to command you in any phase of the situation which now confronts us."

    Alter argues that FDR's democratic instincts were strong and he chose not to use this statement.

    My guess is Alter wrote this book with GW in mind.

  103. My favorite quote from Schlesinger last night comes from Tom Connally of Texas as they worried about balancing the budget and the constitutional limitations on government action.

    "If it was constitutional to spend forty billion dollars in a war, isn't it just as constitutional to spend a little money to relieve the hunger and misery of our citizens?"

  104. I have a hard time figuring the reasoning behind throwing so much money into wars, especially what amount to proxy wars like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Seems the only purpose is to give defense contractors a nice windfall.

    Couldn't we do the same domestically. Seems the same contractors could just as easily rebuild badly needed civil infrastructure, providing jobs in the process. This appears to be what Obama is trying to do with his energy initiative, jump starting alternative energy producers, which has paid some early dividends by creating new jobs in the energy sector.

  105. The money we essentially threw down the drain in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been used to rebuild New Orleans and Detroit, but somehow the Republican school of thought is that this has to be a private initiative, not a public one.

    The money could also go a long way to providing better school facilities, attracting young teachers and administrators to give schools in lower tax districts a leg up.

    So many possible uses on the domestic front that would give people a better sense of social security.

  106. This country seems to only mobilize in the name of fear (I always think of Eisenhower's "national defense" highways).

    So Hoover says the only way he is going to win, which he believes is critical to saving the country, is to scare everyone about the prospect of the Democrats taking power. Fortunately it didn't work.

    If I were Obama's adviser, I'd tell him to bring the troops home and declare war on the economy which poses a much greater threat to the well being of the nation.

    It was interesting to read in Alter that FDR did exactly that:

    "I shall ask Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis: broad executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."

    In the wrong hands that's a dangerous path to take, but the rhetoric does seem to get Americans' attention.

  107. Do you know this group?

    Using their databases, you can see how much a state or county has contributed to war efforts, monies that could have been used to keep schools open or provide health care or whatever. Not sure why this doesn't get more exposure. I think it might really open people's eyes to the real cost of these wars.

  108. I'm going to give Alter one more chance tonight and if the book doesn't improve I'm going to move on to Schlesinger while we're still on FDR. Alter feels the need to flesh out FDR with a brief bio, but he's not very good at it. Although he does put his 20-year political adviser -- Howe, the "medieval gnome" -- into an interesting light. The man appears to have set out to make FDR, a relative light weight by all appearances, president. It worked.

  109. I've lost track where I read this because I finished one book and picked up another the same night, but was surprised to read that FDR was shot at and one of the members of his party (a mayor as I recall) was actually killed. Talk about grace under pressure.

  110. I was going through a stack of old magazines etc and came across this article:

  111. That article ^ (like Schlesinger) shows that FDR was fearless in his pursuit of reform. Obama has been too timid in his pursuit. He makes concession after concession to the Republicans and disregards the fact that his initiatives were already preapproved by the DNC platform of August, 2008.

    There simply is no cause for Obama's timidity.

  112. Prior to reading Schlesinger, I had not been aware that certain unions were against the idea of unemployment insurance as it would turn the unemployed into ''wards of the state''.

    p 184

    I would suppose that this type of opposition was not widespread.

    But the severity of the Great Depression was so great that many industrialists started to change their views on the ''dole''. Inasmuch as they were recipients of government handouts for decades, it is perplexing as to why it took so long for them to see the light. As to why reformists failed to speak out forcefully on the type of government dole that benefitted the wealthy, I guess we'll never know.

  113. Glad you enjoyed the NY Review article, Trippler. The issue of experimentation is what I took away from it. Just keep trying until something works.

    Obama believes in compromise. He campaigned on it and appears to be governing on it. I hope, though, he doesn't compromise to the point that the republicans are able to bring us all down with them.

  114. Read some more in Alter last night and am sticking with him for awhile more. He's not very good on the bio stuff, but now that FDR is getting political, Alter seems to have a better sense of that world. Interesting times.

