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Opinion

Disappointed Obama isn't FDR? Let's remember the real deal about the New Deal.

High on hope, supporters heralded Obama as the new FDR. Two years later, many feel disillusioned. But FDR's actual record puts today's gripes about Obama into perspective.

By Charles Dorn / October 15, 2010



Brunswick, Maine

My brother recently e-mailed me to express his disappointment with President Obama, whom he and 67 million other hopeful Americans voted for in 2008. Two years later, he isn't the only one disillusioned. "I thought we were getting FDR," he wrote. "We did," I responded. "Just not the one we thought we were getting."

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The 67 million of us who voted for Obama two years ago did so for a variety of different reasons. Some cast their vote because he is a black man, some because of his eloquence, some because he opposed the Iraq War, some because of his policies benefitted the poor and middle classes, and some simply because he seemed the antithesis of George W. Bush.

Within weeks of Mr. Obama's election, Time magazine had imposed his image onto one of Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in the back of his car, iconic cigarette holder jutting out from his grinning lips. The magazine's headline declared the arrival of "The New, New Deal," referring primarily to the economic crisis that Obama inherited and was now responsible for ending.

A product of nostalgia, not reality

The FDR that Time alluded to is the one that most of us know – the charming man who repaired the US economy, conquered the fascists, defended the rights of minorities, and had the support of just about everyone in the United States. The problem is, that FDR is the product of nostalgia. In reality (as is often the case with reality), things were a whole lot more complicated.

In fact, FDR's actual record raises criticisms very much akin to the posthype gripes about Obama.

The New Deal didn't restore the economy

Take the first claim, for instance, regarding Roosevelt's economic recovery. After inheriting his own economic crisis, FDR instituted the New Deal, rescuing the American economy from total collapse. Roosevelt, however, did not bring the US economy back to full health. In 1941, the year America declared war against Japan, the US unemployment rate stood at 9.9 percent. That’s right, even after the Works Progress Association, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Lend-Lease Act put Americans back to work, unemployment was higher than it is right now.

In 1941, even after the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Lend-Lease Act put Americans back to work, unemployment stood at 9.9 percent – higher than it is now. FDR's New Deal didn't restore the economy; World War II did.

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