History Lesson

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

What Republicans faced in 1932:

  • a desperately unpopular GOP ex-president;

  • a new, ambitious Democratic president whom large numbers of people believed could do no wrong;

  • tired veterans of the past decade at the helm in both chambers;

  • an economic meltdown for which they were blamed; and

  • a depressing want of bodies.

How did they respond?  By challenging FDR's economic stimulus plan as "socialistic", which in 1932 was even more inflammatory than it is today:

"We are on our way to Moscow, " Representative Joseph W. Martin, an influential conservative, insisted after FDR's Agricultural Adjustment Act was delivered to Congress in the spring of 1933. "I have seen hitherto boasted State sovereignty offered up on the Moloch of centralized power," bayed another Republican. "I have seen a dictatorship spring up which must have made the noses of Herr Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mustapha Kemal of Turkey turn green with envy. Independence in private business is a thing of the past, and individual liberty is only a memory."

Did the rhetoric work?

It did not.  The GOP lost big (again) in the mid-term elections of 1934.

Obama's stimulus package is not perfect, and it's anybody's guess as to whether/how well it will work.  But the current GOP tactic of uniformally opposing it and standing strong in favor of tax cuts (a strategy which didn't prevent this mess in the first place) strikes me as 1932 Redux.

The GOP seems to be on its way to uniting behind a clear strategy.  But is it a winning one?  The lesson of 1932 would suggest not.  As Steve Benen notes:

There are coherent arguments against the stimulus plan, even from a conservative perspective, but actual GOP policy makers apparently aren't familiar with them. Their arguments about the CBO are wrong. Their arguments about tax credits are wrong. Their arguments about aid to states are wrong. Their arguments about the stimulative benefits of tax cuts are wrong. Their arguments about corporate tax rates are wrong. Their arguments about housing are wrong. Even their arguments about allocation are wrong.

And oddly, the GOP now finds itself in the position of hoping the Obama plan fails.  It's a terribly risky strategy.  What if it doesn't?  Obama will be forever known as the next Roosevelt.