The Real Deal on The New Deal
If anyone should be skeptical of New Deal policies, it should be black folks, not Republicans.
They have transformed an earnest schoolgirl requesting a reasonable public education into a political operative cynically using her powerful political “connections” to unfairly gain patronage-based largesse.
The president’s opponents are also attempting to rewrite American history. The strong consensus among both historians and economists is that the spending programs of FDR’s administration were responsible for setting the country on the road to recovery from the Great Depression. The massive—and highly regulated—spending for World War II completed the job. The basic point is that massive government spending provided the engine for the earlier economic recovery, and that the creation—no matter how partial and biased—of a social safety net was a critical component of the earlier era’s economic recovery program. But conservatives are arguing that the New Deal did not have a positive economic effect, and indeed, slowed down economic recovery.
African Americans are considerably more powerful than we were at the time of the New Deal. This time we must fight back, inside and outside of the political system. While the Wall Street Journal is celebrating the new cohort of black insiders, we cannot only rely on friends of Barack and black, elected officials. There is still a role for old-school, black grassroots mobilization—to put pressure on the president and other elected officials.
FDR once told progressive members of Congress that he agreed with their policy agenda, and their job was to force him to implement it by mobilizing political support for their agenda. This is another lesson blacks and other progressive forces can borrow from the New Deal. We need not only to counteract the vicious lies and attacks of conservatives, but we also have to galvanize enough political support that Congress and the president feel compelled to initiate, pass and implement a progressive agenda.
Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
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