THE concept of an "age of reform," encompassing approximately the past sixty years, gives to American progressivism a continuity which is obscured when one studies only its two peaks -- the Progressive movement and the New Deal. That this is a real continuity and not one artificially imposed by historians is proved by the activities of Fiorello LaGuardia, whose congressional leadership in the period 1917-1933 makes him a vital link between the Progressive and New Deal eras. LaGuardia entered Congress as the Bull Moose uproar was quieting and left with the arrival of the New Deal; in the intervening years no man in national office waged the Progressive battle so long, so consistently, or so vigorously. In a decade marked by lustreless leadership, he generated an inexhaustible supply of excitement.
Chronologically LaGuardia's position as a transitional figure between Progressive and New Deal movements is clear. In terms of political ideology, the relationship is more complex. He was the herald of a new kind of progressivism, borne into American politics by the urban-immigrant sections of the population. In many ways he was a scout and reconnaisance man for the New Deal. And yet, even the New Deal did not venture as far as LaGuardia in thought and action. This ambivalent position of his, both foreshadowing the New Deal and going beyond it, deserves some elaboration.
LaGuardia represented a gradual departure from the atmos-