25. Political Experimentation: The Four-Year Plans
OCTOBER 01, 1966 by CLARENCE B. CARSON
I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality….
Theodore Roosevelt, 1910
And the day is at hand when it shall be realized on this consecrated soil, — a New Freedom, — a
Woodrow Wilson, 1912
I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932
I hope for cooperation from farmers, from labor, and from business. Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our Government a fair deal.
Harry Truman, 1949
. . . So that, although the United States is an old country — at least its Government is old as governments now go today — nevertheless I thought we were moving into a new period, and the new frontier phrase expressed that hope.
John F. Kennedy, 1961
Building the Great Society will require a major effort on the part of every Federal agency in two directions: — First, formulating imaginative new ideas and programs; and — Second, carrying out hard-hitting, tough-minded reforms in existing programs.
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964
The fundamental shifts, changes, and direction of American government in the twentieth century have not been generally clearly outlined in historical accounts. The shift of the office of President from primary concern with execution of the laws to legislative innovation, the yielding up of legislative initiative by Congress, the subtle intellectual impetus to shift the American respect for the Constitution to adulation of the decisions (or at least acceptance of them) of the Supreme Court, the change of government from protector of rights to granter of privileges, have not been much emphasized by those charged with keeping the record straight. Superficial continuities have been allowed to obscure fundamental changes.
Of course, historians have noted the appearance of the Square Deal, New Nationalism, New Freedom, New Deal(s), Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society. These names have often been used as convenient pegs from which to hang the assorted information and developments associated with presidential administrations. But the phenomenon itself —and what it may signify that a line of Presidents should get up a program, name it, attempt to embody it in legislation, and have it associated with them — has not been much attended to. There is in these things a new form of presidential activity, something that had not occurred in the nineteenth century. As a form, its appearance symbolizes the taking over of leadership in the Federal government by Presidents; but much more than this is involved.
No one, to my knowledge, has pointed to the analogy between the Square Deal, New Freedom, New Deal (s), Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society on the one hand and the five-year plans of the
Different in All Details
There are many differences of detail between the Soviet five-year plans and the American four- (or eight-) year plans. The five-year plans are not coterminous with some electoral period. They are not identified with the whole administration of some Soviet premier. The leaders of the Soviet Union are openly committed to the achievement of socialism, those of the
The fundamental task of the Five-Year Plan was, in converting the U.S.S.R. into an industrial country, fully to eliminate the capitalist elements, to widen the front of Socialist forms of economy, and to create the economic base for the abolition of classes in the U.S.S.R., for the construction of Socialist society….
The fundamental task of the Five-Year Plan was to transfer small and scattered agriculture to the lines of large-scale collective farming, so as to ensure the economic base for Socialism in the rural districts and thus to eliminate the possibility of the restoration of capitalism in the U.S.S.R.1
By comparison with such boldness, the American four-year plans appear timid and pale. Moreover, the American four-year plans began before the Russian ones, though the point is of no importance as to any fundamental similarities. There are many other differences, but let them all be summed up by this observation: In detail, the Soviet plans differ in every respect from American ones.
The Same in Essence
But analogy deals with essences, not with differences of detail. There is an essential difference between the Soviet way to socialism and the American one. It has been alluded to above. The Russian Communists have pursued a direct revolutionary approach to socialism. American meliorists have pursued an indirect evolutionary approach to socialism. Communists have proceeded by destroying the old order as completely as they could and erecting a new one in its stead. Meliorists have attempted to operate within the framework of the old order, to keep as much of its superficies and forms as possible, and to turn the received instruments of power to the task of gradual social and economic reconstruction. The five-year plans are Soviet programs in the revolutionary road to socialism; the four-year plans are American programs in the gradualist route to socialism. They are both instruments of national planning by central authority; they employ a quite different assortment of paraphernalia; they differ as to methods; they have the same goal in view.
The four-year plans are really devices for using the Presidency for social reconstruction. The kind of planning which will move a country toward the goal of socialism must be centrally directed. Policy making, legislating, and execution must be coordinated. Congress can pass laws, but it cannot execute them. Moreover, left to their own devices the members of Congress are not apt to thrust the country in any consistent direction. Power is dispersed among the many members. They represent a great diversity of interests throughout the country. Legislation that originates in Congress is usually subjected to numerous compromises before it is enacted, compromises that turn it to ends not originally conceived or that vitiate its impact. The very division of Congress into two houses makes it virtually impossible for any leadership that arises in one of the houses to have any influence or control over the other. The Presidency is the only office established by the Constitution that could provide such central direction. The four-year plans are means for giving Presidents apparent electoral authorization for taking over in legislative innovation.