  115. "But the severity of the Great Depression was so great that many industrialists started to change their views on the ''dole''. Inasmuch as they were recipients of government handouts for decades, it is perplexing as to why it took so long for them to see the light."

    It's all in who gets to define such words as "dole" (or socialized medicine, or states' rights, etc., etc.)

    Per Trippler's point, I saw "Surviving the Dust Bowl" on PBS the other night, which seems to be largely based on "The Worst Hard Time" that was discussed on the old NYT forum. I'd forgotten that nothing was done about soil conservation until the dust clouds blew over to D.C.

    There was also a fine documentary on the group of Roosevelt era photographers that worked for FSA (Farm Security Admin. & OWI (Office of War Information maybe?)

  116. I don't think industrialists and bankers changed their minds in regard to the dole, they were just no longer seen as relevant in the discussion in the 1930's.

    I think Obama has been too timid on the domestic front. It seems he prefers to leave it up to Congress to forge these bills and push them through the chambers, not effectively using the bully pulpit to speed things up. He has really dragged his feet on the health and energy bills, and as a result has compromised his position considerably.

    It was the hope that he would have an energy bill passed by Congress before the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, but no go. So, he goes to Copenhagen with no caps, no policy to speak of, just a pledge that he will do more to speed things up in the US, which is lagging far behind Europe in this regard. Even China has made much greater strides when it comes to the environment.

    Anyway, FDR faced similar challenges and was able to unite the Democratic Party, even if the New Deal had its fair share of fits and jerks.

  117. Alter believes banking and, when it comes right down to it, only banking was the cause of the collapse since not many people owned stocks. Too many mom and pop banks were simply under capitalized and couldn't sustain themselves when the farmers lost their markets after WWI. He compares that to the nationalized banks in Canada where only one bank went under.

    I wish Alter were a little more analytical, but he does have a lot of good stories. For example, Schlesinger noted that Hoover wanted a song written to cheer people up. According to Alter, he asked Rudy Vallee for one that he could use in his campaign. The song Vallee came up with was Brother Can you Spare a Dime?

    Adding insult to injury Alter quotes Gutzon Borglum, the guy who carved Mount Rushmore: "if you put a rose in Hoover's hand, it would wilt."

  118. He also gives a good sense of how hard FDR worked to overcome his polio. I had the impression that it was basically a secret, but the public knew about it. But no one understood how incapacitated he really was throughout his presidency which would have been seen as a sign of weakness. Of course it's impossible for a writer to talk about overcoming polio and then not compare that with overcoming the depression. It's sort of writ large in FDR's story.

  119. One of the things I found interesting in Schlesinger's account was to what degree did the polio strengthen FDR as a leader and presidential candidate. Schlesinger seemed to believe that the polio greatly strengthened FDR and provided him with a way to connect with the people, although he also notes that FDR hardly ever discussed it, and tended to be flippant in regard to his affliction.

    There was also that story of how Hoover may have intentionally had everyone wait for his arrival in the White House, seeing of FDR could bear up under the stress of standing for 30 minutes. Makes you really wonder about Hoover as a person.

  120. Everyone seemed to think of FDR as a real light weight, so maybe his illness really did transform him. You read stories about him scooting himself across the floor with his arms and it's amazing when you think about it. The world wasn't equipped to handle disabilities in those days.

    Alter uses that story about Hoover too and at first says that he may have just been detained as he claimed. But then he points to something Hoover said later about noticing how Roosevelt's aides had shielded him from the cameras as he got out of the car -- suggesting that knew Roosevelt was standing in there waiting for him and would have had difficulty standing (since you have to stand for the president).

    Sadly, Hoover and FDR had been friends or at least friendly, but Hoover apparently took his defeat hard and felt like the end was near with such a light weight like Roosevelt in charge.

  121. I think anyone who goes through a debilitating disease like that is going to be stronger for it. Interesting that he thought about putting off a run for NY governor to give rehab another opportunity. I can well imagine how hard it must have been for a man of that vigor to be reduced to heavy leg braces in order to be able to stand.

