Friday, July 29, 2011

FDR, the New Deal, Racism, and Leadership

Interesting post from Matt Yglesias:
The conventional progressive view sees FDR has a model of strong leadership and the New Deal as a signature achievement. But it’s clear that these achievements were only possible thanks to massive concessions to the white supremacist elements of FDR’s political coalition. Was that the right thing to do or wasn’t it? Something interesting is that it was during the Roosevelt era that African-Americans in started voting Democratic in large numbers. So even though the Democratic civil rights agenda of the era was puny and the welfare state was deliberately exclusionary of black interests, it at least seems to be the case that all things considered, black voters deemed the New Deal agenda to be in their interests. Of course the ideal scenario would be to say that there would have been some way to enact all the famous programs of the era without concessions to white supremacists. But I don’t see any credible account of how that could have been done. So great leadership, or appalling sellout? Most likely both. Most likely, political leadership just demands a level of cognitive dissonance and self-justification that normal people can’t muster.
"Great" men often have the ability to overlook details that seem important to others in their pursuit of big goals. We revere our founding fathers for putting the country together, sometimes forgetting that this required the acceptance of race slavery. (Yes, there were important federalists who were already opposed to slavery in 1787.) It was Reagan who remarked, about a tax reform bill that his supporters disliked, that he thought getting 80 percent of what he wanted was a good deal.

Every successful general has to be willing to accept casualties among his men. At the extreme we have Mao and Stalin willing to see millions die to advance their agendas.

The kind of character needed to make these choices is not necessarily one we want our friends to have, but it seems to be essential for leaders in many situations.

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