An FDR-size hole
In Why the New Deal Matters, historian Eric Rauchway makes a case that the true purpose of Franklin Roosevelt’s program was not merely to put Americans back to work, but to save democracy. He and his allies in Congress would prove, too, that the system they had “was better kept than abandoned, in the hope of strengthening and extending it” — and thus, that they should not turn to fascism as an alternative.
To make his case, he quoted a leader of the 1932 Bonus March on Washington (an event familiar to readers of Gangsters of Capitalism, excerpt here) — who, like many in desperate straits and faced with the indifference of the Hoover administration, were looking to authoritarian alternatives:
Walter Waters, the Bonus Expeditionary Force leader who had compared himself to Mussolini and Hitler and warned that the United States would need a Khaki Shirt movement to clean up its politics, did not accompany the marchers who returned to lobby Roosevelt for the bonus. “There’s no need for it now,” he said in a speech [in] 1933. “The B.E.F., though it did not get the bonus, served its purpose. We now have a government back there that is recognizing and attempting to improve the unemployment situation.” At least one proto-fascist was persuaded that the New Deal made rejection of democracy unnecessary.
Eighty-eight years later, Joe Biden tried to harness that energy, and its memory, to tackle the spiraling crises of our time, when he promised an “FDR-size presidency.” But unless something unexpected and radical happens fast, that dream is dead. It has been dying for months, but it was finally and unceremoniously shot in the face last night by Sen. Joe Manchin, when he
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