Friday, July 31, 2020

David Brooks (Yes, David Brooks!) Gets It Right

I recommend the excellent new column from David Brooks, "The Future of American Liberalism: What Biden can learn from F.D.R." Strange I suppose that men of the right like David Brooks are now offering very sensible recommendations to the left that include backing fairly radical policy ideas that are assuredly not in the standard Republican playbook. But I welcome it. I suppose we'll hear the predictable caviling from the left that Brooks and his like are not true progressives so we should give them the cold shoulder. I disagree. As Deng Xiaoping put it in a slightly different context: "Who cares if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice?"


* Offer big change that feels familiar.

Economic and health calamities are experienced by most people as if they were natural disasters and complete societal breakdowns. People feel intense waves of fear about the future. They want a leader, like F.D.R., who demonstrates optimistic fearlessness.

They want one who, once in office, produces an intense burst of activity that is both new but also offers people security and safety. During the New Deal, Social Security gave seniors secure retirements. The Works Progress Administration gave 8.5 million Americans secure jobs....

* Broadcast pragmatism, not ideology.

New Dealers were willing to try anything that met the specific emergencies of the moment. There was a strong anti-ideological bias in the administration and a wanton willingness to experiment. For example, Roosevelt’s first instinct was to cut government spending in order to reduce the deficit, until he flipped, realizing that it wouldn’t work in a depression.

“I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is,” one of his top advisers admitted. That pragmatism reassured the American people, who didn’t want a revolution; they wanted a recovery....

* Get capitalism moving.

The Reconstruction Finance Corporation, run by Jesse Jones, a Hoover administration holdover, gave bankers incentives to take the capital that had been sitting in their vaults and get it out into the community. The Federal Housing Administration backed mortgages. As Louis Hyman of Cornell notes, the F.H.A. induced more private lending in a few months than the Public Works Administration spent during the entire decade. The New Deal was more clever and diverse than just tax-and-spend liberalism...

* Look for imbalances.

Capitalist economies get out of whack from time to time. The New Deal brought balance. It made it easier for workers to unionize and deal on more equal terms with business. Wall Street was too powerful. The New Deal reined it in....

F.D.R. also demonstrated that the most effective leaders in crisis are often at the center of their party, not at left or right vanguard. Abraham Lincoln took enormous heat from abolitionists. But he’s the one who defeated slavery. Theodore Roosevelt had a conservative disposition and lagged behind many Progressives. But he’s the one who led Progressive reforms. F.D.R. was able to pass so much legislation precisely because he was so shifting and pragmatic and did not turn everything into a polarized war.

We’re not going to have another Roosevelt. But in a time of crisis, in an ideological age, he showed it’s possible to get a lot done if you turn down the ideological temperature, if you evade the culture war, if you are willing to be positive and openly experimental."

David Brooks wants you to join the union! I'll take it.

What Biden can learn from F.D.R.

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