    However, hard to consider him a lightweight given his pedigree and the roles he had played in government before running for NY governor. I think they greatly misjudged FDR, misinterpreting political understanding for weakness. In many ways, FDR was a lot like Lincoln.

  122. I agree. He does remind me of Lincoln -- it seems like the election process as described by Schlesinger came straight out of Team of Rivals.

    I think the lightweight (or "Feather Duster") designation came from the fact that he wasn't a big thinker, but he was a rich mama's boy. He couldn't even hold down a job. But that doesn't stop you from being a shrewd politician. Alter thinks his time in Warm Springs also really helped him learn how to relate to the regular folks, since the disease can strike anyone.

    Plus, because doctors recommended massage and that only made his condition worse, he lost his faith in experts according to Alter. I think that freed him up to try other approaches.

    And then he had an amazing handler from the sounds of it who campaigned for him when he couldn't.

  123. Whether inflicted with polio or not, FDR would have been a major political figure. He had already served 8 years as Undersecretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration and was well acquainted with political life inside the Beltway.

    I think he made some decisions he probably wouldn't have without polio. Schlesinger seems to think he did the transcontinental campaigning to prove he was as strong as anyone in the political ring, but who is to say he wouldn't have taken the same approach if he had two strong legs. Maybe even flown the planes himself.

    Hamby made the interesting observation in his book that Roosevelt may have stolen a page from Hitler who campaigned across Germany by airplane in 1932, crisscrossing the country while political opponents were content to take their message to the newspapers and radio.

    Of course, FDR excelled on the radio as well with the type of voice that instilled confidence in his listeners.

  124. Apparently he left the Navy position under a sex scandal cloud involving entrapment of homosexuals -- didn't sound pretty. "The Newport Scandal." He later said he didn't remember authorizing it to which a Congressional committee quipped that he's either a knave or a fool.

    This was on the NY Times front page (I love the internet!):

    The next week he was stricken by polio which may have saved his career since it abruptly changed the subject.

    Always hard to determine what would lead to what, and he surely saw himself as destined for the presidency, but he may not have had what it took initially. It cannot be an easy path to take even for a Roosevelt.

  125. I don't remember Schlesinger mentioning this at all. Here's more,

    seems it had an impact on the 1920 election.

  126. I don't think Schlesinger mentioned it -- unless it's in the next volume.

    Interesting link -- thanks.

    As Alter said, the story was all over Washington but then sort of died down since the Democrats were out of power. The fear FDR and his circle had, however, was it would become an issue again if he ever ran for office.

    Alter mentions that the scandal so exhausted Roosevelt that it may have left him more vulnerable to becoming infected.

    So the polio became a strength as well as a liability -- which is why Alter says it may have saved his political career particularly given the timing literally a week after he left office.

  127. I don't know how much the scandal would have impacted FDR had he remained healthy, but obviously the polio pretty much erased whatever scandal surrounded him.

    Schlesinger focused more on the confrontations young FDR had with Daniels and others in the Wilson administration. Apparently, FDR had been instrumental in rallying New York support behind Wilson but by the end of his 8 years there wasn't much communication between Wilson and Roosevelt. Schlesinger noted in the intro, the gulf that had developed between Wilson and the young Turks in his administration, as Wilson retreated from early progressive positions.

    It really is amazing to read how much communism affected liberal American thought. Schlesinger spends a lot of time on this throughout his account. Seems he too may have been smitten by Communism.

  128. Or looking back from the 1950s wanting to show that it was a widespread reaction to how bad things were then.

  129. I'm going to finish Alter but then, depending on where we decide to go next here, think I'll pick up volume 2.

    Alter's book is like an iceberg. You just get the very top of the story. Interestingly, Alter appears to have been more interested in leadership qualities wondering how someone like GW got into office since I don't think he would have seen the rest of this coming when he started.

    There are a couple others out per that review that also look at the 100 days. Their focus may be different.

    But Schlesinger really gets to the heart of the politics and economics. I have so much other reading (and thinking -- it's getting harder!) I need to be doing right now, but am so fascinated by how similar these stories are to contemporary times it's hard to stop reading now. It's really depressing, but necessary reading in some way.

