GWB = FDR?
Stephen said today’s David Broder column was a must-read. Building on a Jonathan Rauch piece in National Journal, Broder notes the surprising radicalness of Bush’s policy agenda and says it’s comparable to the boldness of FDR’s:
Instead, FDR created the modern welfare state and forged the New Deal political coalition that largely dominated American politics from 1932 to 1968. Bush, Rauch argues, is pressing forward major structural changes in both foreign and domestic policy, revising the doctrine and reputation of conservatism and aiming for long-term political dominance by the GOP.
Roosevelt made his changes under the spur of the Great Depression and World War II. Bush has the impetus of 9/11 to thank for the doctrine of preemptive wars, used to justify the attack on Iraq, and for the creation of the Homeland Security Department, one of the biggest restructurings of government since the New Deal. But many of Bush’s other innovations, such as his sweeping tax changes, his education initiative and the pending expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs, are rooted in nothing other than his own sense of what the times require.
The real similarity, Rauch says, is the daring Bush and FDR both displayed — and the size of the policy and political gambles both were willing to take.
I have commented previously on the surprise in seeing how Bush, who campaigned as a nice guy who would calm the roiled waters of Washington but not upset the status quo, has defied the basic assumptions about everything from the role of the federal government in education (making it much more intrusive) to the conduct of foreign policy (making it much less deferential to the views of other nations). The comparison Rauch makes to FDR does not strike me as being overblown.
Like Stephen, I like the new direction in foreign policy but am much less sure of the domestic agenda. The huge spending and continued erosion of the power of the States is not something one expects to see from a conservative Republican president. It is, however, almost certainly what the vast majority of Americans want.
While it’s often overlooked, FDR was an incredibly polarizing figure in his day. He did lead a Democratic realignment, however. The party dominated Congress from 1933-1995 and held the White House for all but eight years from 1933-1969–and it took Dwight Eisenhower, a hero in FDR’s war who could easily have run as a Democrat to interrupt that string. If the economy continues to heat up, it’s not inconceivable that Bush could effect a similar realignment.