Book Review: The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression by Amity Shlaes

Earlier this week, I finished Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, a re-examination of the Great Depression that points out the errors in the commonly believed myth of that period in our nation’s history.

One example is the belief that Herbert Hoover was a straight laissez-faire President who did nothing to attempt to revive the economy. In fact, Hoover was an activist as President, and even before during his tenure as Secretary of Commerce. The primary difference between Hoover and FDR was that Hoover restricted his activity to the Constitutionally permitted powers of the federal government; FDR showed no such respect for the will of law.

Similarly, FDR and his Brain Trust are commonly believed to have selfessly focused solely on reviving America’s economy. But like another President who promised to focus like a laser beam on the economy, the objectives spread far and wide from the promised goal. In fact, FDR’s advisors were open admirers of Communist Russia who were seeking to remake America in an image they chose. The Great Depression was actually viewed as a great opportunity to remake America, rather than something that needed to be overcome.

It’s also claimed that FDR’s policies brought us out the Depression. Shlaes shows that the US went into a double-dip Depression, with the economy getting worse just when the rest of the world was growing again. Others acknowledge that fact, and claim that it was World War II spending that brought us out of the economic funk. To the extent that World War II helped us, it was that focusing on the international situation took FDR’s focus away from the domestic realm, allowing the economy to grow without further fetters being placed on it.

It’s also claimed that FDR was a decisive leader who charted a bold course. In reality, he frustrated his advisers with his indecisiveness. On at least one occasion, he even sent representatives to an international economic conference with differing instructions, resulting in parts of the American delegation negotiating against each other, angering the British Prime Minister. On another occasion, after a conference that achieved the goals he had set for it, he repudiated it, rejecting the agreement reached.

This book was excellent in dispelling a number of myths about the Depression and careful readers will note a number of policy prescriptions for the future that will allow us to avoid similar situations in the future.

Book Review: A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement by J. William Mittendorf II

I’m a sucker for books about the 1964 Republican Presidential campaign, and this book was definitely worth the read. Mittendorf, one of the early backers of drafting Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the 1964 GOP Presidential nomination, writes his version of the campaign’s history. It seems like he read one too many histories referring to his organization as “amateurs” and felt the need to set the record straight, as the organization pulled together many people with a great amount of political experience and those without (such as Clif White) turned out to be extremely talented in their own right. (In his own book, Bob Novak sys Clif White ran the best convention machine he’d ever seen. Not bad for a supposed amateur.) They were certainly a far more effective organization than the “Arizona Mafia” that Goldwater surrounded himself with following his nomination.

He shows the committee’s greatest work may have been its filling of vacant positions at the local level of the Republican party a year ahead of time allowing them to get conservatives into delegate slots for the convention, catching the old guard of the GOP off guard. He shows their concern when Goldwater repeatedly turned them down, as running for President could hurt him back in Arizona and could mean leaving his beloved Senate. Fortunately, Goldwater was convinced to run since for him not to run could set the conservative movement back a decade or more.

He actually continues the story beyond the ’64 election showing that many of those who helped get Goldwater the nomination were instrumental in winning Nixon the same prize in 1968. That’s hopefully a mistake he regrets.

It’s good read, perhaps the truest insider’s perspective I’ve read yet on that doomed, but ultimately victorious, campaign.

Congressional Irrelevance

George Will has an excellent column on the subordination of Congress to the Presidency. He traces it through history and makes the important point that Congress’ relative lack of power and irrelevancy are largely its own fault. While it can only provide a cursory overview of the topic due to the length of a newspaper column, it’s still a worthy read and many would likely learn something from it.


This Day in History 1945: V-E Day is celebrated in American and Britain

On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

It was a long, hard-fought victory. At times it seemed foolish to continue to fight, but we fought and prevailed against one of the greatest evils this world has ever seen.

Of course, had today’s Democrats been around back then, the Nazis would likely control mainland Europe and be executing any remaining Jews in their concentration camps. The war was really hard and saving Europe just wasn’t worth the effort and doomed to failure anyway and we had a Depression going on. It would have been foolish to fight such an impressive military as the Nazis had. And fighting them just created more Nazis anyway.

UPDATE: Here’s the image I was thinking of when I chose the headline:

From the opening credits of the greatest sitcom of the 80s, Cheers. Although, I’m not 100% it actually refers to V-E Day. It might be V-J.

UPDATE 2: It’s neither V-E or V-J Days. According to IMDB, it refers to the end of Prohibition. Who’da thunk it?

This is kind of cool

This Day in Delaware History:
1731 James Nixon, great-great-great-great-grandfather of President Richard Nixon, bought a 100 acre farm in Brandywine Hundred. His other great-great-great- great-grandfather Thomas Milhous lived 9 miles away just over the line in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Big Day in US History

Today in 1789, the 1st Congress was seated.

That was made possible by the taking of Dorcester Heights on this date in 1776 which drove the British out of Boston which they had occupied for a while trying to repress the brewing rebellion.

In addition, other than Washington’s first inauguration and Presidents sworn in following the death of their predecessor, every President up to and including FDR was sworn in on this date.

And on a lighter note, Ronald and Nancy Reagan married on this date in 1951.

Book Review: Liberal Fascism

I finally finished this book, after having started it back in January. A combination of being really busy and a brief illness kept me from devoting as much attention as I would have liked.

Even had I had more time to devote to it, it still would have taken me a while to read; it’s over 400 pages plus 60 pages of footnotes and is a very thought-provoking book, requiring much reflection and pondering of its many points. It shatters many commonly held myths about the historical Left and Right.

