@ JEM:
The conservative counter-narrative still has to explain the historical verdict of WW2 (on our side a progressivist statist enterprise par excellence) and the post-war boom, accompanied by popular government-led programs like the GI Bill, interstate highways, Wilsonian internationalism, near-confiscatory tax rates (at least on the surface), and construction of a massive permanent government/welfare state/public administration.

If you had put it to an American voter in 1932 or 1936 directly, and had said, "It will take us years to get it right, but, in exchange for putting off some economic growth under a familiarly uneven economic distribution and, of course, no long-term certainty of continued high performance, and accepting some waste and excesses against ideal conceptions of free economic rights, you get:

unparalleled prosperity
unrivaled global reach and power
enemies turned into allies
major revolutionary collectivist/militarist threats defeated definitively,
nearly un-dreamt of technological advances vastly improving quality of life and life expectancies for ourselves and all of our friends,
preservation of and iimprovement of our most basic freedoms, and
an opportunity at any time through regular democratic debate and free elections to adjust or even completely junk the program"

said voter might have hesitated to believe you, but that's what, one way or another, he/we got.

Now, I agree with you and with most sane observers of the current economic and political situation that major aspects of the progressivist inheritance need to be re-examined, and that dead weight should be lopped off. One way or another, through inflationary monetization or disruptive re-valuation or through pre-emptive or forced fiscal measures, or some muddled combination of all of the above and more, debt and unfunded obligations that correspond to an overgrown public sector and commitments that are unsustainable as currently structured and financed need to be reduced in proportion to productive economic activity.

I'm happy further to consider that in such an effort, an over-correction in the other direction may be inevitable and even desirable. What I don't accept is that a libertarian critique that somehow tries to paint half or more of the history of the country as a huge mistake and historic detour is viable. You'd have to be as nutty as a Paulbot to buy it. I don't think that even most of the Paulbots really buy that - they just think that Ron's Wonderful Revelations are too important to be set aside for mere details.

I don't think you're anywhere near like that, JEM, but a somewhat similar pattern affects the conservative discourse more generally, a pattern of "we don't really believe this because no one sane who had fully thought through all of the implications could really believe this, but we'll say it anyway because it pulls in the right direction" thing. The Will piece I posted on is typical of this, in my view. (I had to check just now which thread I was writing on - this all goes together.)

@ narciso:
Calvin Coolidge might have been Karl Marx when he was at home, but I don't see how his political persona, as it was understood at the time or is understood now, qualifies as progressive. The point about him receiving 4.5 votes at the 1932 Convention was kind of a joke. Maybe if you read the book you can find out which Coolidge the 4.5 delegates were voting for, but my main contention regarding the character of the times, of no laissez faire alternative, is strengthened further by the fact that, as the book you link points out, "the president who had called for minimal intervention was [by the 1930s] supporting aggressive government programs to alleviate distress."

@ JEM:
Don't know why you deny you've conceded anything when you then immediately proceed again to concede that the political environment of the time didn't support the general policies that you believe, but are forever prevented from proving, would have succeeded. As for specific policy errors, many can be judged in terms of what FDR or his advisers expected, and what they achieved, or can be shown to have been wasteful in other ways. The rest is speculation, or assertion of pre-judgments.

@ narciso:
Well, again, there were many other factors that distinguished the 1930s from the 1890s - a different epoch altogether in critical respects.

narciso wrote:

No, CK, Coolidge did no such thing.

Sure he did - got all of 4.5 delegates in a photo finish with Hoover who got a mere 1,126. Or maybe you're referring to something else. My point wasn't that he Cal was a real alternative or a live one - to the contrary. There was around a 0.4% chance that the people were going to respond to the crisis with Coolidgeism.

Well, now I see you've effectively conceded that there might not have been an alternative, JEM. Still doesn't answer the question regarding the greater desire of the people to believe in answers and in themselves, perhaps at certain historical junctures, than for the answers themselves: "Yes we can," in other words. A form of demagogy, perhaps - or maybe it just seems that way.

