Criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Both during and after his terms, and continuing today, there has been much criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Critics have questioned not only his policies and positions, but also the general consolidation of power that occurred due to his responses to the crises of the Depression and World War II. Also controversial was the unprecedented length of his tenure as President.

By the middle of his second term, much criticism of Roosevelt centered on fears that he was heading toward a dictatorship, by attempting to seize control of the Supreme Court in the Court-packing incident of 1937, attempting to eliminate dissent within the Democratic party in the South during the 1938 elections, and by breaking the tradition established by George Washington of not seeking a third term when he again ran for re-election in 1940. As two historians explain, "In 1940, with the two-term issue as a weapon, anti-New Dealers... argued that the time had come to disarm the "dictator" and to dismantle the machinery."[1] These criticisms largely ended after the Attack on Pearl Harbor.


Criticism of the New Deal and of tax policy

Roosevelt was strongly criticized for his economic policies, especially the shift in tone from individualism to collectivism with the dramatic expansion of the welfare state and regulation of the economy. Those criticisms remained strong decades after his death. One factor in the revisiting of these issues in later decades was the rise to prominence of Ronald Reagan by 1980.[2] When, in 1981, Reagan was quoted in The New York Times saying that fascism was admired by many New Dealers (not including Roosevelt), he came under heavy criticism, for Reagan had greatly admired Roosevelt and was a leading New Dealer in Hollywood.[3] Today, Roosevelt is criticized by conservatives and libertarians for his extensive economic interventionism. These critics often accuse his policies of prolonging what they believe would otherwise have been a much shorter recession. Their argument is that government planning of the economy was both unnecessary and counterproductive, and that laissez-faire policies would have ended the suffering much sooner. Austrian school economist Thomas DiLorenzo, says "FDR’s New Deal made the Great Depression longer and deeper. It is a myth that Franklin D. Roosevelt 'got us out of the Depression' and 'saved capitalism from itself,' as generations of Americans have been taught by the state’s education establishment."[4]

More recently, popular historian Jim Powell, in his 2003 book FDR's Folly, pointed out that the median joblessness rate throughout the New Deal was 17.2 percent and never went below 14 percent. (Powell does not count government workers on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as employed.) Powell states the Depression was worsened and prolonged "by doubling taxes, making it more expensive for employers to hire people, making it harder for entrepreneurs to raise capital, demonizing employers, destroying food... breaking up the strongest banks, forcing up the cost of living, channeling welfare away from the poorest people and enacting labor laws that hit poor African Americans especially hard."[5] Liberal historians reject Powell's charges and note that it was Hoover who raised taxes, not FDR, and that the New Deal did more for blacks than any administration before or since.[6]

A 2004 econometric study by Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian concluded that the "New Deal labor and industrial policies did not lift the economy out of the Depression as President Roosevelt and his economic planners had hoped," but that the "New Deal policies are an important contributing factor to the persistence of the Great Depression." They believe that the "abandonment of these policies coincided with the strong economic recovery of the 1940s."[7] They do not credit FDR for the remarkable prosperity of the 1940s.

New Deal defenders argue that the failure of industry to create new jobs in the 1930s was caused primarily by the lack of new technologies and new industries; apart from radio, there were few growth industries that emerged in the 1930s that compared to the 1920s, when automobiles and electricity created the demand for new products that in turn created many new jobs. By contrast in the 1930s companies did not hire more workers because they could not sell the increased output that would result.[8]

Criticism of Roosevelt as a "Warmonger"

As World War II began, Roosevelt was among those concerned at the growing strength of the Axis Powers, and he found ways to help Great Britain, the Chinese Nationalists, and later the Soviet Union in their struggle against them. His program of Lend-Lease supplied military equipment to those powers despite the U.S. government's official neutrality. This prompted several isolationist leaders, including air hero Charles Lindbergh, to criticize him as a warmonger who was trying to push America into war with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. This criticism was largely silenced in the public arena after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but some persisted in the belief that Roosevelt knew of the attack beforehand.