The book had its genesis in the frequent attacks upon himself in particular, and conservatives in general, where members of the Left would attack conservative views and policies as “fascist,” and consider the argument over. Goldberg, like most students of history, knew these claims to be false as Fascism was virtually always a product of the Left. After all, if one philosophy holds for smaller, less intrusive government, while another calls for greater government control over virtually all facets of life which one is more fascistic? The one calling for larger government, of course, and yet it is the liberals, who subscribe to that point of view, who call conservatives fascistic. I believe it’s for this reason this book had never been written before: liberals didn’t know better and conservatives knew the charge was ridiculous and considered it unworthy of a response. Goldberg decided enough was enough and wrote a book that should, once and for all, demolish the association of Fascism and the Right.

He begins with a forward titled “Everything you know about Fascism is wrong” wherein he exposes the falsity of the association of the Right and the Fascists. He then continues with a chapter each focusing on Mussolini and Hitler, showing that their political roots lay in their nations’ respective Left. He shows that the hatred between Communists and Fascists lay not in their political opposition, but in the fact they were fighting over the same political turf: the Left. (Think of how much many Republicans hate John McCain, for example, even though he agrees with him so often. Ann Coulter dislikes him so much she’d promised that she’d support Hillary Clinton over McCain, despite the many disagreements between the two blondes. We get angrier with those we expect to agree with us than those who we write off. Just like no one can make us as angry as those we truly love.) He also makes a point to define Fascism before beginning his discussion of its history: “Fascism is a religion of the state.” The belief that “salvation” will come through a large, interventionist government that will remake society, and Man himself, for the better is the essence of Fascism.

Goldberg then takes us through American history showing development of Fascist thought and practice in our own nation. He points out that although it’s often claimed it could never happen here, it, in fact, already has. Perhaps the most Fascistic President of all was Woodrow Wilson how centralized power, jailed political opponents and increased governmental involvement in the economy to previously unimagined dimensions. (A recurrent theme in this book is that American Progressivism is really just Fascism with a smile. Rather than imposing their will on the people, Progressives claim to be doing what’s best for the people.)

The early 1920s did much to reduce the size and breadth of government, but that trend was reversed with the election of Herbert Hoover as President. Despite his portrayal as a typical laissez-faire President, he was actually a strongly interventionist President, as he had been in every public office he had held going back to the Wilson Administration. So, in the true history, there was a change only in degree, not in kind, with the election of Franklin Roosevelt, who may have been even more of a Fascist than Wilson. Both viewed their program in militaristic terms. Roosevelt created the National Recovery Administration, which determined what businesses could charge for their products and pay their employees. Businesses who did not comply were branded unpatriotic and even charged with crimes. (Declaring businesses “unpatriotic” is part of Obama’s economic platform today.) Goldberg quotes many European Fascists admiring FDR’s accomplishments and even expressing some envy at what he was able to accomplish.

He continues through American history with the 60s Hippie movement, which with its violence and attempts to overthrow the existing order, both political and moral, really does recall the early years of the Nazi movement in Germany. Fortunately, America didn’t fall under the sway of such leaders as Germany did. (Another point for the Founding Fathers who prevented swift change the way the drafters of Germany’s post World War I constitution did not.)

The weakest part of the book, in my opinion, dealt with Kennedy and LBJ. While he validly points out that Kennedy, as many actual Fascists did, used supposed emergencies to garner support for their policies, this was more, as Goldberg acknowledges, due to his need to have an emergency to focus on than an real attempt to centralize government power. Similarly, while LBJ did have some Fascist tendencies, I wouldn’t include him as a Fascist either.

He continues on with a chapter on how the Left uses race as a means to achieve their goals, while attempting to cover up the fact that eugenics, which sought to breed out the weaker races, was a phenomenon of the Left. It was the Right, and especially Catholics, who opposed forced sterilization of blacks and the mentally handicapped. Margaret Sanger was clearly a person of the Left and an active proponent of reducing, if not completely eliminating, the black population. (Interestingly, that racism is still apparently extant in Planned Parenthood today.)

Economics is another area where conservatism and leftist views are confused. It’s commonly assumed that conservatives being pro-business, are inherently Fascistic in their desire to help business. In fact, the historical record shows, it is largely the Left who has promoted government-business partnerships in order to increase the cohesion of society and unite it behind their view of how society should be. Again, it’s the Left and their interventionist economic policies who are more Fascistic than the Right.

He devotes a chapter to Hillary Clinton, who I had never bothered to read too much about and shows how from the 60s, she’s been interested in remaking society and overturning many long held beliefs. He concludes the book with a chapter showing how many things commonly held in our society were first promoted, or first widely promoted by the Nazis, such as the “natural food” movement, environmentalism, anti-smoking laws, among others. He doesn’t deride all of these things as wrong in and of themselves; in fact, he shops at Whole Foods frequently himself. However, he does point out that the desire to make things that are personal preferences or opinions mandatory does match the Fascist tendency perfectly.

He finished with an afterword discussing the dangers conservatives face that could draw them into Fascism. He uses Pat Buchanan as an example of a conservative who did become a Fascist. (Fortunately, the conservative movement has written Buchanan out of it in an October 1999 article in National Review. Another example of conservatives kicking extremists out of their movement, a step liberals seem reluctant, at best, to take.) He admits that, in many ways, President Bush does have some Fascistic tendencies, but they are largely in areas that the Left would agree with: the expansion of Medicare and the notion that government has to move when people are in trouble just to name two examples.)

This was an excellent book and one that anyone interested in political discourse should read to clear up a commonly held misconception. It will teach you a lot about history, exposing some myths that have, unfortunately, taken hold in our society and show that the real danger of Fascism comes from those most likely to cry Fascism.