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The myths of FDR & LBJ lead the presidency of Biden

By J. Peder Zane for RealClearPolitics

Joe Biden is hailed as the second coming of FDR and LBJ.

Unfortunately this can be true.

Like his Democratic predecessors, Biden claims that comprehensive government action will transform America into a more just and prosperous nation. Indeed, the domestic programs put forward by these two liberal lions – the New Deal and the Great Society – have failed to deliver on their promises.

Her heroic memories are the triumph of myth over reality.

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Suppose the American economy has always been so big and influenced by so many factors that it is difficult to measure the impact of certain policies. Furthermore, the counterfactual story is speculative by definition: we don't know what would have happened if Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson had made very different decisions.

We can get closer to the answers, but the ground remains muddy enough that partisans can almost always argue that things would have been better or worse had certain guidelines been implemented or not.

The argument "Things weren't great, but without me they would have been worse" – a main defense of Barack Obama's rash policies – is often an implied admission of failure.

Still, we can measure the FDR, whose policies were aimed at ending the Great Depression, and the LBJ, which started a costly war on poverty, on their own terms. And in this light no one achieved his goals.

A growing number of scholars show that the New Deal Roosevelt, introduced in 1933, did not end the Great Depression. Yes, the economy grew during his first term in office – how much of that was due to his politics or the recovering business cycle is difficult to say.

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However, the first New Deal and the second, more aggressive FDR policies, launched in 1935 in response to the ongoing crisis and growing unrest, did not result in a lasting recovery.

The nation fell back into recession in 1937-38, and unemployment was higher (17.2%) in 1939 than in 1931 (15.9%). It took a terrible world war to finally turn the tide. In 1943 the unemployment rate was 1.9%.

Describing the Great Society in his 1964 State of the Union Speech, Johnson said its goal was "not only to alleviate the symptom of poverty, but to cure and, above all, prevent it". In the decades since then, we've spent trillions on Medicaid, grocery stamps, and public housing.

Yes, all that money – and other programs like positive action – made a difference. However, the gaps in health and wealth, crime rates, and education between wealthier Americans and the urban blacks and rural whites targeted by these programs have barely narrowed.

The United States is a far richer country than it was in the 1930s or 1960s. The standard of living of all citizens has increased significantly in the last century. However, it is difficult to argue that state welfare programs and regulations are the cause rather than the dynamics of our capitalist system.

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Note that the same people who deride the accomplishments of the Reagan Revolution trumpet the hard-to-identify economic gains of the New Deal and the Great Society. This misconception allows them to ignore the real lessons of history, demonizing Ronald Reagan, while pretending that the FDR and LBJ are leading the way that others, including President Biden, should follow.

Biden's multi-billion dollar social programs are far more radical than those of its democratic predecessors because he pushes for radical change at a time of relative prosperity and relative stability.

In place of the Great Depression Roosevelt had inherited, Biden was given a growing economy. Unlike Johnson, who took office at the height of the civil rights movement, Biden's America is not plagued by the systemic injustice of Jim Crow.

In the face of these crises, one can understand why the 32nd President and the 36th President needed urgent action. Biden has no such excuse. The current leader also has the benefit of looking back. He can see the flaws in the approach of his predecessors.

Madness is commonly defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is what we get when Biden picks up the coats of two men he considers icons.

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.

The post The Myths of FDR & LBJ Guide Biden's Presidency first appeared on The Political Insider.

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