Criticism of post-war plans

Roosevelt has been criticized both for his doctrine of unconditional surrender, and for his plan for the "pastoralization" of post-war Germany, a plan that he used the $6 billion Lend Lease agreement to buy UK support for.[9] Both these policies have been accused of prolonging the war and causing unnecessary deaths,[10][11][12] the latter also after the end of the war. In a report on the German situation after two years of occupation former President Herbert Hoover would in 1947 remark:

There is the illusion that the New Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a 'pastoral state'. It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it.


Criticism of Roosevelt as a "Fascist"

After 1945 the term "Fascist" conjured up images of Nazi death camps, but in the 1930s it had a very different connotation, meaning the centralization of political power as in Benito Mussolini's Italy and of a "third way" between communism and capitalism. While most American businessmen thought Roosevelt was hostile to them, some critics said he was too friendly.

Former President Herbert Hoover, who developed the fascist theme, said that the National Industry Recovery Act was too closely linked to the "fascism" that big business industrialists wanted to impose:

Among the early Roosevelt fascist measures was the National Industry Recovery Act (NRA) of June 16, 1933 .... [these ideas] were first suggested by Gerard Swope (of the General Electric company)... They were adopted by the United States Chamber of Commerce. During the campaign of 1932, Henry I. Harriman, president of that body, urged that I agree to support these proposals, informing me that Mr. Roosevelt had agreed to do so. I tried to show him that this stuff was sheer fascism; that it was a remaking of Mussolini's "corporate state" and refused to agree to any of it. He informed me that in view of my attitude, the business world would support Roosevelt with money and influence. That for the most part proved true.
—Hoover Memoirs 3:420 [Whatever Hariman told Hoover, Roosevelt had not signed off on Swope's plan]

A different line of attack came from Michael S. Sweeney, who accused Roosevelt of misusing the Office of Censorship during the war. Sweeney says Roosevelt used it to censor media coverage of his travels in order to conceal his deteriorating health and to hide visits with his former mistress, Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd.[14]

Accusations of racism

Executive Order 9066, which sent 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps, has been charged by critics as being racist, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and ineffective in stopping spies of the Empire of Japan.

After the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the white American athletes were invited to meet Roosevelt. No such invitation was made to the black athletes including even Jesse Owens, who had won four gold medals. A widely believed myth about the 1936 games was that Hitler had snubbed Owens, something which never happened. Jesse Owens later said “Hitler didn't snub me—it was [FDR] who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram.” - quoted in Triumph, a book about the 1936 Olympics by Jeremy Schaap


  1. ^ Herbert S. Parmet and Marie B. Hecht. Never Again: A President Runs for a Third Term (1968) page x.
  2. ^ Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffery O. Nelson, eds. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006) 619-21, 645-6.
  3. ^ "Reagan says many New Dealers wanted fascism." New York Times. December 22, 1981.
  4. ^ DiLorenzo, Thomas. The New Deal Debunked, The Free Market, Volume 24, Number 11, November 2004
  5. ^ Powell, Jim. FDR's Folly: How Franklin Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, Random House, 2004.
  6. ^ Harvard Sitkoff, ed. Fifty Years Later: The New Deal Evaluated (1985) defends the New Deal
  7. ^ Cole, Harold L and Ohanian, Lee E. New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis, 2004.
  8. ^ Rick Szostak, Technological Innovation and the Great Depression (1995)
  9. ^ John L. Chase "The Development of the Morgenthau Plan Through the Quebec Conference" The Journal of Politics, Vol. 16, No. 2 (May, 1954), pp. 324-359
  10. ^
  11. ^,9171,933072-1,00.html
  12. ^,9171,803331,00.html
  13. ^
  14. ^ Sweeney, Michael S. Secrets of Victory: The Office of Censorship and the American Press and Radio in World War II. University of North Carolina Press. 2001. Pp. 274

External links

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