A Baroque Farce at New Deal 2.0

Henry C.K. Liu

I am a great admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a keen student of the New Deal. Naturally when New Deal 2.0, a project of the Roosevelt Institute, invited me to be a “Braintruster” at its launching two years ago, I eagerly accepted and have submitted posts frequently since. Several days ago, a post of mine on the relationship between the Fiscal Deficit and the Gross Domestic Product was rejected by the editor.
The reason for the rejection was it is too long and too difficult for the general public, and that I failed to obey the editor’s demand that I add explanatory paragraphs while cutting the length of the whole piece. My sin was that I made an observation that “You can have brevity or explanation to lay readers. But you cannot have both.”
Frustrated, I sent an email to five personal friends who also regularly post on New Deal 2.0 to announce the following:
“Apparently my post was not up to the editorial standard of NewDeal2.0.
Amazing that two women who haven't a clue about macroeconomics sit as jury and judge on what passes.
Frankly, what they post under their own names have been at the level of cocktail party gossip.
The general public visits my website in great numbers with no difficulty.
The recovery will arrive long before I will submit another post to them again.”
I further added:
“It’s more than the length, because I offered to cut the post in two parts with the first part every short. Their objection was that the general public cannot follow my thoughts.
I have tried to follow their previous demands by referring to “quantitative easing” colloquially as “printing money” and was criticized (rightly) for it by a reader. Their claim to their “qualification” to judge is that they know little of macroeconomics and so if they cannot follow a post, the general public cannot either and therefore the post does not belong at New Deal 2.0.
Well, if we communicate with the general public with thoughts they are already familiar, we will have little of significance to say.
The general public needs to have their minds stretched and not for us to talk down to them.
Any rate, reasonable people can disagree and editors have absolute power. But I am not prepared to change merely to get posted.
If a post of mine is not up to standards, let the readers say so, not the editors.
I write to speak for myself, not to mouth New Deal 2.0 positions.
Luckily, I have a web site for the general public to judge independently without an editorial filter.
You are copied on this not because I am looking for support, just to let you know my absence is not caused by my mind gone dry.”
I further added: “I am aware that one of my vices is writing articles that are too long. But it is the nature of my mind that connects large amount of information and ideas even on seemingly simple events. To some readers, this is why they read me: for my view of complexity, not brevity which they can get from media headlines. Others who look for simplified summaries do not read me, which from my perspective is no great loss.”
Somehow the editor got wind of the email not addressed to her and reacted hysterically:
“I have never claimed expertise in macroeconomics, but as an English Ph.D and published author who has taught essay writing and media communications at a major university, served as a media consultant in a major senate campaign, and started and run several successful content websites, I do have expertise in language and communicating, particularly online.”
The editor further exploded:
“I am always eager to work with well-informed people who are professional and supportive of the blog, the Roosevelt Institution, and the Roosevelt legacy. Which brings me to your recent email: sending around vicious emails to my colleagues that are contemptuous of not only myself but my assistant who conducts herself in a gracious and professional manner is entirely inappropriate. That kind of behavior is undermining to our mission, the goodwill between colleagues, and accomplishes nothing. Your behind-the-back communication referred to my posts as appropriate for cocktail parties - very well, that party would include XXX, XXX, XXX and XXX, who all follow my posts.”
I responded: “I apologize for wasting everybody's time and for sending a below standard post. It will not happen again.”
To which the editor went ballistic:
“You owe no apology for the post - that is ridiculous.
Your apology for wasting the time of our colleagues is appreciated, I'm certain.
You have yet to offer an apology to [my assistant- name withheld] and myself, to whom you most clearly owe it. Which perhaps means that you stand by your slanderous remarks. In which case we have nothing further to discuss.”
I was truly puzzled by the verbal firework in poor English, since all I wrote was: “Amazing that two women who haven't a clue about macroeconomics sit as jury and judge on what passes.
Frankly, what they post under their own names have been the level of  cocktail party gossip.

So I wrote back: “I don't see why you demand an apology in public.
I accepted your editorial decision after my rewrite failed to meet your standard.
We both agree that you [and your assistant] are not experts in macroeconomics, and you seem to agree with me that your posts are like conversation in a cocktail party.
So where is the problem?”
For that I was excommunicated from the New Deal 2.0 blog by the editor’s pronouncement: “Your recent inappropriate behavior has made you unwelcome in our community at New Deal 2.0. Please take your comments, etc. elsewhere.”
The funny thing was that a response I since wrote to a third person’s post was immediately erased by the editor who proclaim herself as the defender the Roosevelt legacy. The post contains the following on FDR:
In the time of Jefferson and Hamilton, the young nation was primarily a country of small farm owners, with an abundance of open land where equality and democracy could best be promoted by restricting the power of government to allow free play of individual initiative. The establishment of a rich upper class, on the other hand, required positive government intervention. Early liberals generally were suspicious of big government and opposed the extension of its powers, while the exponents of upper class leadership favored strong centralized authority. As the national economy developed and industrialized, these positions on governments shifted. With the growth of big corporations that employed large number of wage-earning workers, the declining wealth of farmers, common individuals began to find it difficult to achieve economic independence and security by his own means without government protection, while big business wanted free markets to exploit its privileged positions gained from earlier government assistance.

