The Critical Press and the New Deal: The Press Versus Presidential Power, 1933-1938

By Gary Dean Best | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Assault and Defense

FDR'S ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY

The restless probing of the limits of the Constitution by the Roosevelt administration during its first four years in office would seem as nothing in comparison with the challenges Roosevelt would mount in 1937. The number of journalists who would continue to adhere to the belief that Roosevelt was sincere and wellmeaning would shrink, indeed, during this year, as the president introduced new turmoil and bitterness into the American political situation.

The opening gun seemed innocuous enough to some. Roosevelt's proposal for reorganization of the executive branch of the federal government was greeted, in fact, by Walter Lippmann as "a great document, not because all of its specific proposals are necessarily great or wise or even well-considered," but because it recognized and sought to remedy "the really great difficulties which have developed in the operation of the government over a period of a hundred years." Although Lippmann detected faults in the proposal, he found it overall to be "an historic event of no small significance." 1 For David Lawrence, on the other hand, the reorganization plan was part of Roosevelt's objective "to entrench the experiments of recent years more deeply in the Government structure." 2

There was no disagreement, however, on Roosevelt's plan to reorganize the Supreme Court. Lippmann headlined his column of February 9, 1937, "The Seizure of the Court," and charged that nowhere in Roosevelt's message had he spelled out clearly what he was proposing to do to the Supreme Court. Only by reading the bill, itself, could one learn that Roosevelt was seeking the power to pack the Supreme Court with "a majority who think as he does." Lippmann could understand, he said, why Roosevelt had "shrunk from a direct avowal of

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