The evolution of the New Deal in the face of both international and domestic challenges.
Truman biographer Hamby (History Emeritus/Ohio Univ., Athens; Man of the People, 1995, etc.) provides plenty of evidence to suggest things might have been very different had Franklin Roosevelt, committed to a very particular view of social justice, not been on hand to lead the nation through the Depression. The author emphasizes the international nature of that economic calamity, observing that it “grew out of a complex clash of political cultures involving irreconcilable national aspirations, deep national grievances, sharply divergent political economies, and colliding ideologies,” all of which contributed to the Depression’s long duration. The crisis produced Hitler in Germany and fortified Stalin in Russia, yielding near-absolute totalitarian control in both cases. Opponents suspected the New Deal of being a socialist conspiracy, but in Hamby’s view it was conservative at many points, progressive at others, and democratic through and through, offering a social vision as much as an economic recovery program and helping to unite the disaffected and dispossessed. For all its democratic merits, the New Deal suffered as many failures as successes. Though 1936 saw the beginnings of a recovery, for instance, premature spending cuts and missteps in monetary policy yielded a period of stagnation in 1937. “Reduced to paper,” Hamby writes, “the Roosevelt record was hardly impressive, even if one assumed that most New Deal beneficiaries expressed their gratitude in votes.” Yet despite Roosevelt’s many errors of judgment, the author asserts, he “emanated a sense of purposeful forward direction” that was certainly much needed at the time, helping by that example to champion the idea of democracy at a time when it was under threat everywhere.
A useful contribution to New Deal studies, marked by a broad perspective on international affairs and an evenhanded assessment of Roosevelt’s leadership.