Fixing the Economy: The Right Re-Writes History
The free market crowd, hunkered down in the economic rubble created by eight years of the nation following their policies, is desperately searching for ways to be relevant in the post-Bush world. Their answer is to persuade Americans that the biggest failure in recent U.S. history was the New Deal. In recent weeks Fox News has led this charge, with Brit Hume opining that both Left and Right agree with that conclusion (Brit apparently hasn't read any of the columns recently penned by progressive economist Paul Krugman). Jeffery Kuhner of the Washington Times concurs, calling the New Deal a "complete and utter failure" on shock jock Michael Savage's radio program. Pat Buchanan, with the Heritage Foundation as his guide, points to the New Deal's failure to push unemployment below 14 percent before 1940 as evidence that "the New Deal was a bust."
It should come as no surprise that much of this "evidence" represents a cooking of the historical books. In the case of Buchanan's claim, he doesn't mention that at the beginning of the New Deal unemployment - even according to the Heritage Foundation - was over 35 percent. That "bust" only reduced unemployment by over half. As Jamison Foser recently pointed out in his January 9 column for MediaMatters, the Heritage Foundation calculations do not count public sector jobs created by the New Deal. That's right, all the Americans put back to work by the WPA to build dams, bridges, highways and much of our nation's existing infrastructure, don't represent job creation by the New Deal.
What's the significance of this rediscovered desire to dis' the New Deal? For starters, there's the obvious connections being made between 1933 and 2009 by the public and the press. One of the few successes the Bush administration can claim is reducing the American people to a level of insecurity that makes them able to relate to their Depression-era ancestors. FDR and his New Deal are looking mighty appealing to the same voters who threw the Republicans out of power. The power of that appeal is making the Democratic majority - even its Blue Dog faction - far more open to New Deal strategies. For the Right, one of their few hopes of eventually turning back the Keynesian onslaught is to plant enough doubts about the historical evidence supporting current proposals. It probably won't bring the current stimulus proposals to a halt, but it may buy time for stripping more features off the package before it hits the road.
And as we've seen before, even in a majority, the Democrats can be a skittish bunch with part of the herd bolting at the slightest noise. Let's hope progressives are able to keep the Dems moving forward on this rocky trail.