A leading New Deal scholar summarizes and provides critical analysis of President Roosevelt’s groundbreaking initial domestic and foreign initiatives.
Badger (American History/Cambridge Univ.; The New Deal: The Depression Years 1933-1940, 1989, etc.) reveals little new information here. The book’s distinguishing feature is the interpretive light the author shines on FDR’s political skills. The president’s ability to persuade lawmakers and his willingness to base policies on pragmatism rather than ideology sowed the seeds for the success of the programs subsequently implemented. Roosevelt, whom conservatives often demonize for having created the modern welfare and regulatory state, was in many respects a reluctant proponent of activist government. Badger notes that FDR’s policies at various times were criticized equally harshly by those on the left and the right. He also maintains that while many of the policies initiated during this period provided at least short-term relief to many people, their more significant impact was on the nation’s overall spirit and sense of self: “What he had not found in 1933 was the magic key to economic recovery. But in the Hundred Days Roosevelt demonstrated that a democracy need not be paralyzed in the face of economic catastrophe.” The author is less certain about another legacy of that period. By starting his presidency with such a flurry of activity, Roosevelt established a standard that journalists and historians have since used as a benchmark for measuring other presidents, most of whom have fallen short. Badger synthesizes a great deal of information in a small space, producing a readable, though not terribly lively narrative.
Will appeal most to academics and well-read general readers; more casual history buffs may find some of the prose a bit dense.