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Democrats Foolishly Pine for a New New Deal (Washington Examiner) October 18, 2019

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

If you are a Republican running for political office, it’s a safe bet that you seek to identify with conservatives’ last great president, Ronald Reagan. Increasingly, the Democrats’ alternative is not so much a person, since he has faded from memory, but a program: Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. With their poor understanding of American history, young people fail to realize that what they really want is a new New Deal, and what candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are prepared to offer them is best understood as a further expansion of the original New Deal.

In a speech on socialism and the economy in June, Bernie Sanders said, “Today … we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion.” New front-runner Elizabeth Warren also admires the New Deal, and opinion writer Noah Smith called her “the closest thing modern American politics has to a successor to FDR.” When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her sweeping new environmental proposals, she labeled them a “Green New Deal.”

But what does it mean to identify with the New Deal today, 87 years after Roosevelt launched it? In short, it means more government guarantees of economic security, or, as I call it, government that is big, expensive, and federal.

Roosevelt was actually a precursor of the Rahm Emanuel school of public policy. You remember Emanuel’s famous proclamation as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff that you never want to let a serious crisis go to waste because it is an opportunity to do things you could not do before. Without question, Roosevelt confronted a major crisis, the Great Depression, but he used it to implement a sweeping New Deal that permanently changed what the federal government does and how it does it. Not only did he implement the first large economic security program, Social Security, but he also built out the modern presidency and administrative state that continues to balloon in size and power. The New Deal was America’s French Revolution, changing everything.

At the heart of the New Deal was Roosevelt’s belief that the federal government should go into the business of guaranteeing people economic security. He foreshadowed this emphasis in his first inaugural speech when he asserted, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The true breadth of Roosevelt’s agenda, however, awaited in his 1944 State of the Union message when he introduced “a second bill of rights,” which was a sweeping list of economic guarantees Americans should expect. Among these were the right to a useful and remunerative job, a decent home, an education, adequate medical care, and protection from the fear of old age, sickness, accident, or unemployment.

From the cradle to the grave, it is pretty much all there, thanks to your Uncles Sam and Franklin.

After Roosevelt enacted Social Security, other presidents found opportunities to move the economic security ball down the field. Lyndon Johnson added Medicare and Medicaid. Barack Obama provided guarantees of healthcare. Even Republican George W. Bush added prescription drug benefits for seniors. Since these protections are virtually all for seniors, however, young people now want their share: free college, assistance with student debt and expensive housing, and, while we are at it, why not a guaranteed annual income? This is the new New Deal: economic security by the government for everyone.

Expanding the New Deal is actually the heart of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren agendas. We can have all of this, they say. We can double down on the New Deal, or, as Bernie Sanders says, “carry it to completion.” The question, of course, is the same question candidate Tulsi Gabbard posed to Elizabeth Warren in the most recent debate: Where do we send the invoice for all of this? Perhaps someone should also ask whether government guaranteeing and taking over everything from healthcare to college costs and a guaranteed minimum income is even the sort of country we want.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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