OPINIONThe Racism and Financial Irresponsibility of America's Favorite Dictator
In 1948 and again in 1962, a Harvard historian named Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. conducted a poll of 75 prominent historians to rank all of the Presidents of the United States. His son, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, conducted the poll again in 1996. In 1982, The Chicago Tribune conducted a poll of 49 historians on the same topic, as did the Siena Research Institute in 1982, 1990, 1994, 2002 and 2010 and the Wall Street Journal in 2000.
In every single one of these surveys, notable historians from 1948 to 2010 have consistently placed Franklin Delano Roosevelt no lower than third place, with many of them ranking him the best president of the United States. In a poll of the public in 2007, Rasmussen Reports found that 81% of Americans rated FDR “favorable.” As shown by the results of these polls, the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is widely loved by the people of the nation he ruled. After all, he pulled America out of the Great Depression right? Right?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s term was the longest in American history at 12 years and was likely to have gone on longer if it had not been for his fatal stroke in 1945. Acquiring the throne in a time of economic downturn made fixing the nation’s depression his most important task until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. At the time of his election, the nation had been in economic turmoil for just over three years. Unemployment was high, inflation was increasing, prices were rising, food was running out, and the people were starving.
At least they were, until the American hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the New Deal and stopped the economic turmoil, according to the myths taught by the American public education system. In reality, the New Deal did far more harm than good.
At a glance one might see that between 1934, the year after the start of New Deal programs, and 1939, the year the nation began industrializing for war, unemployment dropped from 21.7% to 17.2%. In the same time period, the GDP went from $0.906 trillion to $1.222 trillion. However, the New Deal was not free. The very same poor starving people who the New Deal was meant to help were the ones to bear the financial weight of an overbearing government.
Federal taxes were hiked up from $1.6 billion in 1933 to $5.3 billion in 1940 to pay for the massive government programs started by the New Deal. In the same time period, the National Debt nearly doubled from $23 billion to $43 billion. Inflation also increased by 11.3% just the first year into the New Deal and continued to rise until 1938. The statistics speak for themselves: The New Deal falsely inflated the national GDP and slightly lowered unemployment at the expense of $20 billion in national debt, skyrocketing inflation, and overwhelming taxes on the starving masses.
So if Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s government overreaching New Deal didn’t save America from economic disaster, then what did? Looking at unemployment rates, GDP, inflation rates, and national debt throughout history, two major events stick out: The entering of the U.S into World War 2 and Truman’s budget cuts. In 1940, the unemployment rate was 14.6% and the year after when the U.S declared war on Japan, unemployment dropped to 9.9%. At the peak of the war in 1944, unemployment was at only 1.2%.
The unemployment drop is attributed to the shift of the American industrial complex from building products for civilians to building tanks, trucks, ammunition, guns, ships, and airplanes for the war effort. In 1939, the U.S military consisted of just 334,473 servicemen. By 1945, the military had swelled to 12,209,238 servicemen. All of those servicemen needed ships to sail, tanks to drive, planes to fly, and guns and ammunition to shoot.
Therefore millions of people needed to be hired in factories to produce those war goods. These people working in the factories to build military machinery as well as the servicemen themselves attributed to the massive drop in unemployment. The GDP was similarly affected by the declaration of war. In 1940, the real GDP of the U.S was $1.33 trillion. By the time of Japan’s surrender and the end of the war in 1945, the GDP had nearly doubled to $2.329 trillion.
Just like the New Deal, World War Two's economic benefits came at the cost of more taxes and increased national debt. President Truman, seeing the humongous tax burden on the citizens, decided in 1946 to cut taxes. This tax cut temporarily increased inflation, increased unemployment, and decreased real GDP, however, it allowed the nation to move on from a time of heavy taxes and government jobs to a time of a booming private sector.
In 1946, the GDP was $2.058 trillion, the unemployment rate was 3.9%, and inflation was 18.1%. However, by 1951, the GDP was back to an all-time high of $2.474 trillion and the unemployment rate was 3.1%. By 1952, inflation was down to 0.8%. Most importantly, the tax cuts halted the rapidly growing national debt, and even lowered it briefly from $271 billion to $252 billion.
