For Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters, the reforms implemented by President Obama and Democrats over the last 7 1/2 years are weak tea. The whole Sanders candidacy is based on the need for structural reforms to address the economic issues we face rather than the pragmatic and incremental changes that have been adopted recently. Sanders goes on to say that the reason we haven’t seen these structural reforms is because politicians – both Democrats and Republicans – are beholden to Wall Street and the 1%ers.
This weekend Marcus Johnson tweeted a link to an article that was written back in 2010 by a Daily Kos user named puakev that provided some fascinating historical context for that argument. Many liberals harken back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the most progressive era we have experienced in this country. The point of the article by puakev is to show that a lot of liberals during that time expressed the same sentiment we’re hearing today from the Sanders campaign. Here are a few quotes and excerpts to give you a taste.
Historian David Kennedy:
Disillusionment with Roosevelt ran deepest and most dangerously on the left, especially among jobless workers and busted farmers, among reformers and visionaries who had been led to giddy heights of expectation by Roosevelt’s aggressive presidential beginning, and among radicals who saw in the Depression the clinching proof that American capitalism was defunct, beyond all hope of salvation or melioration.
“When I saw him spending all his time of ease and recreation with the big partners of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with such men as the Astors and company, maybe I ought to have had better sense than to have believed he would ever break down their big fortunes to give enough to the masses to end poverty.”
North Dakota Congressman William Lemke:
“The President drove the money changers out of the Capitol on March 4th and they were all back on the 9th.”
Appraising the New Deal in the fall of 1934, he concluded that it had been a failure in recovery and a failure in reform. “Mr. Roosevelt up to now,” Flynn wrote,” has been using the rich resources of his political talents to preserve the capitalist system intact and he has insisted in every possible way any attempt to make any breaches in the shaky walls of that system.”
Charles A. Beard:
“Banks have not been nationalized, nor the railways taken over by the Government. Not a single instrumentality of economic power has been wrested” from the party of big business.
It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Perhaps there are those today who would agree with the critics of FDR and the New Deal. But for most liberals, they are the foundation that we seek to protect and build upon. It has become common place to measure any progressive movement against the standard set during that era.
Recognizing that FDR faced exactly the same kind of criticism from some on his left flank that President Obama faces today is encouraging in the odd way that Molly Ivins suggested it would be when she said this:
Things are not getting worse; things have always been this bad. Nothing is more consoling than the long perspective of history. It will perk you up no end to go back and read the works of progressives past. You will learn therein that things back then were also terrible, and what’s more, they were always getting worse. This is most inspiriting.
If the Obama presidency is seen by future historians as even a pale replica of the results ushered in during the FDR years, liberals have a lot to celebrate.