    Wish Robert were here.

  130. ''It really is amazing to read how much communism affected liberal American thought.''

    Utopian literature was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. As is usual for so many intellectuals, they have visions of an idealized world and universe. Visions they hoped would have been made real by communist ideology. But while socialism garnered many votes during elections and had many members in their groups in those times, the communists had very few outside of intellectual circles.

    "Communism became the whole of life for very few Americans. In 1930 the party claimed only six thousand members; by 1932 ... only a meager twelve thousand.

    'Oh to hell with Communism ... real miners ain't Communists.''

    Only the intellectuals succumbed to the ideology. Working people interested in making a living had other priorities.

    p 222

    As Schlesinger noted, it was the bizarre array of radical nomenclature, the rigid discipline, and the endless hours of work that turned off a great many people. Life certainly was hard enough without all that other stuff.

  131. That's like why I can't be a member of the Democratic Party. Too many social events.

    Alter also thinks that people were so depressed and demoralized by the depression that it was difficult to mobilize them. He quips that the communists and socialists etc. were resigned to wait on the sidelines until the entire system collapsed as they believed it was readying to do.

    Again, in more current times, it was like anti-war demonstrations during the Bush administration. At some point there was a feeling of hopelessness that no matter what you did it wouldn't make any difference.

    That said, WWI veterans turned out en masse for what was supposed to be a small demonstration at the Capital -- only to have the army turned against them. And they did turn out to vote, again with similarities to the last election.

  132. I think it was swearing your allegiance to Moscow that probably hurt the American Communist Party the most. Most Americans would never go that far, even if as Schlesinger noted, as many as 10,000 persons per day were lining up at the Soviet embassy for jobs. Anarchism had a better chance, especially among labor.

  133. That was an eye opener -- Americans trying to emigrate to Russia to get a job. Makes me see John Reed going to Russia in a new light....

  134. It is astonishing to read how Hoover maintained the pretense that all was rosy and that there was no need for government works. While he was willing to give some money to corporations (especially bankers*) he pretended that the average Joe could keep going along and even prosper!

    How's this for sheer lunacy = ''Nobody is actually starving ... hoboes are better fed than they have ever been. One hobo in NYC got ten meals in one day.''

    p 242

    * Interesting how some banks got more money than others, especially if they had friends in high places. That sure sounds familiar today with the bailouts.

  135. Maybe Hoover was referring to the pauper in O Henry's short story?

    Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

  136. The thing I love most about 20th century Republicans is how they deny poverty. They either pretend it doesn't exist or that these chumps simply aren't fit enough to survive in society as they know it.

    For three years, Hoover threw out one bromide after another, failing to address any of the core concerns, and he was supposed to be as smart as they come.

    To this day, Republicans continue to swear by their "free market" theology, even in the wake of financial crises like the '29 stocket market crash the '32 banking collapse, the '73 oil crisis, the '86 S&L collapse and most recently the '08 banking collapse. All occurred on Republican watches. Four out of five were totally home grown crises, directly the result of deregulation and tax cuts.

    You'd think that at some point Americans would wise up and vote these guys out of office once and for all. Whatever progressive streak ran through this party died with Teddy Roosevelt.

  137. And, according to Alter, he tried to get FDR on a couple occasions prior to his inauguration to pledge to continue the republican policies -- particularly the balanced budget and commitment to the gold standard.

    In Hoover's defense, however (can't believe I'm typing that), he did try towards the end of his term to introduce some public assistance. Even Alter says that the bottom was probably hit before FDR took office, but there was no way of knowing that at the time.

  138. Thanx for that O Henry tale, Gintaras. I deserve a self kick in the butt for not having read more of OH's New York stories as they sure were goodies.

    When I read that blurb from the deluded Hoover, the first thing that came to my limited mind was Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story ''The Man With the Twisted Lip''. But your is a far better story in this regard!

