Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview
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22. The Performance of the Resettlement Administration under Tugwell: 1935-1936

I

"Rex the Red," the stereotype created by the drug lobby's attack on Tugwell, was also "Rex the Dreamer," and "Rex the Dreamer" was naturally a poor administrator. In terms of a contradictory image, Tugwell was both a dangerous threat to the American way of life and too ineffective to carry out his administrative duties.

In March, 1933, Business Week welcomed Tugwell to Washington with the label "pure theorist."1 In 1934 George M. Verity, Chairman of the Board of the American Rolling Mill Company, unlike most businessmen who disapproved of Tugwell, set down his views at some length. In an article in a trade journal he expressed his concern that a man in a position as important as Tugwell's should show an utter lack of understanding of the actual problems involved in the conduct of business. Verity warned that intellectual development and book knowledge without experience were a dangerous combination when applied to practical things. He did not question Tugwell's sincerity or loyalty, only the soundness of his plans and policies. He conceded that professors might do useful research and scientific work in government, but they should turn over their ideas to an entirely different type of man--the man engaged in the practical application of developed theories. There was one flaw worth noting in Verity's comment. He refuted Tugwell's assertion that industrial experimentation had made men's lives insecure by pointing out the value of experimentation in industry. His frame of reference was technological, whereas Tugwell's was financial--speculative capital investment.2

In 1934 James G. Mitchell, a prominent New York City attorney, referred to Tugwell's bureaucratic mentality, which failed, because of a "complete lack of historical and realistic sense," to apprehend that bureaucracy and democracy were mutually exclusive concepts. This bureaucratic mentality also accounted for Tugwell's identifying himself with the larger good. This identification, in turn, resulted in a divorcement from reality which prevented Tugwell from appreciating the implications of his own writings and speeches.3 In 1933, in Control from the Top, Francis Neilson, a staunch advocate of laissez faire, conceded that "Dr. Tugwell is under no sociological delusion as to the social millennium," but Neilson also maintained that Tugwell, having had little contact with laborers and other men who devoted their time to seeking material

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