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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/14308/the-real-reason-for-fdrs-popularity/

The Real Reason for FDR’s Popularity

October 20, 2010 by

What if a president took a different direction and sought popularity by expanding rather than reducing liberty? There is a model here they could follow, but it is not one you have thought of. It is Franklin D. Roosevelt. He repealed Prohibition! FULL ARTICLE by Mark Thornton


J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 5:31 am

And the “New FDR” that is sitting in the White House doesn’t get it. He came out against California’s marijuana legalization effort. That’s today’s alcohol prohibition, and a major political figure that latches onto the repeal of the War on Drugs will get the exact same capital.

D Skelly October 20, 2010 at 6:56 am

This one confused me.

I understand the assertion that the people like what he did on prohibition, but to claim he increased liberty? When taken on whole, legalizing beer AND outlawing private gold ownership nets out to an increase in liberty?

A President’s policies must be taken as a whole, or in aggregate, to make a comment on whether or not he increased liberty. FDR was no libertarian, except in the area of personal moral behavior.

J. Murray October 20, 2010 at 7:02 am

It’s not on aggregate that FDR increased liberty. The article was pointing out that a single, massive instance of increasing liberty gave him such immense political capital that, in the minds of the population, all the encroaching eliminations of freedom paled in comparison. We unquestionably came out of FDR’s presidential run less free, but becuase of that one major event early in his political career, everyone viewed him differently.

What they say about first impressions are true.

Rick J M. October 20, 2010 at 9:34 am


To add to J. Murray’s point, merely look at FDR as the M. Night Shyamalan of Presidents. His elimination of prohibition was such a wild success that it didn’t matter what he did after that, people were still willing to ‘pay’ (or put up with) for next act hoping it would be as good as his first.

Seattle October 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Shyamalan did anything good ever? This is news to me.

Bala October 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I presume Rick is referring to “The Sixth Sense”

newson October 20, 2010 at 9:52 pm

i’m looking forward to seeing “devil” (2010).

Dave Albin October 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

“The Village” and “Unbreakable” were good, too.

Phinn October 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

You know, now that you put it this way, I think I understand Bill Clinton’s first term in office a little better. I never really understood why he would make Don’t Ask Don’t Tell one of the very first things that he would do. It seemed like such a tin-eared, ham-fisted, politically disastrous way to start his sub-50% presidency, especially for someone who was otherwise not that politically stupid.

I think he may have been trying to pull an FDR — start off by developing an image of promoting social freedom and choice and openness, so that he could coast on that reputation later when it came time to deprive people of their economic liberties. (He never got around to doing that as much as he would like to, I think, which helped to build up the resentments and frustrations among the Socialist Faithful, who later expressed them in the election of the current occupant.)

Mark Thornton October 20, 2010 at 10:07 am
Jordan Viray October 20, 2010 at 8:15 pm

That sure gets the animal spirits going!

gashousegangster October 20, 2010 at 10:18 am

A very clever, thought provoking article. One I wouldn’t even think of before. I have read Flynn’s “The Roosevelt Myth” a few times and held the opinion that FDR was the biggest dirtbag to ever hold the office. I encourage everyone to read this book. I digress….As far as the article goes, I think a president restoring liberty probably goes a long way. I hope future presidents consider this….

George F. Smith October 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

Repealing Prohibition established the perception of FDR as the working man’s buddy, the guy who let him enjoy a brew in peace, and at a lower price, at the end of the day. It was a move in the direction of liberty. From another perspective It was a move in the direction of using government to issue favors, to rescue people from unpleasant conditions even if they were government-imposed. It established the (ignored) precedent of government admitting it had made a mistake by restoring normalcy, i.e., restoring something close to free market conditions. Was it the liberty of Prohibition’s repeal or the perceived favor that won people’s gratitude?

Restoring liberty piecemeal wouldn’t necessarily bring widespread gratitude as it did in the case of repealing the 18th Amendment. As Mark points out, the majority of Americans were drinkers, so they warmed up to the repeal naturally. Would a majority be just as thrilled to have all “illicit” drugs decriminalized today, for example? A politician looking to shrink government might be better off axing the TSA, for starters.

Anyone using the restoration of liberty as a model has to choose carefully. He also has to explain that his de-controlling is a step in restoring liberty to the people and getting the government out of the business of doing favors for special interests. I don’t recall FDR making that point when he repealed Prohibition.

Mushindo October 20, 2010 at 11:11 am

i view this observation with mixed feelings – for me it underscores the populism principle which subverts the original intent of democracy: By granting the citizenry One Big Benevolence, the popularity gained equips the despot to inflict Many Small Malignances – which latter tend to add up and feed off one another.

It is worth remembering though that FDR didnt exactly follow through in his prohibition repeal. he did nothing to dismantle the massive enforcement infrastructure the Fed gov built to stamp out booze during prohibition ( that would have cost too many votes and besides, he had to ‘make work’, didnt he?). He merely invented another evil threat to the fabric of society , a scapegoat carefully chosen to find favour among the WASPS who made up his support bases – and redeployed that huge Fed infrastructure to stamp it out. The monster has been growing ever since. The evil threat to society was cannabis, and since its use was confined to a small segment of the hispanic communities and a smattering of (black) jazz musicians, its outlawing and propaganda was eagerly hoovered* up by a gullible (white) public.

by the way, I also rather suspect that WR Hearst was a keen lobbyist in favour of this approach, because it conveniently disposed of hemp as a competitor to his timber pulp business.

Bruce Koerber October 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Political Entrepreneurship “Baby Steps”

Even though political entrepreneurship is usually another way of saying ‘sleazy dealmaking’ there is the possibility that some political entrepreneur will be alert to the insights given to us by Mark Thornton in this article.

