The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

6 Sidney M. Milkis
New Deal Party Politics, Administrative Reform, and the Transformation of the American Constitution

More than a half century after the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency the New Deal remains central to understanding past and current patterns of American politics. The reforms carried out during the 1930s, although moderate in many respects, led to a fundamental reappraisal of American values. As FDR put it in his 1932 campaign speech at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the time had come for traditional rights, founded in pursuance of a commitment to limited government, to give way to "an economic declaration of rights," grounded in a commitment to guaranteeing a decent level of welfare for the American people. 1 This commitment to securing an "economic constitutional order" required that the political process be reconstituted in order to infuse the traditional institutions of constitutional government with the capacity for action. Thus the advent of Democratic liberalism, which led to the expansion of the national government's policy responsibilities, was inextricably linked with a program to reform the political process. Indeed, in important respects the "institutional" legacy of the New Deal has been as enduring and pervasive as the extension of social welfare programs that is the most recognized element of our inheritance from the political changes of the 1930s.

The institutional transformation of republican government as a result of the advent of the New Deal is the central focus of this chapter. In particular, it tries to explain the influence of the New Deal on the American party system. In particular, it tries to explain the influence of the New Deal on the American party system. In seeking to understand this influence it is important to recognize that the party politics of the Roosevelt administration was a primary ingredient in the endeavor to reevaluate traditional constitutional principles and institutions. In effect, Roosevelt viewed the American party system as a flawed political institution, which reinforced what he considered outmoded constitutional understandings and mechanisms. In this connection FDR continued and extended

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