The transition from Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presidency was a particularly traumatic time in our nation’s history.
The Atlantic magazine, in its March edition, provided an excellent article by Kim Phillips-Fein that shows the fight over big government was bitter from the start.
In January 1933, President Hoover was about to lose his job, as were millions of Americans throughout the nation.
At that time, the financial structure of the United States was approaching collapse.
When Hoover became president, 24,000 banks had been open for business throughout the country. By 1933, 10,000 of these had shut their doors.
Eric Rauchway’s “Winter War” covers the time of the four-month period after Roosevelt had been elected in November 1932 and his assumption of the presidency March 1933.
Rauchway argues that the conflict between the lame duck Hoover and the incoming Roosevelt show that the tension between the New Deal and the opposition to it would structure American politics for much of the remainder of the 20th century.
The nation was in the state of emergency, but the outgoing president could not take any action, while the new one did not yet have the power.
By the end of the 1930s, many in Washington believed Roosevelt’s New Deal had failed.
Rejecting the fantasy of 19th century individualism espoused by the Republican Party, Roosevelt committed instead, to a vision that assigned government some responsibility for shaping economic life.
Roosevelt’s federal jobs that he created were conceived as emergency measures that would last only a few years, revealing his underlying ambivalence about a welfare state.
Today, liberal nostalgia for Roosevelt comes easily. The country is presently mired in crises lacking obvious solutions; the move toward greater equality that began during the 1930s has been largely undone.
The crowds that thronged to the Capitol on Inauguration Day were perceived by Roosevelt’s supporters as a conquering army, “as, in a sense, we were.” So wrote the Democratic National Committee secretary in his diary.
For the remainder of the 1930s, Hoover embedded himself in the circles of the resistance, talking to businessmen who seemed “terrorized just as surely as the people in Moscow.”
He continued to be active in conservative circles, inspiring Richard Nixon, among others and helping to lead the right-wing factions with the Republican Party. He died shortly before Barry Goldwater’s electoral collapse in 1964.
Phillips-Fein wrote, “But his long crusade might serve as inspiration for people today who are fighting against the rightward shift that has carried the country so far from the New Deal.”
Big government dominated the nation’s years periodically during the time from 1940 through the end of the century.
Present day politicians seem to be consistently confused on how to run the country and Americans face one crisis after another.