Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Democrats & the Economy: History Lesson #2

LBJ: The Great Society?

LBJ: The Great Society?

FDR changed the way Americans thought about the role of government by using government as the supplier of needs in a time of crisis. Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s, took that concept a step further; one might refer to his “Great Society” program as the New Deal on steroids.

The philosophy of the Great Society was a shift from helping in a time of need to helping all the time. Whereas the New Deal was conceived as a temporary measure that would get us back where we needed to be economically, the Great Society, at least as it played out in reality, started with the assumption that a system of permanent transfers of income was necessary to achieve “fairness.” The government now became responsible on a permanent basis for everyone’s well-being.

Perhaps the greatest shift in thinking was the idea that poverty was a part of the economic system known as the free market. People were not poor as a result of their own bad decisions or bad character, but simply because the system was against them. They were not to blame; the system was.

Consequently, the government’s role was to make up for the inequities in the system. To help the “disadvantaged” (who were in that state primarily because of discrimination), LBJ, like his mentor FDR, initiated another round of government agencies and set a course for government involvement in the economy and in people’s lives that has been almost impossible to reverse.

It didn’t take long, once these new programs were enacted, to build into them automatic increases in funding every year. The result: deficit spending that has spiraled up ever since. LBJ’s “War on Poverty” was supposed to eradicate all poverty in America. As many have said, it’s time to run up the white flag of surrender in this war. How many more trillions of dollars do we have to spend before we come to the realization that the poor will always be with us. Now who said that, I wonder?

The Great Society led us into the 1970s, where we witnessed the worst economy we have experienced since the Great Depression.

The excellent British historian Paul Johnson, surveying American history in the 1960s and 1970s, declared this to be the time when America attempted suicide. I believe it is only by the grace of God that the attempt failed.

Trust the Democrats in a bad economic time? Why?

Lesson #3 tomorrow.

Democrats & the Economy: History Lesson #1

FDR: Architect of the New Deal

In the midst of the current economic jitters, I have heard more than one commentator assert that when economic times are rough, voters tend to gravitate toward the Democrats.

Why on earth would that be?

I want to provide a little history lesson on how Democrats have handled the economy over the past 70-plus years. Let’s start with Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Great Depression hit America in 1929. Voters turned out the Republicans and looked to FDR to reverse the economic downturn. He initiated his program, which was called “The New Deal.” He became the most activist president in history up to that point, and more legislation passed Congress in a short period of time than ever before. A slew of new agencies (dubbed “Alphabet Agencies”) erupted on the national scene, all created for one ostensible purpose: bring the country out of the Great Depression.

Eight years later, no visible improvement had occurred. In fact, in 1937, when things had started to rise slightly, we suffered another recession in the middle of the Depression. I think most honest historians today have to admit that FDR’s New Deal was actually more of a stimulus for extending the depression than solving it. What got us out of it? Only all the production that was needed for WWII.

Now, people who lived through the 1930s “feel” like FDR brought us out of the Depression. He was a good communicator (his Fireside Chats on the radio) and all the activity made everyone feel like the government was busily reversing the bad situation. But, in fact, it was doing nothing of the kind.

Feelings can lead us astray. I submit that if the commentators are correct, feelings once again are poised to undermine genuine recovery.

Lesson #2 coming up soon.

Celebrate the Constitution

This past week marked the 221st anniversary of the writing of the Constitution.

From May to September 1787, delegates from all states except Rhode Island labored over the intricacies of what makes government work. They did this in a room with the windows closed even on the hottest days to ensure that their deliberations did not leak to the public. They took a vow of silence, so to speak, in order that they might be able to discuss freely without fear of recriminations from the media of their day.

James Madison, who is often called the Father of the Constitution, took notes on what everyone said all those months. He would write in shorthand during the meetings, then turn his notes into a full account in the evenings. His transcription of the convention’s debates were finally published after the deaths of all the persons who were involved.

