We still don’t know exactly which former president Obama will most closely resemble. But now, after he has putcuts to Social Security on the table as part of debt negotiations with the GOP, we can finally and definitively nix Roosevelt, the liberal lion of the 20th century, from the list of parallels. Our 44th president is not a champion of liberal reform a la FDR, nor does he live in a political universe in which “bold and persistent experimentation,” as FDR promised in 1932, is even possible. Obama may turn out to be like any of his 43 predecessors — just not Roosevelt.
Not convinced? Begin with FDR’s record.
From his first day in office, Roosevelt was the father of reform. In his portrait of the period, Leuchtenburg, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina, defined FDR’s New Deal as a critical turning point in American history. It offered, as Leuchtenburg describes, “deficit spending, a gigantic federal works program, federal housing and slum clearance, the NRA, the TVA, sharply increased income taxes on the wealthy, massive and imaginative relief programs, [and] a national labor relations board with federal sanctions to enforce collective bargaining” — not to mention Social Security.
Until the pendulum swung back during the Reagan revolution and the George W. Bush presidency, FDR’s efforts transformed citizens’ convictions in and expectations of their government. As Leuchtenburg writes, Roosevelt’s tenure “marked a radical departure” from unchecked capitalism by providing every American with at least the minimum standard to live decently.
And then there’s our current president.
Since the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — which Obama and his advisers seem to have believed, incorrectly, would offer a self-perpetuating boost to the economy — Obama has experimented neither boldly nor persistently with programs on the scale of FDR’s initiatives.
Instead, he threw the stimulus money at the states to do with what they wanted. He has given in to prolonging the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and is now considering more belt-tightening that would weaken entitlements. And he’s watched as the number of government jobs has shrunk by the thousands. In the budget negotiations, the president has signaled that he would sign off on cuts to Social Security and Medicare.