Celebrating the anniversary of FDR’s Civil Works Administration

According to PBS, it was on this day in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Civil Works Administration, “a component of his New Deal that helped America pull through the Great Depression of the 1930s by creating millions of construction jobs for unemployed Americans.” If you have a drink in your hand, please join me in toasting a great American President, and a generation of leaders that were able to cross political lines to do what was in the best interests of the American people at a critical point in our nation’s history.

Of course, we now live in a much different time… one in which our leaders, it would seem, are more interested in amassing wealth and power, than in providing for the general welfare of the American people… Ironically – because of this desperate need to stay in power – it looks as though there may finally have been a little positive movement on President Obama’s jobs bill in Congress today. Here, with more on that, is a clip from the Christian Science Monitor.

…In a show of rare bipartisan agreement, the Senate voted on Monday to begin debate on the bill by huge margin, 94 to 1. More than 15 other House bills, mainly focusing on creating jobs by curbing government regulation, are languishing in the Senate, with little prospect of a floor vote.

But with congressional approval ratings now at record lows – in the single digits – neither party wants to head into 2012 elections with a record of near-zero legislative accomplishment, especially on a topic as critical to voters as jobs.

In a nod to Veterans Day this week, Senate Democrats are also proposing a package to help returning veterans find jobs in a tough market environment. The amendment, which draws on work by the veterans affairs committees in both the House and Senate, proposes tax credits for firms that hire veterans, and increases incentives for hiring disabled veterans.

In a another shift in tone, neither majority Republicans in the House or majority Democrats in the Senate insisted on “poison pill” features that derailed previous bids at a jobs bill, such as raising taxes on the rich (a nonstarter for Republicans) or rolling back environmental regulations (unacceptable to Democrats)…

Let’s hope something positive comes of it.

While we’re on the subject of FDR, I also wanted to pass along a link to Ezra Klein’s column in today’s Washington Post. In it, he contrasts the environment in which FDR operated with the one we see in Washington today. It’s fascinating stuff… Most interesting to me was the revelation that it was often Congress that was pushing FDR to be more progressive. Here, with more on that, is a clip from Klein’s article.

…Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932, three years into the Great Depression. The unemployment rate that year was 23.6 percent. Obama won the presidency in 2008, mere months into the financial crisis; unemployment was at 6.8 percent. Consequently, the two presidents faced political systems prepared to do very different things…

Still, the basic truths of the period remain: By the time Roosevelt took the presidency, the Great Depression had done so much damage that Congress was ready to do something, anything, to end it. At times, FDR harnessed that energy in service of his agenda. At other times, Congress forced him to go further than he had intended.

For better or worse, that is a very different dynamic than the one that has prevailed during Obama’s presidency. It is hard to come up with even one example of Congress forcing Obama to go further than he wished, and easy to come up with many in which they forced the president to trim his sails.

This is not a defense of Obama, nor an attack on FDR. It is simply the reality of the American presidency. Congress can write legislation and pass it over the president’s veto. The president cannot write legislation nor pass it without congressional assent. The president comes after the Congress in the Constitution and is indisputably less powerful. Yet we understand American politics primarily through the office of the president and attribute, say, things that happened between 1933 and 1945 to FDR, or from 1981 to 1988 to Ronald Reagan. But Congress is always there, and so is the economic context that’s driving the agenda. We’d do well to pay more attention to both.

So, with that in mind, let’s raise out glasses again, this time to those men serving in Congress in 1933, who not only didn’t fight Roosevelt at every turn, calling him a Socialist, but actually pushed him to be more aggressive in his tackling of American unemployment.

And, here, for those of you who have time, is what I’m watching tonight.

Watch The Presidents: FDR on PBS. See more from American Experience.

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4 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Inspired by the Harry Potter post, I think that we should start a grassroots organization called FDR’s Army (along the lines of Dumbledore’s Army) that fights behind the scenes for those principles articulated by FDR.

  2. Tatersalad
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Breaking News as we speak! Breaking News!

    Democrats walk away from the table today during the Super Committee Meeting and will attempt to blame the Republicans who are still sitting at the table. How typical of the liberal and Democrats! Pathetic!

  3. LT Green
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the Republicans will be motivated by their huge losses at the polls yesterday to do something meaningful on the economy. Almost every major initiative they were pushing was defeated.

  4. Meta
    Posted November 10, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    From the Progress Report:

    When You Fight, You Win: Progressive Pushback Carries the Day

    Yesterday, we previewed some of the hottest races and ballot questions. We’re pleased to report that progressives across the country triumphed against radical Republicans and their extremist agenda.

    Here’s the rundown.

    REPEALED: Ohio’s 99 Percent triumphed by overwhelmingly voting to repeal SB 5, the GOP’s anti-worker law. Ohio voters supported repeal by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. In fact, more people (2,145,042) voted to repeal Gov. John Kasich’s (R) anti-worker law than voted for Kasich in 2010 (1,889,186).

    ROUTED: The strongly pro-life voters of the Magnolia State rejected the extreme, anti-woman “personhood” amendment by a shockingly large 58 percent to 42 percent margin.

    RETAINED: Democrat Liz Mathis soundly defeated Republican Cindy Golding in the Iowa state Senate District 18 special election, allowing Democrats to retain their majority — and their power to block Republican anti-worker and anti-equality measures. Of the effort by anti-gay groups to inject marriage into the election, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote:

    “Marriage may not have mattered to most, but [Golding’s] call to put civil rights to a divisive majority vote likely turned off some district voters and motivated others to work for her defeat. For the National Organziation for Marriage and The Family Leader, it was a stinging rebuke.”

    REINSTATED: Mainers stood up and said no, by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin, to the GOP’s War on Voting and reinstated Maine’s nearly-40 year-old law allowing voters to register on Election Day.

    RECALLED: The radical, racist Arizona state Senate President Russell Pearce, who led the fight to pass the state’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 “papers please” law, was recalled from office. The moderate Republican who will replace Pearce, Jerry Lewis, has likened Arizona post-SB 1070 to “1964 Alabama.”

    RETAKEN: The Wake County Schools in North Carolina retook a majority on the school board, which has been under radical Republican control for two years after heavy spending in previous elections by Art Pope, a wealthy financier of right-wing causes and close ally of the Koch Brothers.

    ROMNEY: Mitt Romney might turn out to be one of the yesterday’s biggest losers, having lent “110 percent” support to Ohio’s now-defunct anti-worker law and having said he “absolutely” supports radical anti-woman amendments of the sort that went down in flames in Mississippi.

    IN ONE SENTENCE: Republicans across the country who embraced the most radical elements of both the Tea Party and social conservative wings of their party found themselves repudiated by voters eager for solutions that work for the 99 Percent too — be they workers, women, immigrants, or otherwise.

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