The Nation's tribute to The New Deal


Progressive writers and pundits -- myself included -- have fallen into the habit of defining the suite of comprehensive health care, labor, and social insurance policies necessary to promote shared prosperity and social inclusion in America as the "Next New Deal." First and foremost, this rubric refers to the dire need to restore a collective commitment to public spending in the United States in order to foster economic and social conditions that support a functional democracy. But it also draws on the understanding that real progress demands political courage and "new" thinking -- a conscious, if not complete, rejection of political beliefs and practices that have historically exacerbated disparities in wellbeing and opportunity between the nation's haves and have-nots.

FDR's New Deal was not perfect -- even for its time, New Deal policies and programs did not do nearly enough to relieve racial inequalities in economic opportunity and access to basic services, and ultimately hindered the advancement of women by institutionalizing the male family wage. But it was no less visionary for its flaws, and to date The New Deal is the first, best example of how innovative public policy can rapidly improve the quality of life for a majority of Americans.

This week, The Nation magazine offers a tribute to the New Deal on its 75th anniversary (Toward a New New Deal, published online on March 20). The forum offers perspectives from a round-up of progressive luminaries, including Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Andy Stern, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. I was especially struck by the essay by Frances Moore Lappé, who writes:

"Given the New Deal's powerful grounding in freedom and the striking advances it ushered in for most Americans, why was the right able to reverse the New Deal in just one generation? Perhaps the answer is that the New Deal failed to instill an understanding of democracy as more than a particular structure of government, more than a set of laws protecting our freedoms. Enduring, effective democracy isn't something we have that's finished; it's what we do that's always unfolding. Democracy is a particular culture, a system of values--fairness, inclusion and mutual accountability--that empowered citizens learn to infuse in all dimensions of our common life…In other words, to save the democracy we thought we had, we must now take democracy to where it's never been."

That sounds about right. Did I ever mention that one of my great woman heroes is Frances Perkins? If you don't know who she was and what she accomplished, it might be a good Women's History Month project to look her up.

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This page contains a single entry by jstadtman published on March 21, 2008 5:30 PM.

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