Presidents did not concoct such programs in the nineteenth century. They usually were satisfied to restrict their endeavors to the more modest activities of administering the laws. Presidents did sometimes emerge as strong leaders, but this leadership was either exercised in war and foreign affairs, where the President has great constitutional authority, or in the form of a restraining hand upon Congress. Excepting for Lincoln, the man who stood out as the most vigorous leader in the nineteenth century was Andrew Jackson. He summed up his policy in this way: “The Federal Constitution must be obeyed, state rights preserved, our national debt must be paid, direct taxes and loans avoided, and the Federal Union preserved. These are the objects I have in view, and regardless of all consequences, will carry them into effect.”2 Presidents did, of course, sometimes press for some innovation and some particular line of legislation in the nineteenth century, but none of them advanced any four-year plans.
The twentieth century was hardly under way, however, before a man came to power who would give shape and form to the new method. The four-year plan does not appear to have come by way of any advance calculation. Theodore Roosevelt forged its outlines during nearly eight years in the Presidency. But
The phrase, “square deal,” did not fall into a historical vacuum, nor was it uttered by a nonentity. The stage had been set by the development of ideas for the phrase to connote and evoke a particular vision. If the view had been accepted that Americans were generally getting a square deal, the phrase could hardly have meant anything more than that in a particular instance the President had sought to see that justice was done. Once it was done in this case, there would have been no occasion for the phrase to have any continued vitality. But it was uttered at a time when a great clamor was arising against conditions as they were, and the cry was for changes that would bring about social justice.
Time for a “Square Deal”
The Progressive Movement was underway. Back of it lay more than a quarter-century of writing and agitation by social theorists, reformers, utopians, and social re-constructers. These ideas and visions were moving from the periphery of American society, where they had been uttered by men and women outside the pale of respectability, toward the center where they would be taken up by more respectable and restrained spokesmen.
Muckrakers, novelists, social analysts, professed socialists, and others were presenting a most unpleasant picture of
Behind all this criticism of externals lay a call for fundamental social reconstruction. Social gospelers were preaching the coming of the Kingdom, progressive educationists working for the transformation of the school, and assorted intellectuals delineating the transmuted shape of things to come. Talk of a square deal in this intellectual setting evoked visions of a crusade to remake
A Man of Action
The phrase picked up meaning and gained currency, too, from the vitality and zeal of the man who uttered it. Theodore Roosevelt was a man of action. Before coming to the Presidency, he had engaged in a great variety of activities. By turn, he was state legislator, member of the Civil Service Commission, head of a police board, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, governor of
The President did not confine himself to political matters. He saw nothing incongruous in using his great prestige to urge the reform of English spelling, or to pillory the “nature fakers” who wrote stories humanizing animals. He delivered exhortations on the necessity for women in the upper classes to bear more children and for everyone to live strenuously according to his creed of “Muscular Christianity.”6
Along with being a man of action he was also a superb publicist. He had that quality known as charisma, an attractiveness and charm which helped him to surround his actions with an aura of rightness—even righteousness, for he was a moralist. The place of his administration in history needed a unique phrase to identify it. That it was the Square Deal may have been an accident, but the times and the man united in such a way as to make it virtually necessary.
. .. and a Reformer
Theodore Roosevelt was a reformer, a meliorist. He was the first man to occupy the Presidency who could be so identified. Some historians question how deeply he was committed to reform, or, at any rate, to social transformation. Perhaps he was only an opportunist, they say, and in this they are echoing the sentiments of some of his contemporaries. He has even been called a conservative.7 This latter claim stems, in part, from the fact that he steered a course between calling for reform and making complimentary remarks about businessmen.8 Whatever the motives may have been behind his straddling of the fence on occasion, they served the practical political object of making reform respectable by dissociating it from out-and-out radicalism.
