DEALERS AND DREAMERS: A New Look at the New Deal by Joseph P. Lash

DEALERS AND DREAMERS: A New Look at the New Deal

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Against the odds, Lash (Eleanor and Franklin, 1971; Roosevelt and Churchill, 1976; A World of Love, 1984; et al.) manages to offer some fresh perspectives on an era that's as exhaustively documented as any in American history--the eight-year span during which a band of eager young lawyers and economists flocked to Washington to help FDR rescue the country from the Depression's grip. Lash focuses on two talented technocrats--Benjamin V. Cohen and Thomas C. Corcoran, proteges of Felix Frankfurter, then a professor at Harvard Law School. Though neither had held high office, both played important, frequently pivotal, roles in drafting and ensuring passage of vital New Deal measures like the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. As the author (who had access to their private, unpublished papers) makes clear, the influence of these Wunderkinder was in many respects more enduring than that of celebrated members of FDR's original Brains Trust (e.g., Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell), who passed rather quickly from the scene. Pragmatists as well as idealists, Cohen and Corcoran viewed politics as the art of the possible. With revolution a decided possibility, they opted for trial-and-error reform as the best means to the end of preserving any vestige of a free-enterprise, constitutional system. Governance by no means preoccupied the privy councilors. They battled for turf, preferment, and the favor of their king. Lash absolves Cohen and Corcoran of complicity in FDR's court-packing scheme, but there's little doubt that the pair had grave concerns about the effect of Supreme Court conservatism on the administration's legislative program. The author also gives Corcoran (a sometime Wall Street lawyer who made no secret of wanting to make a million) the benefit of every doubt on the influence-peddling charges that dogged him throughout a long and rewarding career. Otherwise, Lash brings to vivid life what the typically dour Cohen characterized (without credit to Wordsworth) as ""a time when to be alive was joy and to be young was very Heaven.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1988
Publisher: Doubleday