But in the 1930s, the Democratic Party was still dominated by Southern conservatives and political machines of the Northern industrial cities, both opposing a strong Federal government for separate reasons. Support for Franklin D. Roosevelt was strong among organized labor, small farmers and middle class reformers and the idealistic intelligentsia. There was constant conflict between the conservative and progressive wings of the Democratic Party and some of the bitterest opponents of the New Deal were conservative Democrats. Some of the strongest supporters were liberal Republicans.

Roosevelt’s natural air of confidence and optimism did much to reassure a dishearten nation. His inauguration on March 4, 1933
occurred literally in the middle of a terrifying bank panic, a challenging backdrop for his famous words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Such inspiring words were a exultant contrast five decades later to Carter’s disconcerting “malaise” speech of “crisis of the soul and confidence” to a restless nation facing rising gasoline prices at $1.25 a gallon, with gold rising to $300 an ounce but with the US enjoying a trade surplus with emerging China for another 14 years.

The US now, with gas at $4 a gallon and gold over $1,000 and Trade deficit with China running to over $200 billion a year, would thank God for the good old days of 1979. Carter desperately imposed wholesale resignation on his entire cabinet in 1979, the third year of his first and only four-year term. In doing so, he deprived himself of valuable support and assistance in dealing with the Iran hostage crisis that cost him a second term.

The New Deal Political Coalition

The New Deal Political Coalition was an alignment of interest groups and voting blocs that supported the New Deal and voted for Democratic presidential candidates from 1932 until approximately 1968, which made the Democratic Party the majority party during that period, losing only to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

FDR created a political coalition of the rank and file of the Democratic Party, the big city political machines, labor unions, racial, ethnic and religious minorities, populist farm groups, liberal intellectuals, and the segregated White South. This coalition dissolved in 1968 as the Vietnam War split it into anti-war and pro-war factions , but it remains the model that party activists seek to replicate. In similar manner, the Afghan War led to the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party.

The 1932 election brought about major shifts in voting behavior, and became a permanent realignment, though some scholars point to the off-year 1934 election as even more decisive in stabilizing the coalition. Roosevelt set up his New Deal and forged a coalition of Big City machines, labor unions, liberals, ethnic and racial minorities (especially Catholics, Jews and African Americans) and Southern whites. These disparate voting blocs together formed a large majority of voters and handed the Democratic Party seven victories out of nine presidential elections (1932-48, 1960, 1964), as well as control of both houses of Congress during all but 4 years between the years 1932-1980 (Republicans won majorities in 1946 and 1952). Starting in the 1930s, the term “liberal” was used in U.S. politics to indicate supporters of the coalition, while "conservative" denoted its opponents. The coalition was never formally organized, and the constituent members often disagreed.

Some political scientists call the resulting new coalition the "Fifth Party System" in contrast to the Fourth Party System of the 1896-1932 era that it replaced.

Roosevelt had a magnetic appeal to city dwellers, especially the poorer minorities who got recognition, unions, and relief jobs. Taxpayers, small business and the middle class voted for Roosevelt in 1936, but turned sharply against him after the recession of 1937-38 seemed to belie his promises of recovery.

Roosevelt discovered an entirely new use for city machines in his reelection campaigns. Traditionally, local bosses minimized turnout so as to guarantee reliable control of their wards and legislative districts. To carry the electoral college, however, Roosevelt needed massive majorities in the largest cities to overcome the hostility of suburbs and towns. With Postmaster General James A. Farley and WPA administrator Harry Hopkins cutting deals with state and local Democratic officials, Roosevelt used federal discretionary spending, especially the Works Progress Administration (1935-1942) as a national political machine. Men on relief could get WPA jobs regardless of their politics, but hundreds of thousands of supervisory jobs were given to local Democratic machines. The 3.5 million voters on relief payrolls during the 1936 election cast 82% percent of their ballots for Roosevelt. The vibrant labor unions, heavily based in the cities, likewise did their utmost for their benefactor, voting 80% for him, as did Irish, Italian and Jewish voters. In all, the nation's 106 cities over 100,000 population voted 70% for FDR in 1936, compared to 59% elsewhere. Roosevelt won reelection in 1940 thanks to the cities. In the North, the cities over 100,000 gave Roosevelt 60% of their votes, while the rest of the North favored Willkie by 52%. It was just enough to provide the critical electoral college margin.

With the start of full-scale war mobilization in the summer of 1940, the cities revived. The war economy pumped massive investments into new factories and funded round-the-clock munitions production, guaranteeing a job to anyone who showed up at the factory gate.

End of New Deal coalition

The coalition fell apart in many ways. The first cause was lack of a leader of the stature of Roosevelt. The closest was perhaps Lyndon Johnson, who deliberately tried to reinvigorate the old coalition, but in fact drove its constituents apart. During the 1960s, new issues such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, affirmative action, and large-scale urban riots tended to split the coalition and drive many members away. Meanwhile, Republicans made major gains by promising lower taxes and control of crime.
As the record shows, to accuse my sending an email to five personal friends to explain why I will cease posting on NewDeal 2.0 as “sending around vicious emails to [the editor’s] colleagues” to undermine the legacy of FDR is a bit Baroque even for a self aggrandizing “English Ph.D and published author”.
The whole episode is a Baroque farce and a tempest in a tiny teacup, but an amusing and perhaps pathetic one.

August 2, 2010