  139. oops, read above ''your tale from OH''

  140. That's one of my favorites, trippler.

  141. Have just reached FDR's inauguration in Alter. For a book on the 100 days he spends more than half the book before the 100 days. But it has been interesting to see the election and lengthy post election period from his perspective.

    In addition to trying to get him to commit to a balanced budget, Hoover kept trying to get Roosevelt to agree to a common declaration of bank holidays. But he refused. Let Hoover own his own policies (didn't Obama do something similar during his post-election -- refusing to speak out on policy?).

    I had no idea so many banks closed on the week of FDR's inauguration. It must have felt like the entire country was sinking into a hole.

  142. Hope others aren't too bored by all of this -- but it's been fascinating to read different accounts back to back. I hope you will add some from the other book you are reading, Gintaras.

  143. Vote for Hoover!

    Here's an amazing short (silent) film on Hoover:

    Look at the top of the list for

    The Upbuilding of Prosperity (10 min. 45 sec.) B&W Silent Hoover, 1928:

    This 1928 biographical film portrayed Herbert Hoover as a man ideally suited by personality and experience to handle difficult situations.

  144. I've been commenting in the post I set up for Hamby's book, For the Survival of Democracy. Scroll down the list and you will find it, av.

    Schlesinger also noted the attempt by Hoover to get FDR to sign onto his agenda. Hamby makes the point that Hoover had a better grasp internationally what was going on than FDR, but that FDR insisted on making the Depression a domestic and not an international concern. One of the pivotal issues that Hamby credits Hoover for is suspending the German and other European countries war reparations (for one year anyway). Forcing Europe to pay war reparations only aggravated problems on the continent and made it difficult for the US to sell its cheap exports, which it hoped to do with the undervalued dollar. But, Hamby noted that getting off the gold standard was the right move, even if Hoover was having none of it. Too bad the Republicans and Democrats couldn't come together on the economy, but what else is new.

  145. We all know what 'Hoovervilles' are. But what of the uses for his name in those days?

    Hoover blankets: newspapers wrapped around for warmth

    Hoover wagons: broken down cars hauled by mules

    Hoover flags: empty pockets turned inside out

    Hoover hogs: jackrabbits

    Hoover villas: latrines

    pp 245, 259

  146. ''In Hoover's defense ... he did try towards the end of his term to introduce some public assistance.''

    It took the darkest hours of the Great Depression to finally make him open his eyes. All the agitation made by reformers simply couldn't make him change his intransigent mind until it was too late. As Schlesinger notes, laissez-faire capitalism enabled the wealthy to shelter their income from taxes by sending it overseas to Swiss accounts {p 252}. They engaged in numerous schemes to shelter their monies domestically as well {p 254}. Thus while this pre-Reaganite policy allowed the wealthy to profit while the poor suffered, government under the Hoover Republicans was not adverse to helping out corporate institutions. ''It would stink to high heaven ... that while there were billions for the bankers, there was nothing for the poor {p 259}.

    And as Gintaras noted, those years plus the Reagan-Bush-Bush years have shown that much of the population is still under the illusion that this scheme works when it clearly does not.

    But the more enlightened among us know, there is a role -- a major role -- for ''positive government'' that would use 'experimentation and planning' {p 290} for the public good. The best proof of that was the success of the emerging Democratic party candidate for the presidency: FDR!

  147. I loved the Hoover blankets. Perfect.

  148. FDR stumbled around alot the first two years, trying to get a handle on the crisis. The First New Deal, according to Hamby, had a lot of holes. The only place where it was really successful was in agriculture where institutions already existed which the FDR could exploit. Banking was so badly deregulated and diffuse with the Federal Reserve really nothing more than a token gesture at that point. Hamby says that the big reason for Britain's initial success against the Depression was that banking was essentially nationalized and much easier to control. Eventually, FDR would make the Federal Reserve stronger.

    I guess it gives me more hope that the Obama administration will get a better handle on events during the course of this term. I think for the most part they've done pretty well, at least in terms of easing the crisis, but as one leading economist, James Galbraith, noted recently, more money needs to be pumped through the economy, suggesting another stimulus bill. Will be pretty hard to get another one through Congress, but it seems the first stimulus bill did much to stem the crisis, and according to the Obama administration created 1 million new jobs.

