I was raised by parents who were Democrats who venerated FDR, but the more I learn about FDR the more I don’t like many things he did. For years I’ve been reading the conservative point of view on the Great Depression and the New Deal, for example, which has been a mind-changing experience. But right now I’d like to talk about something related but with a different emphasis: FDR’s pre-inauguration strategy.
Years ago I came across an article (here’s the link I had for it, but the link now leads nowhere) about how FDR sabotaged any attempts by Hoover to help the situation prior to FDR’s coming to power:
Hoover, according to [Jonathan Alter, who is not a conservative], tried to involve Roosevelt in end-of-term actions, suggesting to the then-President-elect that they jointly appoint delegates to a World Economic Conference to be held in June 1933 (three months after FDR’s inauguration), a highly touted meeting which was arranged to tackle the global Depression. Roosevelt rejected the overture, fearing that his New Deal would be seen as just a continuation of the Hoover Administration if he worked with the departing President.
Alter wrote that on February 18, just two weeks before inauguration day, Hoover tried again to enlist Roosevelt into a joint effort — including a bank holiday — to stabilize markets, but again Roosevelt rebuffed the President.
In his book, Alter quotes James Warburg, a member of Roosevelt’s inner circle. The Roosevelt brain trust “wanted it to get as bad as it was going to get before he took office, so that he could come in on the turn rather than in the continuing downward spiral.”
For his part, years later, Hoover wrote the bank crisis that ensued “was the most political and unnecessary bank panic in all our history” and “it could have been cured by simple cooperation.”
That’s stunning, but in a way it’s not surprising. Politics.
[Hoover and FDR] met at the White House in late November and found little agreement. Later meetings produced little. At one point, Roosevelt declared, “It’s not my baby.” By Alter’s account, Roosevelt’s standoffish posture was calculated. “His political instincts told him that if he were enlisted by Hoover in November, he would not be able to break sharply from the past the following March,” Alter writes.
Also see this (from another dead link; that’ll teach me to delay so much in writing a post I’ve already researched):
One of the few anti-Depression steps that Hoover had taken, with Congressional approval, was the establishment of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation making the government the lender of last resort. Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, soon to be Vice President, pushed through a legislative requirement for the RFC to make public the names of banks that borrowed. Fearing that depositors would swiftly withdraw funds from institutions that identified themselves as in need of loans, banks simply stopped borrowing.
At the same time, Henry A. Wallace, newly designated as Secretary of Agriculture, suggested that going off the gold standard might be the best solution to the crisis. A run on the banks followed, with several states closing all their banks for periods up to twelve days. Unemployment continued to rise. Hoover was convinced, as he said in his memoirs, that Roosevelt wanted to let conditions worsen and then close the banks himself as a sign of taking charge.
[NOTE: For what it’s worth, John Nance Garner was the guy who is famously supposed to have said that “The vice-presidency isn’t worth a bucketful of warm spit.”
Or was it “warm piss“? Easier to obtain a bucketful of that.]