The Legacy of the 1936 Election

Wonder why the candidates seem so confused? Amy Shlaes writes, “WHAT MAKES the current field of candidates so timid? It is clear listening to figures from both parties this year that they still believe Social Security is untouchable. This despite the fact that bringing Social Security into solvency is a relatively easy task. When it comes to the more serious fiscal burdens upon our grandchildren, the candidates are likewise timid. This despite the fact that those burdens only become heavier as we delay. We speak of 2008 as an election year, but it is also the year when the tide of Social Security cash begins to recede with the retirement of Baby Boomers. But where is the origin of the problem? Traditionally historians have focused on the slow rise of American progressivism over the past century and a half. I’m going to do something different, and undertake an almost artificial exercise. Here I will compress history and argue that this destructive hesitation comes out of a single political campaign, the presidential campaign of 1936. This campaign marked the virtual end of old-fashioned American federalism and the rise of a new kind of politics. It was 1936 more than any other campaign that created modern interest groups and taught us that Washington should subsidize them. Pinning blame on a single campaign (and its run up) may seem facile. Still, the story is well worth telling.” Click Imprimis.

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