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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

    Location: The mouth of being

    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    True Dirty Facts About The Dip Shit Right Wing


    The conservative movement has invested enormous effort in crafting a political mythology that gratifies its ideological impulses. The lesson they learned from Ronald Reagan is that ideological purity is not only compatible with political success, but is also the best path to political success. They dutifully applied this interpretation to everything that happened since--George H.W. Bush, then Newt Gingrich, and then George W. Bush all failed because they deviated from the true path--and to all that happened before. Nixon failed because he embraced big government. Kennedy succeeded because he was actually a proto-supply-sider.

    From such a perspective, Roosevelt casts a long and threatening shadow over the conservative movement. Here was a case of a wildly unpopular conservative Republican, Herbert Hoover, who gave way to an unabashed liberal Democrat who won four presidential elections. Shlaes goes to great pains to explain away this apparent anomaly. In this instance, she does produce an internally coherent argument. It is, alas, wildly ahistorical.

    If the New Deal failed so miserably, one might wonder why voters continued to endorse it. In Shlaes's telling, Roosevelt's first challenger, Alf Landon, lost in 1936 because he "failed to distinguish himself" from Roosevelt. It is certainly true that Landon hailed from the party's moderate wing and shied away from the root-and-branch condemnation of the New Deal favored by, say, Hoover. But as the campaign wore on, Landon's rhetoric grew increasingly harsh. If Roosevelt returned to office, he warned, "business as we know it is to disappear." Voters who opposed the New Deal may not have had a perfect choice, but they did have a clear one. It also takes quite a bit of ideological credulity to believe, as Shlaes apparently does, that Roosevelt's twenty-point victory represented anything other than massive support for his program. Landon himself later remarked that "I don't think that it would have made any difference what kind of a campaign I made as far as stopping this avalanche is concerned."

    And Shlaes offers an even odder explanation for Roosevelt's triumph in 1940. Wendell Willkie seized the advantage by attacking the New Deal, she writes, but squandered it with his dovish position on the war. The war, she argues, had become "the single best argument to reelect Roosevelt and give him special powers." After the election, she asserts, the Republicans "concluded, accurately enough, that the outcome would sideline not only their party but their record of accuracy when it came to the economy. They had been right so often in the 1930s and they would not get credit for it. The great error of their isolationism was what stood out."

    Shlaes, characteristically, bolsters this highly idiosyncratic reading of history with only bare wisps of data. It is true that the outbreak of war in Europe made Roosevelt, the incumbent, appear safer. But this pro-incumbent upsurge merely cancelled out a powerful current of anti-third term sentiment. Moreover, public opinion opposed entry into the war, and Roosevelt had to fight the suspicion that he was nudging the country into the war by explicitly promising to stay out. Shlaes's portrayal of an electorate seeking activist government abroad and laissez-faire at home gets the history almost perfectly backward. (The Forgotten Man ends with the 1940 race, sparing her readers any further contortions of electoral interpretation.)




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