The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

Robert Eden


12
The Democratic Party: Honoring and Dishonoring the New Deal

When liberals hear that Hillsdale College is holding a conference on the legacy of the New Deal, they do not race for front row seats. This is not surprising. Hillsdale has a conservative reputation. Burying the New Deal, discrediting the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, was what conservatives ardently desired for many decades. Reviving the spirit of the New Deal, honoring and imitating Franklin Roosevelt, meant preaching "the liberal gospel." Therefore, you may be surprised, even appalled, to read what serious and deeply thoughtful conservatives like John Wettergreen have written in defense of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. This chapter is a kind of commentary on this amazing development (for it is worth pondering): that it now falls to conservatives to do justice and honor to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

What has the Democratic party done with the legacy of the New Deal? To understand what it has done, we must recollect a dimension of the New Deal and of Roosevelt's politics that is generally ignored: that the fighting was about the American idea of honor. Since roughly 1970 the Democratic party has radicalized the New Deal attack on the traditional Jeffersonian idea of honor. But it has not continued Roosevelt's attempt to reconstitute, refine, and reinvigorate a shared conception of honor. To anticipate my critique: for almost two decades the Democratic party has been doing its level best to dishonor the legacy of the New Deal by gutting Roosevelt's conception of democratic honor.

This may sound odd because the Democratic party claims to be the guardian of the New Deal legacy. One would think that the Democrats would have a great stake in defending what Roosevelt stood for, would make it a point of honor to defend him because their own honor is at stake. They no longer see the matter in that light. The task has fallen to conservatives, not because conservatives agree with Franklin Roosevelt, but because Roosevelt, more than any public

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