The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

By Landon R. Y Storrson | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

In a 2006 telephone interview, the ninety-six-year-old lawyer Charlotte Tuttle Lloyd Walkup graciously answered my questions about her government career. Then she asked some questions about my research. My answer indicated sympathy for leftist civil servants caught up in the loyalty program’s machinery. After a pause, the New Deal veteran remarked evenly, “I hope you won’t reinforce McCarthy and Dies.”

I hope so, too. Lloyd Walkup’s concern echoed sentiments expressed to me by several Red scare survivors. In McCarthyism’s long shadow, only detractors have labeled government officials as leftists, thanks to the endurance of the inaccurate but powerful association, forged during successive Red scares, between socialism and disloyalty to American ideals. The civil servants described here saw themselves as defenders, not betrayers, of fundamental American values such as egalitarianism and democracy. Not only does acknowledging their presence in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations yield a more accurate history, but a broader understanding of how the right misrepresented and curtailed their influence may contribute to a more informed political discourse.

In an early critique of the federal employee loyalty program, the former New Deal lawyer Thomas Emerson concluded:

The answer to the basic problem of our time—the development of national common control over the functioning of our economic system and at the same time the preservation and extension of individual freedoms—depends upon the evolution of new methods of government and the creation of an alert, flexible and tolerant staff of administrators…. The democracies, which cannot compete [with totalitarian governments] in terms of highly centralized discipline, must seek their strength in resourceful and imaginative administration. If this be true the loyalty program is fast dissipating one of our most precious assets.1

The “resourceful and imaginative” government administrators of the 1930s and 1940s included a cohort of pragmatic idealists whose ideology was shaped by their parents’ progressivism, their rigorous educations, and their participation in the Popular Front movement, itself energized by the crisis of capitalism that produced the Great Depression. Recognizing the limits of “rugged individualism” for most people living in modern industrial society, these civil servants advocated government intervention to provide at least the minimal levels of economic independence and

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