The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money. – Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, but if the government misses one of my payments, I’ll raise hell! – Grandpa Simpson (from the TV show “The Simpsons”)
On Feb. 5, 2007, President George W. Bush submitted a budget for Congress to consider passing. It contained $2.9 trillion dollars in spending, not including $235 billion in additional military spending for the war in Iraq for 2007 and 2008. Regrettably, what you don’t hear from Democrats or Republicans is that the overwhelming majority of that spending is against the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, yet it exists and is growing exponentially in the face of a multi-trillion dollar U.S. deficit largely being financed by, of all nations, China. What if China calls in our several trillion dollars in U.S. debt they presently hold? Bye bye, USA.
The origins of what is ubiquitously referred to as “Big Government” dates back 75 years to the first of four terms of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45). FDR’s legacy essentially rests on replacing God with Big Government to fulfill human needs. The church, philosophy, Jewish, Christian and other religious organizations became secondary and increasingly irrelevant in the face of this unprecedented leviathan government expansion. FDR and his socialist bureaucrats would never again rely on the religion-based charity or the church to help the people in need. The State, proud and lifted up, had ascended Parnassus as the new god of the latest, dynamic, Progressive Era and would provide all needs for everyone. FDR’s legacy was his comprehensive and utter demoralization of America’s can-do spirit called the “New Deal.”
The Great Depression of October 1929 was a godsend for Roosevelt. America’s dire economic conditions, including 25 percent unemployment (up from 4 percent) and the collapse of manufacturing output by one-third, sent prices falling everywhere – making the burden of the repayment of debts almost impossible. Heavy industry, mining, lumbering and agriculture all felt its impact. These very grave economic circumstances gave FDR the perfect pretext for fundamentally changing America from a representative republic form of government to a socialist state. He wasted no time. Within the first 100 days of taking office, he and his advisers quickly formulated a series of leviathan programs, and between 1933 and 1937 – with the goal of relief, recovery and reform of the United States economy – the U.S. moved slowly out of its economic malaise of the Great Depression (at least that was the rhetoric from the propaganda press).
Scottish historian Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler long ago predicted a man like FDR seizing power:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.
The three Rs of FDR’s New Deal programs were direct relief, economic recovery and financial reform. Relief was the immediate effort to help the one-third of the population that was hardest hit by the depression. Reform was based on the supposition that the depression was caused by the inherent instability of the market and that government intrusion was necessary to justify, correct and stabilize the economy, and to balance the interests of farmers, business and labor. Recovery would be a series of program initiatives that in theory would pull the U.S. completely out of the Great Depression. The New Deal didn’t, World War II did.
By 1934, the Supreme Court began ruling against many of FDR’s New Deal programs as unconstitutional. In his second term, Roosevelt, flush from his 1936 landside presidential victory, was outraged and was convinced he had a mandate from the people to continue and expand his New Deal programs. This conflict between the Court and the Executive branches of government led to FDR’s court-packing bill in 1937. Although the bill failed, the Supreme Court, fearing FDR’s attempt to neutralize them, began declaring his New Deal laws constitutional.
By 1942, the Supreme Court had virtually stopped its conservative “judicial activism” of striking down congressional laws passed by New Dealers. Through an unconstitutional expansion of Article I, Section 8, the Supreme Court, in cases like Wickard v. Filburn, ruled that the Commerce Clause applied to virtually any regulation allowing the necessary expansion of federal power to make the New Deal “constitutional.” The fix was in, and in subsequent decades, as the federal government grew in power over the people, their constitutionally enumerated freedoms became a dead letter (i.e., Ninth and 10th Amendments, Commerce Clause protection, etc.).
Historian Clarence B. Carson captured the intoxicating optimism of the 1930s regarding government’s comprehensive and exalted role to solve all the problems that have plagued mankind since ancient times, saying:
At this remove in time from the early days of the New Deal, it is difficult to recapture, even in imagination, the heady enthusiasm among a goodly number of intellectuals for a government-planned economy … as General Hugh Johnson put it, from “the murderous doctrine of savage and wolfish individualism, looking to dog-eat-dog and devil take the hindmost.”
Mr. Carson’s rather dour assessment of free-market capitalism pre-FDR is exactly what made America the greatest nation in the history of humanity – each individual, limited only by his ability and imagination, had the freedom to pursue in Jefferson’s words – “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” by God’s power, not government’s encroachment on We the People’s inalienable rights.
What is FDR’s legacy to America? In a word, tyranny. C.S. Lewis put it thusly:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.
FDR taught America to forsake the three things that made her great – free-market capitalism, its Judeo-Christian traditions and rugged American individualism. How? By pitting church against state, sacred against secular, men against women, race against race, rich against poor, creed against creed, Jew against Gentile, liberals against conservatives, class against class, the haves against the have nots. What is the result of this state of affairs in modern times? – Thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s ass.
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Ellis Washington, a graduate of John Marshall Law School, is a freelance writer and lecturer at public schools, universities and law schools, specializing in constitutional law, jurisprudence, history of law, international law, critical race theory and feminist theory. He has published over a dozen law review articles and several books, including “The Devil is in the Details: Essays on Law, Race, Politics and Religion” (1999), “Beyond the Veil: Essays in the Dialectical Style of Socrates” (2000, 2004), and “The Inseparability of Law and Morality: The Constitution, Natural Law and the Rule of Law” (2002). He has just completed the manuscript to his next book, “The Nuremberg Trials: Last Tragedy of the Holocaust” (2007).