Some people today would probably decry this type of secrecy, but it was a wise move. The delegates were uninhibited in their discussions and were able to reach consensus on the form of government without the distracting swirl of constant criticism. Although the debates in the convention were secret, the ratification of the document was not. State conventions debated freely the contents of the proposed Constitution; the final vote in each state was the result of a frank, open discussion of the document’s merits.

The form of government set up at that convention has been the envy of many in the world. It has been copied by some, but not always with good results. The key to its workability always rests on the character of the people of a nation. Supposedly, a woman came up to Benjamin Franklin at the conclusion of the convention and inquired, “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” His response? “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

That statement is just as true today.

Lest We Forget . . .

New Article Available: Reagan and FDR

This summer, I wrote another chapter in my ongoing quest to finish a book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan. Out of the chapter I wrote during the summer, I excerpted a portion and turned it into an article regarding the admiration Reagan had for Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership style, even though Reagan ultimately changed his views about FDR’s policies.

That article is now published and available for your perusal in the online journal First Principles. The title is “Ronald Reagan on Franklin Roosevelt: The Significance of Style.”

I welcome your comments on the new article (as well as either of the other two). You can make comments at the First Principles site or here–perhaps put them at both sites.

I hope you find it an interesting read. I am certainly enjoying the research and the writing.

How Not to Become a Historian

My road to becoming a historian was a strange one. I think I always liked history; it was the history classes I didn’t like. Frankly, my early education was rather drab when it came to history. I have no memory of ever being inspired by what I was taught. I barely have a memory that I was taught at all.

American history, in high school, was a dull affair. The teacher, who was also the basketball coach (this was in Indiana, where basketball is king), simply stood in front of the class and read the text to us, making comments occasionally. I am convinced he was hired to be the basketball coach first, then asked if he could read a history book to some bored students. As he read, I sat in the back of the classroom with another book propped inside the history text, so I could get in some good reading. As a result of that experience, I never took another high school history class.

In college, I barely recall taking American history. It was unmemorable. Yet when I took ancient history, I had a professor who made things far more interesting. Perhaps it was because it dealt more with the time period of the Bible that my interest was more easily piqued. The professor himself was an apostate from the faith; his dad was a Biblical archeologist, but he had rejected the Bible as God’s truth. He was a chain smoker and rather rotund, not the picture of health. But at least he was interesting.

Then I had another professor, a committed Christian with a wonderful spirit, who taught a course on Tudor England. At least once, maybe twice, he had the students over to his home for the class. He was an exceptional teacher–he was denied tenure. Sometimes, those two go together.

I decided to minor in history, while continuing with my major of radio, tv, and film production. Even though I liked history, I couldn’t conceive of ever teaching it. That was the last thing I wanted to do. But when I later became headmaster of a Christian school, the teaching of history fell to me. Simultaneously, I was being instructed how we can view all of history from God’s perspective. That shed a whole new light on things.

I returned to school and got my master’s and doctorate in history. I was in rebellion against God at that time (that’s another story), but He was faithful. When I returned to Him, He opened doors. I have now taught history for twenty years in colleges, with seven of those years at the master’s level.

 As I look back through my personal stumblings, I can now see the hand of God overcoming all my lack of wisdom. I now teach history with a profound sense that it is His will, and that I need to take this calling seriously. History is one way of illuminating the principles the Lord wants us to learn.

Clio, the Muse of History, in National Statuary Hall, the Capitol

Clio, the Muse of History, in National Statuary Hall, the Capitol

Reagan & Conservatism

I am busily developing a new course for SEU called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.” I hope to teach it next spring. It will be an ambitious project because there is so much to include. Originally, I had decided to do a course on Reagan only, but the more I thought about it, I realized I cannot treat him separately from the development of the conservative movement. Therefore, one of the books in the course will be George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. It will be a challenging book for some of the students, but well worth it if they persevere. I will also use Reagan’s personal memoir, An American Life. Students will then choose two more books from a list of possibilities I will give them and write critiques of both. Overall, they should come away from this course with a well-rounded view of how conservatives, and Reagan in particular, have affected policy and culture.

Reagan Addressing the American People on the Economy

Reagan Addressing the American People on the Economy