At any rate, Theodore Roosevelt was a reformer. Of that, there should be no doubt. He had been a reformer, of sorts, as governor of
. . . His message to Congress in December, 1904, was significantly without most of the equivocations of the past. Over half the document was given over to proposals for new economic and social legislation.9
He called for the Federal government to pass an employer’s liability act for its employees and those of contractors employed by the government. There were requests for such things as requiring the use of safety devices on railroads, regulation of hours of labor of railroad workers, giving the Interstate Commerce Commission power to establish rail rates, establishing a Bureau of Corporations to license interstate business, the instituting of numerous reforms in the
By 1908, most of the ingredients of the four-year plan had been exemplified by
Main Features of the Plans
Before recounting the story of the four-year plans, however, it will be useful to describe their main features. First of all, it is worth noting that they were taken up by the Democrats and have, since the time of Theodore Roosevelt, been exclusively employed by that party. There was a considerable contingent of reformers in the Republican party between the Civil War and World War I. In the early twentieth century, there was a lively meliorist wing of the party, called the Progressives. But Theodore Roosevelt drew many of these away in 1912 when he ran on the Bull Moose ticket. Since that time, meliorists have never dominated the Republican party, if they ever did. By contrast, the Democratic party had stuck fairly close to its Jefferson-Jackson heritage in the nineteenth century. It began its turn toward meliorism with the campaign of William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Woodrow Wilson arid Franklin D. Roosevelt fixed it on this path in the twentieth century. Much of the impulse for the gradualist movement toward socialism has come from the Democratic party, and the particular infusions of energy toward this end have come from a succession of four-year plans.
Several features of the four-year plan can be described by showing its relation to the political party. A political party may be the lengthened shadow of a man, of Thomas Jefferson or of Abraham Lincoln, for instance. At its inception, a political party may even be the political instrument of an individual, as the Jeffersonian Republican party was for its founder. But political parties quickly have become institutions themselves in our history. They are organizations, having continuing existence (beyond the life or time of those who founded them) , are devices for winning elections at various levels, have a widespread membership which participates in the choice of candidates, and are labels with which a succession of politicians can identify and be identified. In an important sense, political parties are impersonal and nonideological. A great variety of individuals find political shelter within their folds. Issues come and go, but parties continue as they shift from this position to that.
Bid for Presidential Power
By contrast, a four-year plan is not the lengthened shadow of a man; it is the shadow cast by a particular man who has come to the Presidency. It is the personal instrument of a President. Political parties may be said to be democratic, or at least federal, in character. Their widespread membership plays a part in determining their stand on issues. Platforms are drawn by committees. A Senator or Representative may, so far as his district goes, have as much to say about what the party stands for as does the President.
With four-year plans, it is not so. They are centristic and autocratic. They are devices which can be and have been used to bridge the gap, politically, of the separation of powers. Through a four-year plan, a President can identify the whole governmental program with himself. He can make the other branches of the government more or less adjuncts to his administration. To the extent that a President can bring off the coup that is implicit in the four-year plan, he can centralize power and use the whole government as if it were an extension of himself. That concentrated power which is necessary to governmentally directed social transformation is made available by the four-year plan.
Four-year plans appear, also, to have subsumed much of the role which third parties played in the meliorist movement at its outset. No new major political party has emerged in
Two things happened. Such socialism as appealed to any considerable portion of the electorate was advanced by one or both of the major parties. And the impulse for a new surge toward socialization was embodied in the four-year plans. Third parties with a penchant for socialism had their issues taken away from them as soon as the issues attained popularity and were much more attractively packaged by the regular organizations and presidential candidates for them.
Appeals to Americanism
The names given to the four-year plans are interesting and revealing in themselves. Rhetorically, they evoke American values and even American experience. Three of them — Square Deal, New Deal, and Fair Deal — call up an image of sporting behavior and appear to derive from card-playing terminology. Perhaps the references to games of chance are unintended — though the pragmatic stance is that all human action is a kind of chance taking, and the proponents of these programs are often called pragmatists. But the appeals to fair play are surely intentional. Americans are much addicted to sports and, in that connection, are committed to the virtue of fair play. (It was the Beards, Charles and Mary, I think, who observed that the one thing Americans would not tolerate in the twentieth century was crooked officials in their athletic contests.)
The New Freedom called up one of the basic values for Americans, for they have understood that one of the distinctive features of the American system has been the extent of freedom it provided. The New Frontier evoked memories of an earlier American experience. The only phrase that appears not to have any American context is the Great Society. Perhaps the utopian vision is now sufficiently a part of the mental baggage of Americans that it is politically feasible to appeal to it directly.
At any rate, those terms which do rely on American values for their appeal place them in a new framework. The call was for a new freedom, a new deal, and a new frontier, for a square deal and a fair deal. The phrases take established values and use them as the basis for the building of a new order. The battle cries of socialist rhetoric — class struggle, vanguard of the elite, the rise of the masses, the dictatorship of the proletariat — are foreign and repulsive to the American ear. By contrast, the rhetoric of the four-year plans is familiar, nonradical in sound, and brings to mind pleasing associations. The territory into which Fabian methods take us is strange, but the markers along the way are familiar.
