The cold truth about Obama and FDR
by David Atkins
Reacting to Wall Street's delusional rage against the President which I highlighted earlier, Daily Kos diarist David Mizner asks the pertinent question: why doesn't the President simply welcome their hatred? After all, Wall Street is deeply unpopular and Dems would stand to gain, right?
Well, the outrage is easy. I myself have shared in it. But honestly, the answer to this question isn't that hard. No need to resort to the comfortable, easy, self-righteous retreats of corruption or fecklessness. It's a function of two simple factors: money and votes.
Plainly speaking, FDR didn't need the bankers' money. Campaigning wasn't nearly as expensive in those days. Lack of effective mass communications made it harder to purchase persuasion. And the Powell Memo that led to the coordination of big business spending on elections was over 30 years away. Wall Street had money, but it wasn't as coordinated and it didn't go as far.
But that's not all. FDR also had the votes of the racist South. He couldn't afford to lose them. FDR had the opportunity to pass an anti-lynching bill, but he couldn't afford to do it and still get the New Deal passed:
The harsh logic of Roosevelt's racial stance was expressed most clearly in 1938, when liberal congressmen attempted to pass federal anti-lynching legislation to halt the most horrific type of anti-black terrorism. (Several thousand blacks were killed by lynching in the United States between the 1880s and 1960s.) Southern Senators angrily filibustered, and FDR defied black leaders and his own wife by refusing to throw his support behind the measure. "I did not choose the tools with which I must work," he explained. "Had I been permitted to choose them I would have selected quite different ones. But I've got to get legislation passed by Congress to save America. The Southerners... occupy strategic places on most of the Senate and House committees. If I come out for the antilynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can't take that risk."The cold truth is that Democrats' decision to support working families and organized labor from 1930-1970 led to an intense and furious backlash by moneyed interests, without which the Movement Conservative revolution would not have been possible. Republicans outraised Democrats in presidential elections during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s by a factor of 7-1 and higher. That in turn led to the creation of the DLC and the rise of the neoliberal elite to raise enough funds to be remotely competitive.
Roosevelt's need to accommodate southern racists often complicated the implementation of his programs. Distribution of relief in the South, for example, slowed to a trickle because Southern relief administrators didn't want to distribute money to blacks. One Georgia relief agent told Roosevelt's emissary Lorena Hickok that "any N----- who gets over $8 a week is a spoiled N-----, that's all... The Negroes regard the President as the Messiah, and they think that... they'll all be getting $12 a week for the rest of their lives." Domestic workers and agricultural laborers—the leading employment sectors for black women and men, respectively—were excluded from many of the benefits of labor legislation and social security.
The cold truth is that Democrats' decision to support women's rights and especially minority rights in the 1960s led to the loss of the Deep South and much of the Rust Belt.
The cold truth is that adding the full force of Wall Street's money and the medical industry's money to the entirety of the racist and misogynist vote in the Deep South and Rust Belt would disable Democrats from winning a single Presidential election until most of the racists and misogynists are dead and buried. Which will happen, but not for quite some time.
Welcoming their hatred sounds great. But to do it without committing electoral suicide would require major campaign finance reform, and actively marginalizing states and populations where racism holds sway. Both of those things can be accomplished. They're not as easy as simply demanding a more forceful rhetorician, but they're more realistic. And that's the cold truth.