Despite the jubilation of its opponents, the New Deal had not been sunk by the 1938 elections, only grounded. It remained on the surface, its captain determined to resist scuttling, its guns intact, capable of making a great deal of noise and scoring a few lucky hits. For those attempting to navigate the economic waters, the New Deal remained a substantial obstacle to safe passage in 1939.
Away from the captain's bridge, however, the situation had changed, even though Roosevelt seemed unaware of it. The crew, in the form of Congress, had already turned from submissive galley slaves into sullen mutineers. They would no longer leap to obey their skipper's command. Worse yet for the SS New Deal, there were now plotters in the officers' quarters who were determined to make peace with the enemy. There had, of course, been "doves" among the officers before, but the "hawks" had known how to deal with them. This time, however, the doves were converts from the ranks of the ablest and most-experienced hawks, and they had the support of a majority of the crew. The fight would be more fair than in the past.
Roosevelt's conduct had not changed since 1937, despite the altered circumstances. The difficulty of the president's position had, Walter Lippmann wrote in February 1939, become "so evident to all experienced observers in Washington that not even his friendliest supporters deny it." Roosevelt was "following a course of personal conduct which if carried any further, will almost certainly paralyze the operation of the government and illustrate once more the weakness of democracy." 1 He was, Lippmann concluded, "a man who badly needs a vacation. . . . He needs to see things again in perspective. He needs to recover his poise."2