Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Thought on FDR's Polio

Still plugging away at Ken Burns's The Roosevelts.  Doris Kearns Goodwin pushed the idea
that polio made FDR more sympathetic to the troubles and concerns of other people, and hence more liberal. By extension, this line suggests that FDR's polio made the New Deal. She is not the first person to suggest this, of course, but I have always been a little suspicious of this assertion. Obviously, such a monumental event in an individual's life will affect their outlook. There is no doubt that FDR was a changed man, and that he shed some of the haughty arrogance that many detected in the younger FDR. It was humbling for athletic FDR to rely on others to help him in the toilet, to get dressed, and to move. He dragged himself across his bedroom floor. Yet, parts of his outlook did not change. He remained ebullient and optimistic, and hid his fears and negative feelings very deep.

On a political level, polio might have made him feel greater genuine empathy and sympathy for the problems of common people. However, he was very much a progressive before polio deprived him the use of his legs. As a politician, he craved popularity and the New Deal was nothing if not very popular with voters, as is clearly evident in his four elections. If anything moved FDR left it was public opinion and the desire to win votes. Social Security is a great case in point. FDR wanted to draw the support Dr. Townsend was building around his proposal. The Social Security Act that FDR signed was different in many ways from what we now know as Social Security. It covered far fewer people and was setup as a self funding program (demonstrating a fiscal conservatives that lurked in FDR). It is hard for me to see how the New Deal would have been very different, or that FDR would have not adopted old age insurance, if had not been afflicted by polio.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gilded Age Tariff Snafu

Here is an interesting story of  Gilded Age tariff comma snafu that cost the United States government $2 million, the equivalent to $38 million today. I wonder what that could have paid for?