'That Man in the White House' All Over Again
T. Flynn, The
50th anniversary edition, with a new introduction by Ralph Raico
Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1998, 437pp., $14.95 (paper)
Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
T. Flynn had the distinction of being singled out by Franklin D.
Roosevelt as a writer who "should be barred hereafter from
the columns of any presentable daily paper, monthly magazine, or
national quarterly." Until the New Deal came along, however,
Flynn had never been known as a conservative. During the 1920s he
served as a financial analyst for the New York Globe, and
the following decade wrote a popular series of muckraking books
and articles and began a regular column with the New Republic.
was FDRís political program that got him thinking. The court-packing
scheme, the increasing concentration of power in the hands of the
president, and an economic regime bordering on fascism it was too
much for Flynn to take, and he would go on to become one of the
most dogged of the Presidentís opponents.
it was first published in 1948, The Roosevelt Myth hit number
two on the New York Times bestseller list. Now a fiftieth
anniversary edition, with a new (and excellent) introduction by
historian Ralph Raico, brings this scathing and relentless indictment
to a country whose leaders, of whatever political stripe, almost
to a man treat him with a reverence that more civilized men reserve
for things divine.
although possessing a reasonable grasp of market economics, never
fully managed to shed his progressive past. "Flynn was not
a strict libertarian," Raico notes in his introduction, "nor
was his thinking on economics notably sophisticated." But no
strictly economic analysis of the Roosevelt years can match the
color, verve, and compelling idiosyncracy of Flynnís pen or substitute
for his seemingly inexhaustible supply of anecdotal material about
Roosevelt and the men who surrounded him.
any case, it takes little specialized training to reach, as Flynn
did, the central point that for all his tinkering and legislative
innovation, FDR utterly failed to correct the Depression. Flynnís
admiration for Herbert Hoover may have been misplaced, but it was
based on his perception that Hoover, unlike FDR, saw business recovery,
and not puerile scapegoating of "economic royalists,"
as the key to lifting the nation out of its unprecedented slump.
Roosevelt himself said that he had never read a book on economics;
as Flynn put it, "it is entirely possible that no one knew
less about [it] than Roosevelt." Ignorance was indeed bliss
for FDR, who seems to have held that no so-called economic law was
any match for his iron will. (Thus H.L. Menckenís "Constitution
for the New Deal," which appeared in the June 1937 issue of
the American Mercury, gave the president the power to "repeal
or amend, in his discretion, any so-called natural law, including
Greshamís law, the law of diminishing returns, and the law of gravitation.")
needs to be recalled that at no time during the 1930s did the percentage
of Americans unemployed drop below double digits. From 1933-1940
it averaged a whopping 18 percent. FDRís best year was 1937, when
the rate dropped temporarily to 14.3 percent, but by the end of
the year the economy was nearly as bad as it had been when he entered
office. By the time of American entry into World War II, unemployment
was still at 18 percent the same rate that obtained during Roosevelt's
first year as President! If the war relieved unemployment and restored
"prosperity," it did so in ways that were hardly ideal:
production, while high, was diverted from consumer needs into war
materiel, and the twelve million men conscripted into military service,
while no longer showing up as "unemployed" in national
statistics, can hardly be said to have experienced an economic turn
for the better.
his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, FDR and his advisers believed for
whatever reason that in addition to falling wages, falling prices
were a principal cause of the Depression rather than a symptom of
it. The natural remedy, therefore, was to increase prices by any
means necessary. Hence the logic, such as it was, of the Agricultural
Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to destroy enormous quantities
of crops and livestock and to take countless thousands of acres
out of production entirely. Flynnís description of Henry Wallace
is a good example both of our authorís prose style and of his skill
as a chronicler and critic of the inanities of the FDR years: "Henry
Wallace, as mild-mannered a man and mystic as ever knelt on a prayer
rug or slit a pigís throat or burned a field of corn, became Secretary
of Agriculture and came up with a plan that was supposed to be more
effective and more orderly than cinch bugs, boll weevils or dusts
storms in providing our people with the scarcity that everybody
needed." While this program was under way, Flynn reports, the
Department of Agriculture released a study regarding the American
diet during these lean years. The Department constructed four sample
diets: liberal, moderate, minimum, and emergency (below subsistence).
Its figures were sobering: America was not producing enough food
to sustain its population at the minimum (subsistence) diet. "How
to better this may be a problem," Flynn observed, "but
the last course a government run by sane men would adopt to get
it solved would be to destroy a good part of what we do produce."
is equally withering on Rooseveltís conduct of foreign affairs.
As a diplomat the President was at best incompetent, and as commander-in-chief
he was an outright liar. That FDR at the very least deceived the
American public repeatedly on matters of grave national concern,
especially regarding his intentions for the United States in World
War II, can no longer seriously be denied; and indeed the best the
intelligentsia have been able to do is to echo the bland, patrician
assurances of William F. Buckley, Jr. that, after all, the President
was lying to us for our own good. To which argument Flynn replies:
"[I]f Roosevelt had the right to do this, to whom is the right
denied? At what point are we to cease to demand that our leaders
deal honestly and truthfully with us?"
there is the matter of FDRís almost criminal naiveté regarding
Josef Stalin. Roosevelt exerted his influence throughout the normal
channels of civil society, from the movies to the press, to promote
a wholly fictional and laughably propagandistic view of the great
Russian nationalist (it was only the uncouth, you understand, who
persisted in regarding Stalin a Communist). "[U]nder the influence
of the propaganda he had promoted," Flynn adds, "and reinforced
by his own eagerness to please Stalin, no one in the country was
more thoroughly deceived by it than Roosevelt himself." The
consequences were much more serious than the release of pro-Soviet
films that no sane person believed anyway. What it all added up
to, ultimately, was that the U.S. government "put into Stalinís
hands the means of seizing a great slab of the continent of Europe,
then stood aside while he took it and finally acquiesced in his
D. Roosevelt was, after Lincoln, the consummate Great President,
as well as a chief architect of the present regime, so it should
not be surprising that despite his thorough debunking at the hands
of Flynn, FDR should continue to elicit the adulation of the historical
profession and the ruling elite. As Raico puts it, "It seems
that there is no degrading inanity, no catastrophic blunder that
is not permitted a truly Ďgreat president.í"
E. Woods, Jr., a 1994 graduate of Harvard College, holds a Ph.D.
in history from Columbia University and is currently a professor
of history at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, New York.
review originally ran in Chronicles