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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/14311/liberty-as-a-presidential-agenda/

Liberty as a Presidential Agenda

October 20, 2010 by

The significance of Professor Thornton’s article today cannot be overstated. I’ve always been puzzled by the wild worship of FDR. His economic agenda was as bad or worse than Obama’s, and yet he never seemed to pay the political price. Were the American people longing for a dictator? Were they just stupid? Sure, his popularity is overstated, but it would be foolish to deny that he had the thing every president wants: that glow and glory that comes from hero worship. He was the first teflon president.

Thornton has finally put his finger on the reason for this momentum. Roosevelt freed the people! To me, this makes complete sense. If you know something about American politics, you know that the first 100 days are everything, the time in which presidencies are made. Now we can understand something about why people loved him. He freed the whole country from rule by fanatics. We can see this happening in other cases. JFK cut taxes and people loved him. Reagan’s tax cuts gave him his teflon. Even Clinton benefited from his repeal of the 55 mph speed limit.

Presidents have long tried to emulate FDR in the hope of becoming a Great Man of History. Well, here we have a path to emulate. This is the route to go. Do something wonderful for people, and the people love you. Obama might have achieved this by pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan or legalizing pot. The next Republican could do something like abolish the Fed, or eliminate the income tax, or get rid of restrictions on oil production. Something big, something historic and bold.

I’m grateful to Mark for having drawn attention to this very interesting piece of forgotten history, something that both explains a mystery of history and shows a path forward.


Tristan Band October 20, 2010 at 8:33 am

Indeed. It’s quite Machiavellian; do something nice for the people, do something that no-one can fault, and you get a free pass.

If Obama had ended the wars and legalized drugs, I think even you guys would cut the guy a break-even on his economic policies, which would seem quite petty compared to the hypothetical good he did, in this conjecture.

William P October 20, 2010 at 9:07 am

nah… just advocate anarchy endlessly until every one of your constituents is so discouraged that they disassociate from public life entirely, entrusting the levers of power to the wolves.

fwiw, i thought it was a brilliant article.

Vlad Popovic October 20, 2010 at 9:50 am

Brilliant! I have always wondered how someone who did so many awful things could be so popular for so long. This makes more sense than any of the alternatives I had considered and discarded.

I’m not sure this could work again because there is no single aspect of the governement that is as universally despised as prohibition was. I bet if we did a poll, we would find much more support for the income tax and the fed than I want to think about.

Augie October 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

With reading only the first few lines of the article, I think I get the gist of it.

For a long time I been thinking, what would happen, or should happen with a Ron Paul presidency?

First he should announce the end of the wars. The drug war, and blanket pardons for non-violent drug offenders.

Sweeping FDR style change. Any thoughts on this?

Tristan Band October 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

I don’t think it running Ron Paul is a good idea.

Best to sit on the sidelines.

Tim October 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Explain why Hitler and Stalin were so popular then?

Dave October 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Surely because they freed their people from the exploitation of the evil capitalists!

newson October 20, 2010 at 8:37 pm

well, stalin killed anyone he didn’t like, and them some, so that helped his popularity (especially with foreign intellectuals and journalists).

hitler was popular because he was a nationalist, and played to wounded german pride, post ww1. he seemed to offer a bulwark against bolshevism, viewed darkly by many in germany after what happened in russia.

Juraj October 21, 2010 at 2:23 am

How ironic that Nazism is just another branch of socialism.

Tim October 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I’ll answer my own question. Stalin introduced the limita, or the mass migration of rural peasants into cities to fill up state built factories. For millions of people this amounted to a vast increase in the standard of living, as factory work was considerably less demanding that toil in the field. Coupled with a vast cult of personality, it endowed them with a sense of patriotism. They viewed Stalin as a father. In turn this was a demographic Stalin scarcely touched in his repressions.

I don’t know much about Hitler, but owing from one German general’s post war remark “under NS, the worker became much better off”, his popularity seems to arise along similar lines.

So I disagree that legalizing alcohol was a chief factor in Roosevelt’s popularity. For better or worse, Roosevelt did provide, or at least appeared to, a significant amount of what was demanded at the time. His massive public works projects, employment programs, and most successfully, the vast militarization of American industry directly impacted the livelihoods of millions. Unlike capitalism, the benefits of his social policies weren’t unseen, but direct, obvious, and visible, and all signs pointed to one man – Roosevelt. The masses don’t want liberty. They have no concept of what that is. They want immediate satisfaction of their imminent needs or concerns. Ideas do not rule the world, slogans do.

My point isn’t to defend NS or the Soviet system or even New Dealism, but to show that a state’s popularity arises, quite simply, from the public demand of a domestic or foreign policy it provides. It was no different from the Augusti, whose grip on power vacillated with their ability to provide free grain hand outs and staged circus slaughter to the rabble. Or after 9/11, when W had ridiculously high approval ratings, when the enraged American public demanded something, ANYTHING be done in response to the terrorist attacks.

A person like Ron Paul will never, nor should ever, become a popular political office holder. The man who takes away the bottle from the drunk will not be loved by the drunk.

RTB October 20, 2010 at 9:39 pm

The article is a nice thought, and it’s always a smart political move to do something everyone will like as early as possible in your presidency, but the deep and lasting admiration for FDR is rooted in envy. He played to it like no one’s business. He was The Master. It’s always envy. “He’s got more than me”. The grass is always greener and it’s “not my fault”. Politics is all about this base human trait and I wonder how we can overcome it.

jmorris84 October 23, 2010 at 3:10 am

This blog and the article it references is very confusing. On one hand, we are talking about how popular FDR was and on the other, we are saying things like “Many Americans strongly opposed the New Deal programs.” So which is it, was FDR popular or not?

During The Great Depression, investment was down, which means peoples votes were in that they didn’t have faith in what the government was doing to put their money back into the markets and speculate. In other words, FDR and his policies were not popular. There were also polls that showed people believed the man was very close to becoming another dictator of that time. Now, I’m not saying that many people weren’t happy that he repealed Prohibition but to say that he was a popular guy during his time is debatable.

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