When FDR Was Center Right

At the start of the whole Center Right Meme, Jon Meacham wrote:

But history, as John Adams once said of facts, is a stubborn thing, and it tells us that Democratic presidents from FDR to JFK to LBJ to Carter to Clinton usually wind up moving farther right than they thought they ever would, or they pay for their continued liberalism at the polls. . . . The pattern has deep roots. FDR had a longish run (from 1933 to 1937), but he lost significant ground in the 1938 midterm elections . . .

You see Meacham says FDR's Dem Party "lost" in the 1938 election (of course, FDR did not lose, the Dems maintained huge majorities in the Congress) because of FDR's "liberal overreach." The thesis is that FDR's "court packing" scheme was "liberal overreach I suppose (though of course the 1937 Supreme Court term famously provided FDR with victories for his New Deal.) Or perhaps FDR's attempts to knock out some of the more conservative Dem members of Congress in favor of more progressive ones is what Meacham is talking about (though that does not make sense as FDR largely failed in this effort.) Paul Krugman provides a different thesis - that FDR stumbled in the 1938 election because he turned Center Right:

F.D.R. wasn’t just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion — he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.

Which leads us to the major lesson of all this- Barack Obama should be concerned with championing successful policies, not assuaging the Jon Meachams (or even the Paul Krugmans) of the world.

What will determine whether Barack Obama's Presidency is a success is the actual efficacy or lack thereof of his polices. I certainly will be telling him what I think the right thing to do is as will everyone else. But President Obama will be best served if he proposes and fights for policies he believes will work.

By Big Tent Democrat, speaking for me only

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  • Display: Sort:
    Meachem also said we should stay in Iraq (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Katherine Graham Cracker on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 09:34:47 AM EST
    because of the soldiers that had already died there.
    The "pundits" must have a secret meeting and decide which theme they will beat to death.  It seems impossible they could come up with such similar factless drivel all on their own.

    Question: why was FDR (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 09:52:43 AM EST
    trying to primary conservative southern incumbents in 1938? Speculative answer: because they wouldn't vote for the more aggressive policies he wanted to enact. (That might not stand up: FDR was apparently opposed to the FDIC, for example).

    My own specualtive theory (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 09:55:58 AM EST
    He hated the racism of the Southern Dem Party. Or Eleanor did.

    That probably had something to do with it (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:00:17 AM EST
    FDR sure didn't do all he could when it came to race relations, though. Was that because of his party? Probably.

    I don't know... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Exeter on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:38:47 AM EST
    He was arguably the first Democratic president to start the 40 year process of turning the party around. Remember, the New Deal was what initially brought most Blacks into Democratic Party.

    Well, FDR was first and always (none / 0) (#9)
    by brodie on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:39:31 AM EST
    a politician and a pragmatist.  He knew he needed the support of Southern Dems, many in number in Congress back then, in order to stay in power and wield power on his many economic recovery programs.  

    He wasn't about to alienate them by embracing civil rights for blacks, even on something as seemingly clear-cut as anti-lynching laws.


    It probably had more to do (none / 0) (#6)
    by brodie on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:35:14 AM EST
    with FDR wanting payback against a few Dems, mostly pro-New Deal, who had opposed his disastrous Court-packing scheme.  

    Ahhh, but why did he want to pack the court? (none / 0) (#7)
    by andgarden on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:35:54 AM EST
    The Court had been ruling (none / 0) (#10)
    by brodie on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:43:33 AM EST
    against some of his major ND programs.

    Big blunder, since FDR had a chance to get what he wanted, but instead sought major Ct change almost by exec dictat.


    Point being: the southern Dems (none / 0) (#11)
    by andgarden on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:45:20 AM EST
    were getting in his way.

    Not a big blunder (none / 0) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 11:06:42 AM EST
    A stitch in time saves 9.

    A SWITCH (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 11:07:09 AM EST
    not a stitch.

    As an aside, FDR cost Cox a win in 1920 (none / 0) (#5)
    by Exeter on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 10:24:32 AM EST
    You should take a look at FDR's 1920 run for Vice President-- a losing effort on the Cox ticket against Harding. 2008 was definitely history repeating itself.

    Anyway, at the time, the 41 year old FDR had only served less than two years as a state Senator and six years as Asst. Sec of the Navy.  Cox, was of course, attacked mercilessly for his bad judgememnt in putting such an inexperienced person on the ticket and history clearly remembers that it was because of this pick that Cox was soundly defeated by Harding.


    Calling FDR "center right" is like ... (none / 0) (#14)
    by Robot Porter on Mon Nov 10, 2008 at 02:58:46 PM EST
    calling a cheeseburger a "vegetarian meal."