  149. There's a great song by Boozoo Chavez called "Paper in My Shoe,"

    Maybe one could call them "Hoover insoles."

  150. Children starved during the Depression and the FDR administration came up with plans to generate much home food production. This is an ad that encouraged resourcefulness:

    Lately, there have been a number of new videos on youtube which encourage the same. This is because some suggest that an economic disaster will take place in a few years and we all need to be ready. That is why the famous book ''Putting Food By'' is enjoying a resurgence in popularity:

    Let's hope these folks are wrong!

  151. Who would have thought that environmentalism led to the salvation of the USA under FDR?

    ''The conservation battle thus helped shape in FDR's mind a broad conception of public welfare as something that had to be vigilantly protected against private greed ... the community must itself be prepared to undertake measures of regulation and planning to keep the scramble for profit from wrecking the system.''

    p 336

    It was Teddy Roosevelt who largely inspired this revelation to him.

    Individual liberty remains essential if not sacred in compliance with the teachings of our Founders. But modern society with its many complications calls for alterations in their ideals as the ''struggle for liberty of the community rather than of the individual'' is now paramount. This evolution in social theory was called the New Nationalism which is a very fitting title.

    p 338

    How unusual, it seems, that someone as privileged as he was would have such great solicitude for the masses. Same for Eleanor who grew up in similar circumstances but who found her greatest fulfillment in service to humanity.

  152. There were those well-established rich like the Roosevelts who felt a philanthropic duty to the masses. It was interesting reading how TR rallied together a lot of his social friends to form the Boone and Crockett Club,

    Granted it was ostensibly to save hunting grounds, but eventually it would form the nexus for his conservation ideals.

  153. That observation was one of my favorites, too, Trippler.

    While you want to protect the rights of the minority, you also want to protect the community from failure. It's a fine line to draw, but one that's doable I think (as did FDR!).

    As for Eleanor, she seemed to really grow out of her prejudices. Alter notes her comments about blacks and Jews in particular, but then shows how she seemed to have changed over time.

    But FDR is interesting in that regard. He didn't seem at all put out by Eleanor's lesbian friends, or maybe he simply didn't notice them. And he had Jewish advisers. And when he suspected a staff member was guilty of spreading rumors of homosexuality about another man, he told a story of two men at the pearly gates. The homosexual is let in while the rumor monger is turned away. Needless to say, FDR tells the story better than I just did (I don't have the book handy) but that was the point of it.

  154. As a New Yorker, I have always been fascinated by Tammany Hall and all the corruption it stood for. FDR was NOT a Tammany man and had many battles with them. Luckily he had able help in certain Dems such as Bill McAdoo who had their own quarrels with those hoods and who were able to help him climb the political ladder.

    pp 345-348

    FDR learned much from President Wilson: Isolationism, socio-political reform, and a sense that presidential initiative were all paramount.

    ''Most of our great deeds have been brought about by Executive Leaders, by the Presidents who were not tools of Congress but were true leaders of the Nation.''

    p 359

    But the post war era brought success for the Republicans. FDR knew, however, that this would not last and that their materialistic ways would lead to their downfall. A 'fairly serious depression' would be the way for Democrats to go back to the White House.

    p 367

    After reading this and other passages, I am convinced that a good case could be made as to why FDR was a prophet in some ways.

  155. trippler: I had a prof. who had his classes read "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall"

    which changed my view of municipal corruption by that institution--and which is a fun read, if you have not come across it already.

  156. ''Plunkitt of Tammany Hall'' is in my Top Ten listing of favorite books. In fact, Bob Whelan and I discussed it on our old forum in the NY Times.

    George Washington ('Honest Graft') Plunkitt will always be one of my life's greatest heroes. Or, more correctly, anti-heroes!

    I'm so glad you had a chance to read that gem. I have my copy on my desk at the moment and will always treasure it.

