2010 vs. 1938

by Burt on October 27, 2010

President Obama has followed FDR’s political strategy rather closely during the last two years: campaign as a moderate and, when elected, storm the economy with massive government intervention. FDR did virtual takeovers of business (through his NRA), farming (through the AAA), and welfare (through the FERA and later the WPA). Obama did bank bailouts (as did Bush), a restructuring at General Motors, and what appears to be a near takeover of health care. Both presidents also did “stimulus” spending for targeted voting groups.

The problem, of course, is that government spending can’t make an economy recover. It can only redistribute wealth and centralize power in Washington. Thus, FDR had double-digit plus unemployment throughout the 1930s, and Obama has had near double digit unemployment during the last two years. Then both presidents had to figure out how to sell their economic failure to the electorate. FDR was able to plow enough federal funds into key congressional districts to keep his party afloat for six years. Expectations are higher nowadays, however, and Obama is looking at political disaster in 2010 in the same way that FDR had to face his failures in 1938. FDR and Obama both campaigned directly and negatively in those elections. They blamed Republicans and big business for the nation’s economic woes. FDR went one step further and even attacked members of his own party who didn’t support his efforts to pack the Supreme Court.

The results of FDR’s 1938 midterm election and Obama’s 2010 campaign appear to be similar. Roosvelt lost 81 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. Obama seems headed for a loss of 60+ seats in the House and seven or eight in the Senate.

In the aftermath of 1938, FDR licked his wounds and went on to win a third term in 1940s. He stopped pushing his New Deal spending and took advantage of the beginning of World War II in Europe. Today, we certainly hope a world war is not on the horizon. If not, Obama will have to campaign for re-election on his record, and the uncertainty and confusion from his economic policies tells us he faces a harder challenge than FDR did.

If Republicans will return to first principles, cut tax rates, and support constitutional government, they have the potential to become the majority party again. What has worked before will work again

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