Of course it would be best if on principle liberty was chosen as the best means for the achievement of prosperity but even if a self-serving political entrepreneur chose liberty to gain fame it would be better than the total ignorance exhibited by the politicians today.

This example of ‘babysteps’ may be a part of the education process that takes us towards liberty and justice.

gene October 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

article makes a great point.

and what good is a depression without a good beer, anyway?

Joe October 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I like a beer and hard drink myself sometimes but would I vote for FDR? It is hard for me to understand that there are voters that would vote for all the socialism FDR put forth over a beer. I guess it doesn’t say much for democracy and that is why Madison made sure we had a constitutional republic so all our rights can’t be taken away in a short period of time. But in the long run look out.

Allen Weingarten October 21, 2010 at 7:08 am

“The repeal of Prohibition then is the real reason for FDR’s popularity.”

The repeal was excellent and is a fine precedent for the legalization of drugs. However, I doubt that FDR’s popularity stems from it. When schools and commentators laud Roosevelt, they rarely mention Prohibition, but rather his social & economic programs. This is seen even more clearly when speaking to liberals & Democrats today, who ask for comparable policies.

Liberalism lauds wealth distribution and using the government to further what they consider to be morality. Here they view Roosevelt as a paragon.

Dick Fox October 21, 2010 at 7:43 am

“It is Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his first 30 days, he did more to bring liberty to Americans than any president since Thomas Jefferson repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts.

“Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. After dealing with the banking crisis and the budget during his first week on the job, on March 13 he called on Congress to repeal Prohibition.”

This is perhaps the dumbest statement I have seen in a long time. Thornton states FDR brought liberty in one paragraph, then in the very next paragraph mentions FDR’s first first act, closing all of the nation’s banks. Give me a break!

Thornton is so taken with psuedo-libertarian rhetoric that he simply ignores the obvious. And concerning prohibition, I don’t at all think he understands that it was primarily about politics, taxes, and government power.

FDR followed Hoover who was one of the most interventionist presidents in history. I actually expected Thornton to contrast FDR with Hoover in making his case. Instead he floated into fantasyland.

Matthew Swaringen October 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Thornton was not trying to make FDR sound appealing in his article, but it’s obvious you took his statements that way.

Bryan Björnson October 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

With the repeal of Prohibition FDR got the buzz and we got the hangover, the New Deal.

LugNut October 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Another cheapshot aimed at Detroit. As a fifth-generation Detroiter, I can tell you that the downtown area is as safe as any other large city downtown. Can only think of three incidents in the past thirty-five years where people were murdered in the downtown area. The surrounding neighborhoods are another story.

Joe October 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Actually I watch the show “Hung” and it shows Detroit all the time. Doesn’t look that bad, except could they tear down all the old manufacturing plants that are longer operational? If it wasn’t for the crime in the area and could see a re-birth of the Detroit with shops and upscale shopping.

Tim Kern December 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Who are the “they” who have the right to destroy the property of those who own it?

Here’s the old societal conundrum: At what point does the “common good” override private property rights? Does it ever? (Of course, one could also ask why those buildings are vacant, and who caused that…)

Jim Kussy October 22, 2010 at 12:27 am

I don’t disagree with the article’s basic premise, but 99+% of us are mixtures of both good and bad. tThe article exposes the bad in FDR with gusto. May I point out some positive qualities of the man?
In my lifetime (80 years) I have never know a President who was as good a communicator as FDR, not even Ronald Reagan, who was superb in that skill. FDR would have had no difficulty with a word like nuclear or any other word. His voice and delivery was as good as it gets. Listen to recordings of his fireside chats and his campaign speeches as examples.
His ability to inspire the nation was also unsurpassed in my memory of 11 subsequent presidents. People who hated FDR with a passion in many cases said that when they met him in person they
were surprised and won over at least insofar as finding his personality and charm a pleasure. If I could choose 10 great luncheon companions out of the last 80 years he would be close to the top of the list.
I agree that some of the measures he instituted during the depression crisis were harmful. I don’t excuse that. But I suggest we not get carried away with venom as exemplified in some of the above comments which are in agreement withthe article. I remember the campaigns of 1940 and 1944 and if I were able to vote in those elections knowing all I now know I would vote for him in preference to Wilkie or Dewey.

Tim Kern December 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm

So, the medium is indeed the message.
Too bad about principles.

Dave M October 22, 2010 at 2:13 am

I like this article by Mark. It shows how FDR’s initial popularity came about and survived much more draconian measures taken under his direction later. Very few people, outside the extreme left, have much good to say about FDR yet overlook or ignore his seeming popularity during his term. Perhaps a better way to put it would be to ask how many people then would have liked to have had a beer or glass of wine as opposed to how many people actually had any measurable amount of gold that was later confiscated.

A libertarian he was definately not, by any standard, but the popularity of one of his first acts resonated for a long period with the masses.

Charles Landesman October 25, 2010 at 9:11 am

One statistic that was not mentioned in the discussion of prohibition was the statistic that would tell us how much an increase or decrease in alcoholism followed repeal. Alcoholism is a major source of accidental deaths, family breakups, serious illness, unemployment, and so forth. So it is relevant to an evaluation of prohibition.

Jordan Viray October 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

The proponents of Prohibition at the time were very well financed and made the knowledge of the ills of alcoholism quite widespread. Illegal means of obtaining alcohol e.g. speakeasies and moonshine were nevertheless, wildly popular. With the repeal of Prohibition, the various syndicates which had provided alcohol illegally could not compete with legitimate businesses and so the prevalence of the gangster thankfully also went down.

patrick October 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm

This article reminds me of the one that Lew Rockwell just put out last week. Lew’s was out on 10.22 and Mark’s here was out 10.20…maybe Lew drew some inspiration from it and that’s why he wrote his article.

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