An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate

An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate

An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate

An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate

Synopsis

Harry Truman's "Fair Deal" domestic policy agenda promised to continue Roosevelt's New Deal and, with some modification for postwar realities, to guide America into a new age of peace and prosperity. Agricultural policy was a cornerstone of this program, as it attempted to transform the farm program from the parity price foundation crafted by FDR to one based on income support through direct payment to farmers. Virgil W. Dean takes a new look at the much-heralded "Brannan Plan" to examine in detail the farm policy dilemma and Truman's quest for a long-range agricultural program that would confront the problems of an industry in the midst of a technological revolution--one in which regional and commodity-based differences only served to complicate any solution. He assesses Truman's relationships with the farming community and with politicians of both parties and analyzes the complex problems facing those concerned about the welfare of the American farm, focusing on their search for a workable peacetime program--especially as it related to price supports--and their failure to come to terms with the issues. Dean describes how supporters of the Brannan Plan recognized its promise of social and economic equity while opponents feared excessive government spending, creeping socialism, and the regimentation of agriculture. He also tells how agriculture secretary Charles Brannan interjected partisan politics to an unprecedented degree in policy making--and how Truman used agricultural policy against the Republicans in the 1948 election by creating an issue with little basis in fact. As Dean shows, the failure of Truman's efforts meant that the nation lost an opportunity to effect a much-needed change in agricultural policy, yet the issues raised remained at the heart of the farm policy debate for decades to come--with "direct income" morphing into "deficiency payments" to satisfy farmers not wanting to appear to be on welfare. An Opportunity Lost makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Truman administration's political activities at a time when the agricultural community had a strong voice in the formulation of domestic policy, and it casts new light on the overall fate of the Fair Deal.

Excerpt

On Thursday afternoon, April 12, 1945, “a load of hay” fell on an exfarmer from Missouri, Harry S. Truman. Vice president for only three months before the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on this fateful spring day, Truman took the oath of office at 7:09 p.m. and became the thirty-third president of the United States. Within a month, the war in Europe was over, but the new president’s problems had only just begun. The defeat of Japan, the organization of the United Nations, and the postwar reconstruction in Europe were just a few of the challenges that lay ahead. On the home front, the overriding issue was reconversion to a peacetime economy. The avoidance of skyrocketing inflation and massive unemployment were objectives for which there were no easy policy choices. The difficult task of winning the peace, or confronting the perplexing problems of a vastly altered postwar America and world, had fallen on a man about whom most people knew very little.

The Truman administration ultimately could claim considerable success in the area of foreign policy. Under Truman’s leadership, America took on the unprecedented role of world leader, accepting a global responsibility that the country had rejected in 1919. The United Nations was launched successfully only weeks after Truman’s ascension and soon massive aid programs were approved by a traditionally pennypinching Congress. Aid to Greece and Turkey, the Marshall plan, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for which Truman built a bipartisan coalition received hearty support. There emerged a cold war consensus that would dominate American thinking and policy in world affairs for decades to come. Obviously, there were problems and some considerable opposition, but most agreed with the president’s . . .

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