Roosevelt's irresponsible economic policies are not the only problem the 32nd President had. America’s favorite dictator also had many actions during his presidency that demonstrated severe racism. The most well-known account of his racism is the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This set the policy of interning Americans of Japanese descent solely due to their race due to fears of espionage for the Japanese Empire. Anyone who was more than 1/16th Japanese was forcibly relocated to internment camps, mostly in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, including 17,000 children, were relocated. The conditions in these camps were not ideal. Multiple families slept together in crowded barracks, which according to the War Relocation Authority 1943 report, had no plumbing or kitchens. 1,862 people died in the camps from medical issues, mostly tuberculosis. Others were shot and killed by guards for resisting. Only after three years did the concentration camps finally close down following the Supreme Court case, Endo v. the United States.
Next on the list of FDR’s list of racism is his refusal to support anti-lynching bills. Since the end of the American Civil War, white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White League had been rising in prominence, as was overall racism. This issue was the worst in the deep south in states such as Alabama and Louisiana. Lynch mobs were taking “justice” into their own hands and lynching people, mostly blacks, in huge numbers. Tuskegee Institute recorded 4,743 people lynched between 1882 and 1968. This statistic excludes the thousands of innocent lives lost to lynching between 1865 and 1882 because there were no formal records of those lynchings.
Perhaps equally shocking is the fact that the lynching of these innocent souls was not a federal crime, thanks to President Roosevelt’s refusal to support the bill that would have made lynching a federal crime in 1935. In an effort to save the lives of future lynching victims and bring justice to the lynchers, Senators Robert F. Wagner and Edward Costigan drafted the bill. With the support of the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt, the bill was brought forth to Franklin, to which he responded “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, [southern Democrats] will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take the risk.” In other, more honest words, the President chose to not support the bill and speak in favor of it because if he had, he would lose the Southern vote in the next presidential election.
The majority of the Southern Democrats at the time did not support the bill and would not have let him continue to pass the New Deal legislature or elect him for another term if he spoke in favor of it. And so the bill died in the Senate by filibuster and more people went on to be lynched without federal punishment.
President Roosevelt also showed his racism in the nomination of Hugo Black to the Supreme Court and his treatment of Olympic Gold Medalist Jesse Owens. After African American Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Roosevelt did not invite him to the White House along with the white Olympians. He did not even send him a telegraph of congratulations. This is in contrast to even Adolf Hitler, who is reported to have saluted and waved at Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens even said in a 1936 speech “Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy.” Along with his lack of congratulating Jesse Owens, Roosevelt also demonstrated his racism against African Americans in his nomination of Hugo Black for the Supreme Court.
Hugo Black was a member of the Ku Klux Klan from 1923 to 1925 and maintains good relations with the Klan long after he left the organization. Just like President Roosevelt, he opposed the Wagner-Costigan anti-lynching bill out of fear of offending the white Democrats of the South. Despite his racism, Roosevelt chose to nominate him to be a Supreme Court Justice out of gratitude for his support in the presidential elections.
The nomination of Hugo Black was just the start of Roosevelt’s control over the Supreme Court. In May 1935, the Supreme Court began to strike down Roosevelt’s overbearing programs and policies that were placed as part of the New Deal. Over the next thirteen months, they set a record for striking down policies. Roosevelt saw this and decided change was needed so as to offset the system of checks and balances between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches in his favor. If he could not pass the New Deal with the power of just the executive branch, he’d need to take over the judicial branch as well so nothing would be in his way. His proposed solution was the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, better known as the Court-Packing Plan.
Had the bill been passed, President Roosevelt would have been able to appoint an additional Supreme Court Justice for every Supreme Court Justice over 70 years 6 months old, to a maximum of 6. This would have let him flood the court with Justices that would do as he pleased and swelled the size of the Supreme Court to 15 members. This bill did not pass and so Roosevelt moved onto the next best option: keep the court the same size but fill it with his nominees. By 1943, eight of nine Supreme Court Justices were Roosevelt’s nominees. By packing the court with his supporters, he was able to pass unconstitutional bills without having them struck down.
Throughout Franklin Delano Roosevelt's nontraditional and now unconstitutionally long term, many of his actions point towards racism, economic mismanagement, and a power grab to dictatorship. So why is it that he polls so well among the public and historians? Whatever the reasons they may be, they ought to be overshadowed by his many problems. He should be remembered as a fiscally irresponsible racist tyrant, rather than the best president of all time.
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