  157. There's an old story that behind every great man, there is a great woman. I'm sure we can all agree on that one. Schlesinger indicated that after FDR's illness, it was Eleanor who evolved from a timid girl into a willful woman. She no longer allowed herself to be pushed by her mother in law and asserted herself boldly. While FDR worked hard to strengthen himself and did much to gain the needed alliances that eventually helped him rise to the top, she helped fired him up.

    ... to p 373

    FDR continued to steer the Dems from Republican materialism and the ideology they used to defend it:

    'we must ''keep the control of our government out of the hands of the professional money makers ... and denounced the Republicans for the belief that laws 'designed to make men very rich wihout regard to the rest of the country can make a prosperous and happy country''. '

    While FDR remained confined to a wheelchair, he engaged in much correspondence in order to influence others through his socio-political outlook. He spoke much of personal duty for society's good, control of utilities in order to give everybody access to electrical power, and, as governor, was the first to use radio as a means of communicating with the people.

    ''What used to be the privilege of the few ... has come to be the accepted heritage of the many''. How right he was!

    ... to p 397

  158. The House of Truth was briefly mentioned on p 418. This sounds like a very intriguing piece of history:

    Between 1911 and 1920, Washington, D.C. was home to a group of attractive young lawyers, journalists, and government workers who lived together in what became known as the "House of Truth." The house, now painted white, is still standing in the Northwest section of Washington at 1727 Nineteenth Street. Among the residents were the young Felix Frankfurter and Walter Lippmann joined by many other brilliant contemporaries. All these young men shared a passion for politics and a love of entertaining: their association with one another and with many of the most influential figures of the day provides a fascinating footnote to legal and political history.

    It is unclear who dubbed the residence the "House of Truth." While several sources attribute the name to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a frequent visitor, Frankfurter could not recall just where the title came from. One resident referred to the title as a "mocking nickname . . . which some humourist conferred upon us." In any event, the name stuck because, according to Frankfurter, the house "was a place where truth was sought, and everybody knew it couldn't be found, but even trying to seek the truth conscientiously is a rare occupation in this world."

    The house was small, with bedrooms upstairs and rooms for entertaining downstairs. From the entryway, a small hall led into a rather large room that functioned both as a dining room and a living room. Before meals were served, the residents and their guests gathered at ...

    from Catholic University Law Review

  159. ~~ Brandeisian corner ~~

    p 423

    I'm not too sure what Schlesinger meant by this term. Since Brandeis believed in public service I suppose this means FDR's leaning towards emphasizing public service with government as benefactor during that part of the campaign.

    Does anyone have a better definition?

  160. Ideologues to the left and to the right. But you still can't please everyone. Thus, a third party candidate arose in Norman Thomas. Many leftist intellectuals gave him their endorsement. But in reality, many ideologues still were not satisfied as they naively believed the Soviet Union with its Communist Party would ultimately be the world's salvation from exploiters of the industrial right. They signed a doctrine called ''Culture & the Crisis'' to pledge their allegiance to this radicalist ideal. The Republicans, Democrats, and even the Socialists were all stooges of those right wing elements. Only the Communists offer the solution which was ''the overthrow of the capitalism ... which is destructive of all culture''. Signers included Dreiser, Anderson, Dos Passos, Caldwell and others.

    It's a good bet many regreted their ignorance therafter.

    p 436,7

  161. I thought the angle Schlesinger took on the Communist current among intellectuals in America at the time of of the more interesting angles. In the book we read on Oppenheimer, the dealt more deeply into this. The disillusionment with Communism didn't occur until the late 30s, mostly over the "toe the line" policy the Communist Party had taken with its Internationales.

    I also think the way Stalin brusquely treated the Socialists and Anarchists in Spain didn't help either, as he provided little assistance, while Franco got support from Italy and Germany.

    I think many Americans accepted and in many ways supported the socialist aspects of labor unions, collective rights, but that was as far as they wanted to go. "Near beer" as Dos Pasos called it.

  162. Headlines:

    ''Prosperity can never be restored by spending less but only by spending more''

    ''To save the country by saving banks ... was like trying to revive a tree by applying fetilizer to its branches rather than the roots''

    ''If it is Constitutional to spend $40 billion on a war ... isn't it just as Constitutional to spend a little money to relieve hunger and misery of our citizens?''

