The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

9

Hiram Caton


Progressivism and Conservatism
During the New Deal:
A Reinterpretation of
American Political Traditions

Three landslide defeats of the Roosevelt electoral combination, two of them administered by an avowed conservative, have prompted speculation that the nation may be in the process of a realignment that will set a political agenda for another long period.

Had these presidential victories been accompanied by comparable victories or merely Republican majorities in Congress, realignment would not be so much a possibility as a fact. But as things stand, the American public have declined to deliver a mandate for conservative politics, so that public life is stuck between a conservative rhetoric setting the tone from the executive branch and an ancien régime that is still vigorous in Congress, the courts, and the bureaucracy. Stalemate is the result. Budget deficits continue on their upward course in sovereign disregard of good intentions. Bureaucracies, regulations, and social services continue to grow, with some areas, notably medical care, undergoing spectacular growth in the past decade. Things are no different with the conservative moral agenda. The pro-life and anti-pornography crusades enjoy support in high echelons of government, but the private rights doctrine that legitimated abortion and pornography has not been repudiated. On the contrary, under the slogans of "euthanasia" and "helping to die" it is being extended to sanction the destruction of many people. If we consider an issue frequently identified by conservatives as constitutionally critical, and hence a benchmark of their position--affirmative action--we find the presidential voice restrained by its estimate of public sentiment favoring this distinctive intepretation of the obligations of government.

Considerations of this kind document the current hesitation of the American polity before alternative paths. One method that students of realignment use to interpret these complexities is to describe, as best they can, the changes in

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