I know what many of you are thinking: “But FDR got us out of the Great Depression. FDR signed the Social Security act. FDR helped us win World War II. He was a good president!”
A good president? Yes and no.
Now while I would not be one to discount his leadership in World War II or many of the other positive things he accomplished, instead what I intend to look at is the result of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic policies, specifically the ones he implemented to get us out of the Great Depression in comparison to Obama’s economic policies today.
Certainly there are parallels between the two presidents from the outset. Both began their administrations after an unpopular Republican president. Both faced dire economic circumstances in the early parts of their administrations (though for FDR, the problems were arguably much greater than they are today). And both of them sought to bring about major social change through their respective government programs.
One thing that is interesting to note about FDR’s administration is that he actually implemented some of the policies of his predecessor, Republican president Herbert Hoover. How can that be? FDR bringing about the same things as the dreaded Herbert Hoover? It’s true. Just ask FDR’s advisor Rexford Guy Tugwell:
“We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.”
This is unusual considering that FDR ran on a platform of cutting taxes, cutting government, and balancing the budget. In contrast to Hoover’s Revenue Act in 1932, which doubled the income tax rate and was the largest tax increase in peacetime history. The ideas that FDR campaigned on were actually quite good. However, just like with Obama, campaign promises and actual policies were two different things to FDR. He raised the top income tax rate as high as 90 percent. In the same vein, just last year, Obama has proposed to increase the top income tax rate as well, although fortunately not to 90 percent like FDR did!
And just as FDR followed Hoover’s bad policies, Steve Forbes points out that Obama is following Bush’s bad economic policies, which ironically run counter to that of FDR’s:
“What is most astounding about President Barack Obama’s radical economic recovery program isn’t its breadth, but its continuation of the most destructive policies of the Bush administration. These Bush policies were in themselves repudiations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mr. Obama’s hero.”
Both presidents also share a fondness of elevating the public sector. InThe Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, Amity Shlaes points out that the New Deal eroded the private sector, while lifting the public sector:
“Evidence from that period suggest that government was crowding out the private sector. The Tennessee Valley Authority, for example, dealt mortal blows to a private employer that wanted to electrify the South… For every state-relief job created, about half a private-sector job was lost.”
Since Obama has taken office, private sector jobs have decreased and public sector jobs have increased.
A few interesting excerpts from the diary of Henry Morgenthau Jr., Secretary of the Treasury under FDR, are also very revealing:
“…we have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work… We have never made good on our promises…. I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started… and an enormous debt to boot!”
That sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? A 2004 study by Harold Cole & Lee Ohanian at UCLA concludes that FDR’s “ill-conceived stimulus policies” prolonged the Depression by seven years. They also said that the New Deal “short-circuited the market’s self-correcting forces.”
But back to Morgenthau’s comment on unemployment. In spite of the New Deal, the unemployment rate during the Great Depression never got below 14%. Obviously, the New Deal had little to no effect on the staggering unemployment that faced our country. Just like the New Deal, Obama’s stimulus has failed to affect unemployment. In fact, unemployment numbers have gone up since the stimulus, despite the White House’s predictions.
Just like FDR, Obama is prolonging our recession. Now personally, I think Barack Obama is more like Jimmy Carter: a miserable failure of a president that needed to be ousted after 4 years of dreadful economic policies. But perhaps like Carter, the American people will find themselves repeating history by voting Obama out in 2012. Only time will tell.
-Originally posted on BlogCritics.org