The Ghost of FDR

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on February 19th, 2009

This week, President Obama signed a stimulus bill that is designed to end our country’s downward economic slide.  Given the dire circumstances we are in, you might expect that the Repub905b3673-b527-f2b2-d2c261171c4d48c01.jpglicans in Congress would be open to the plan suggested by a new president whose victory last fall was based in large part on his economic vision.  Yet the Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to the plan.  To hear the congressional Republicans talk, you’d think the election was still going on.  This is especially true of the Republican standard bearer, John McCain, who continues to advocate the same free market tax cutting policies of the former Republican president, despite the fact that the American people overwhelmingly rejected those ideas last November.  Moreover, current polls show that the American people favor the stimulus bill, and congressional Republicans lag far behind the Democrats in their approval ratings.  Why are the Republicans being so obstructionist? Rush Limbaugh over-simplified the reason when he said he hopes that Obama will fail (even though if Obama fails, thousands more Americans will suffer).  The real reason is that the Republicans really hope that Obama will fail, because they are haunted by the ghost of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Congressional Republicans know enough about history to understand what happened the last time a charismatic, articulate president, who was able to instill hope and confidence in the people, took over from a Republican president whose free market ideology had contributed to economic devastation in our country.  Roosevelt’s New Deal policies rejected that free market ideology, expanded the government safety net, and contributed to the country’s economic recovery.  More importantly, the American people gave FDR credit for saving the country from the Depression.  They re-elected him by a landslide in 1936, and re-elected him again two more times.  The success of FDR and the perceived success of his New Deal led millions of Americans to become lifelong Democrats, and contributed to the Democratic dominance of Congress for over 40 years.  Given President Obama’s charisma, political savvy and popularity with people below the age of 30, if he is perceived to succeed in reviving our economy, we could be facing another generation of Democratic rule.

In the past thirty years, the Republicans have sought to dismantle the successes of the New Deal, and the Democrimages24.jpgats have mostly gone along with them.  Unfortunately, they were largely successful at cutting back on government regulation of the financial industry and effectively ending welfare (with the help of President Bill Clinton).  Fortunately, President George W. Bush did not succeed at gutting our social security system, the steadfast iconic New Deal success.  However, the Democrats’ cooperation with the de-regulation of big business, the restrictions on organized labor and welfare “reform” made it possible for Bush to argue in 2004 that the Democratic Party was no longer the party of Roosevelt.

I am hopeful that the Democrats are returning to their legacy as the party of FDR under the leadership of President Obama.  Above all, that legacy was based on the idea that government can work, and that ir can help working people.  The Republicans are haunted by the ghost of FDR.  Let’s hope that the Democrats are, too.


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