Programs for Translating Ideas into Political Action
Finally, the four-year plans are means for translating meliorist ideology into political action. They are devices for linking ideas (or visions) to power. The connection is made by a single man, the President of the
Another way of saying the above is that the four-year plans have been the creations of intellectuals under the sway of ideologies. This accounts for the increasing role played by intellectuals in twentieth century governmental undertakings. A President may be both an intellectual and a man of action. Theodore Roosevelt was, and just as he may be credited with founding the four-year plan so may he be described as the prototype for the kind of man it ideally requires. Theodore Roosevelt was probably more the man of action than the intellectual, though he had ideas enough, while Woodrow Wilson was more the intellectual than the man of action. Both of them, however, combined both traits in sufficient degree to translate ideology into action with only a minimum of help from specialists so far as the formulation of programs was concerned. Their successors in the line of four-year planning were not so adequately equipped. The tendency from Franklin D. Roosevelt on has been for Presidents to gather about them a corps of intellectuals — a brain trust — to provide the ideas and render them into programs.11
Men Behind Presidents
There were premonitions of things to come, however, in the planning of the first Roosevelt and Wilson. One writer holds that Brooks Adams was the formulator of the basic ideas which
Before he rose to the eminence of presidential adviser, he wrote and caused to be published a utopian novel, Philip Dru, Administrator. It is about a man who establishes a dictatorship in
As one account of this utopian novel observes: “This fantasy could be laughed off as the curious dream of Colonel House were it not that so many of these reforms strikingly resemble what the Wilson, and later the New Deal, administrations either accomplished or proposed.”15 The ideas are not original, but this advocate of them had the ear of a President. Louis D. Brandeis was another intellectual who had a great deal of influence on Wilson.16 There were others, such as George L. Record, George Creel, and Bernard Baruch.
The Brain Trust of F. D. R.
But the practice of assembling a host of intellectuals around the President to provide the ideas and programs to translate four-year plans into action was really established by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry Hopkins played Colonel House to
Each administration since has had its complement of intellectuals serving as ghost writers, special assistants, economic advisers, board members, and members of the middling rank of division heads within established departments. The assembling of intellectuals in
These intellectuals are the American equivalent, in socialist terminology, of the “vanguard of the elite.” They have moved into the centers of power by providing the ideas and programs of meliorism. They bring ideology into the political market place, help to make it attractive, and thrust political action in the direction implicit in their assumptions. The fateful connection between utopian visions, the new reality, the new creativity, and meliorist economics on the one hand and political action on the other is made by the intellectuals in the four-year plans.
This connection needs to be demonstrated, however, by an examination of the four-year plans. Such an examination will show both the connection between ideology and action and that there is a direction to these plans, that each one of them moves the United States farther and farther along the road to socialism. An account of the development will follow next.
The next, and concluding, article of this series will pertain to “The Pen and the Sword.”
There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore more needs elucidation than the current one that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong. Taking the word “interest” as synonymous with “ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient, the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in the popular sense, as referring to immediate augmentation of property and wealth nothing can be more false. In the latter sense it would be the interest of the majority in every community to despoil & enslave the minority of individuals; and in a federal community to make a similar sacrifice of the minority of the component States. In face it is only re-establishing under another name and a more specious form, force as the measure of right. . . .
James Madison, from a letter of October 5, 1786, to James Monroe.
1 Richard Powers, ed.,
2 Quoted in Samuel E. Morison and Henry S. Commager, The Growth of the
4 Ibid., p. 139.
5 Dumas Malone and Basil Rauch, Empire for
6 Ibid., p. 218.
7 See, for example, Daniel Aaron, Men of Good Hope (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 246-52.
8 There is also a tendency among “liberal” historians to classify meliorist politicians generally as conservatives, presumably because they do not press for violent revolution. Also, these historians have created, or perpetuated, a myth that if reforms had not been made, a revolution would have occurred.
9 Mowry, op. cit., p. 197.
10 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), pp. 108-09.
11 The prototype for the “brain trust” may have been provided by Andrew Jackson who had an assortment of budding intellectuals in his “Kitchen Cabinet.” There was an important difference, however, for his advisers were liberals of the nineteenth century variety who did not go in much for government intervention.
12 Aaron, op. cit., p. 252.
13 For contrasting assessments, see Eric F. Goldman, Rendezvous with Destiny (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), p. 159, and Charles Forcey, The Crossroads of Liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 127-30.
14 Horace Coon, Triumph of the Eggheads (New York: Random House, 1955), p. 87.
15 Ibid., p. 86.
16 See ibid., pp. 14-15, 90; Charles A. Madison, Leaders and Liberals in the Twentieth Century (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1961), pp. 200-01.
17 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), p. 18.
18 Lester Tanzer, ed., The Kennedy Circle (Washington: Luce, 1961), passim.