    Yes, similar news notes have appeared in the past few weeks. But these are precisely the same issues discussed with great intensity as the FDR administration began its tenure.

    pp 450-452

  163. Glad you are sticking with the book, Trippler. It's so good and yet so upsetting at the same time.

  164. Thanx. I got a very late start on the book and didn't catch up until now (only have about 25 pages left to go in it). That's what happens when you age prematurely.


  165. Just before final the transition of Hoover to FDR took place, the Senate conducted hearings in which business leaders were invited to offer ideas to help relieve the mess they created. A very telling set of words was made by Porgressivist Donald Richberg:

    ''{anyone} who has attempted to justify the continuance of the present political economic system unchanged, with its present unreformed, is either too ignorant of the facts, too stupid in comprehension, or too viciously selfish, to be worthy of any attention in this time of bitter need for honest, intelligent, and public-spirited planning for the rehabilitation of our crumbling civilization.''

    pp 458, 459

    Too bad that we do not have Progressives nowdays who have the guts to speak out like that.

  166. There is certainly the feeling that not enough has been done to reform the banking institutions and corporate mentality. Seems more like quick fix than meaningful improvements.

  167. Trippler, I was the same way reading this book -- I could never get over how similar the situations were (when I thought they had to be different), and how similar the rhetoric on the right was. And how I wished the response from the middle and the left had been different. The example above is a good one.

    I agree Gintaras. They kept the system afloat but never attempted to check the system. But then look at who Obama has working for him. Geitner was Paulson's unofficial assistant during all of this. And Sumners..... I guess some people like the way it is, and the public is so easily manipulated these days through the media for fear of giving up their liberty etc., etc., that they can pretty much do whatever they like.

  168. Some people (notably certain Republicans) just won't be humble. Hoover (like Bush afterwards) refused to believe he had done anything wrong during his years in the White House. He tried to persuade FDR to abandon the New Deal in favor of the old ways. But FDR would not be stopped despite being called ''madman'' by the loser.

    ''I believe in invoking the National power with absolute freedom for every National need ... the Constitution should be treated ... as an aid to people ... not as a straitjacket to strangle growth.''

    FDR used the New Deal to boldly correct the mess created by Republicans through their archaic and useless ideas. The USA became the leader of the free world because of his vision and boldness.

    p 476 to CONCLUSION

  169. Schlesinger illustrates the old saying ''politics as usual'' in his CRISIS OF THE OLD ORDER.

    Republicans create the mess and Democrats are forced to pick up the pieces. Hoover briefly tried to put the blame on Democrats for the prolongation of the Depression. Today, revisionist Republican historians try to do the same. In fact, when I post on other web forums, I see Republicans repeatedly blaming Obama for the mess created by Bush!

    The difference being that yesteryear's Democrats were not afraid of swinging back. Today's Democrats, by contrast, are timid and passive. They allow Republicans to frame the issues and are too afraid of swinging back with the truth. But that is their choice, stupid as it is.

    Republicans created the Great Depression, financed Marxism in Europe and Russia with Prescott Bush's support of Hitler's war machine all leading to WW II. Democrats were able to fix that up at a great cost.

    Today, Republicans created a Great Recession and two wars. They even tried to launch another one in Iran. Let's hope that the Dems can correct this mess. If they can't, I shudder to think what will become of the USA and the world. It is writings like those of Schlesinger that should open people's eyes in order to find a possible remedy for the Republican created mess.

  170. It is odd that the Dems don't take a stronger line in the Senate. They can do what they call "budget reconciliation" to pass the health care bill by simple majority vote, yet they cave into Blue Dogs like Ben Nelson and "Independent Democrats" like Lieberman, watering down the bill until there is almost nothing left. For whatever reason, Obama takes a backseat rather than using the White House as a bully pulpit on this important issue. Difficult times call for strong measures and if this bill has to be force fed the then so be it, otherwise it is never going to happen.


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