I've been reading The Untold History of the United States
, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. Although this work has been disparaged -- by the liberal
bloggers! -- as a collection of wacky conspiracy theories, it is anything but. (I suspect that the critics who say such things have read only the byline, not the text itself.) Although I haven't completed the book, the material in the early chapters is verifiable and backed by the citation of reputable sources. Much of it is probably familiar to Cannonfire readers.
That said, we should confess that Cannonfire readers probably know about a lot about matters which remain hidden from the general population. For example, Stone and Kuznick pay much attention to America's ghastly war in the Philippines -- an adventure which prompted Mark Twain to suggest changing our flag to red, white and black, with skulls replacing the stars. To the best of my recollection, that hideous war received no
mention in my high school American history text -- and I took an AP course! I doubt that this war receives much coverage in the books approved by Glenn Beck and the Fox News crowd. (As you may know, the rightists have been concocting their own appalling answers to Howard Zinn.)
Stone and Kuznick do make some errors of judgment; for example, Theodore Roosevelt deserves better treatment than he receives in these pages. TR was a complex figure, now admired by liberals -- who applaud his willingness to take on the "malefactors of great wealth" -- and by neo-cons like Karl Rove, who don't understand that TR's dreams of empire were mostly just verbal bluster, not an actual program.
Many readers may be surprised by what Stone and Kuznick have to say about that other Roosevelt, FDR:
Magazines began calling bankers “banksters.” The Nation observed, “If you steal $25, you’re a thief. If you steal $250,000, you’re an embezzler. If you steal $2,500,000, you’re a financier.”... In this climate, Roosevelt had pretty much a free hand to do what he wanted. Brain Truster Raymond Moley noted, “If ever there was a moment when things hung in the balance, it was on March 5, 1933—when unorthodoxy would have drained the last remaining strength of this capitalist system.” Senator Bronson Cutting concluded that Roosevelt could have nationalized the banks “without a word of protest.” Rexford Guy Tugwell, director of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and other advisors urged Roosevelt to do just that.
A run on a bank, February 1933. Between 1930 and 1932, one-fifth of U.S. banks failed. By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated, banking had been halted completely or sharply limited everywhere.
But Roosevelt chose a much more conservative course of action. He declared a four-day national bank holiday, conferred with the nation’s top bankers on his first full day in office, called a special session of Congress to pass emergency legislation, and calmed citizens’ fears with the first of his famous fireside chats. Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the Emergency Banking Act, written largely by the bankers themselves. The banking system had been restored without radical change. Congressman William Lemke remarked, “The President drove the money-changers out of the Capitol on March 4th—and they were all back on the 9th.”... Roosevelt’s solution to the banking crisis would serve as a template for how he would handle most issues. His instincts were fundamentally conservative. He would save capitalism from the capitalists. As Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet officer in the nation’s history, explained, Roosevelt “took the status quo in our economic system as much for granted as his family . . . he was content with it.”... But the means he would use to save capitalism would be bold, visionary, and humane. They would transform American life for decades. Perhaps longer.
Though clearly not a radical, Roosevelt laid out an ambitious recovery program during his first hundred days in office.
This chapter gives us some idea as to why FDR succeeded while Obama (so far) has largely failed. In part -- but only
in part -- Obama has had to take a more conservative course of action because he operates against a very different political background. The financial power structure had stronger muscles in 2008 than in 1933, and the American electorate remained quite conservative as it entered the 21st century. Thirty years of neo-liberal propaganda will inevitably have an impact on which thoughts are considered permissible and which proposed solutions may be open for discussion.
The important point to take away the Stone/Kuznick account is that FDR was not a radical, not a socialist who hated capitalism. At the time, many considered Roosevelt the man who would save capitalism from itself. Quite a few people (including his own Vice President) thought that he should have gone much further.
We need to say a word or two about the Glenn Beckians who insanely try to conflate the New Deal with Hitler's fascism. These people never research the actual history of the time, and never look into what the actual followers of Hitler thought about Franklin Roosevelt.
Directly after his election, some fascists (both European and domestic) felt cautiously optimistic about FDR. But within months, they turned on him, mounting a very powerful subversive movement which prefigured the Tea Party:
Hitler, too, had more than his share of U.S. defenders. Among the more notorious was Republican Congressman Louis T. McFadden of Pennsylvania. He took to the floor of the House in May 1933 to decry the international Jewish conspiracy, reading passages from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic screed purporting to prove a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, into the Congressional Record and announcing that the president’s abandonment of the gold standard “had given the gold and lawful money of the country to the international money Jews of whom Franklin D. Roosevelt is the familiar.” “This country has fallen into the hands of the international money changers,” he charged. “Is it not true,” McFadden asked, “that in the United States today the Gentiles have the slips of paper while the Jews have the gold and the lawful money? And is not this repudiation bill a bill specifically designed and written by the Jewish international money changers in order to perpetuate their power?”
Not only did the New Deal reject fascist solutions, it resisted attempts to impose any unified, coherent philosophy. It was more of a hodgepodge of agencies. Raymond Moley wrote that viewing the New Deal as the product of a consistent plan “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” Roosevelt was more pragmatic than ideological. And he was willing to allow government to play a vastly bigger role than any of his predecessors could have imagined.
Eventually, these same fascist forces within the United States tried to mount a coup against Roosevelt. The military leader they chose for that program was General Douglas McArthur -- a man later revered by the Birchers, and, later still, the Tea Partiers.
Don't decry Stone and Kusnick's work until you can prove to me that the history books being taught in today's schools give a more accurate account of that era.