@ JEM:
Just pointing out that it's an available narrative with internal consistency. I'm well aware that Hoover was in effect another progressive. It was the spirit of the time. We can look back and impose our own imaginary preferences - for something that in our minds would have worked better economically, in terms of growth rates and employment figures and consumption and so on, but those are our preferences, and it's only an assumption that a less statist approach, when it met the real particulars of human life ca. 1930, would really have worked even according to the narrow definition - that the people who would have had to make it work would have done so, especially when they were voting 60% for the more progressive alternative to the moderately progressive incumbent. Even if the non-progressive response would have worked, maybe the people wanted belief in answers, in their own powers to create answers, more than they wanted the answers themselves. Maybe the prevalance of that desire at the same time is why the non-progressive response was, in effect, not even considered. Maybe the idea of a non-progressive response is in this sense a huge absurd counterfactual - like "what if alien invaders had landed?"

@ narciso:
That Hoover was no laissez-fairey strengthens the contention that there was no meaningful alternative to some version of progressivism. Coolidge ran against Hoover in '32, got a handful of votes at the convention. What's the primary purpose of government? Government - i.e., maintenance of order, legitimacy, etc. As you say, democracy was in retreat. Rosie for all of his faults and possible questionable intentions, kept the flickery flame alive, and satisfied a mass emotional yearning for security, authority, and hope. Much more so than today, I think, but in a parallel way, the Big Bust was seen as a failure of the same system that had produced the prior boom, so there was no going back ideologically or practically. Why can't we say the people preferred to wait, even multiple presidential terms, to see themselves fashion collective instruments adequate to manage affairs, meaning bring themselves to a higher self-consciousness, in the newly emerging world? (Being intentionally Hegelian/historicist here.)

@ forecastle casady:
That's a pedantically idiotic question, you ill-mannered facilitator of evil.

Ken wrote:

Of course no one thinks we are living in the 1930s.

Gabriel Schoenfeld does, unquestionably.

@ narciso:
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, the problem with arguing about the past is that it took place a long time ago.

I'm familiar with the criticisms of FDR's domestic policy. I even read THE FORGOTTEN MAN, a lively and informative book, as I recall. But we don't know what would have happened if someone else had been in a position to take over. Since FDR destroyed an incumbent president in the election of 1932, I don't think it really makes much sense to imagine the country opting for some non-progressive, non-activist approach to the stubborn economic crisis. Subsequently to 1932, other options were put before the public, and Roosevelt's own ambitions were sometimes frustrated, but he was re-elected by an overwhelming margin again in 1936, and by a healthy margin in 1940, and again by a healthy margin in 1944.

So there's a heavy burden on the alternative historian to open up a possibility for some other course of events. Why isn't it just as permissible to assume that the people during a time of great uncertainty accepted the trade-off of lower risk for lower possible gain - i.e., rejected more laissez-faire approaches that might have eventually restored economic dynamism, but appeared to risk even more intolerable conditions in the short-term and a possible total breakdown of legitimacy? At the same time, FDR himself - and to a large extent self-consciously - represented a more moderate, typically progressive alternative to revolutionary collectivist ideologies of fascism and communism that were on the rise in other countries.

What's also completely true regarding Black's judgment, and to my mind a rather devastating weakness in the common conservative critique, is that, bottom line, though it took a long time, statist progressivism had proved itself by the close of the war a world-historical success, as Black suggests. If we assume, contrary to all available historical evidence, that there really was a "live" laissez-faire option politically available, can we be so sure that it would have worked as well? Maybe at some point during the re-setting of the economy, things really would have spun out of control setting the stage for "it" to "happen here." Or maybe a combination of laissez-faire and isolationism would have left the U.S. even less prepared to fight and win in World War II. Instead, nearly a decade's worth of government activism and expansion had trained a large cadre of bureaucrats and administrators ready to exchange their suits for uniforms and win the war logistically.

In other words, the "it wasn't really the New Deal, it was the war" theory about the end of the Depression leaves out the fact that the war itself was handled in a highly corporatist manner, with a real war, not a manufactured crisis, finally putting the oomph in statism that a decade of exhortation and "bold experimentation" hadn't quite mustered. The draft worked as a massive employment program. Government spending massively boosted aggregate demand. Propaganda was everywhere. Industry was heavily controlled. And it worked. Not particularly through strategic excellence or feats of great courage, but through massive productivity, the US economy totally overwhelmed opponents in two hemispheres. US strategy amounted to throwing more and more people and equipment and munitions in more different ways and in more different places than the enemies could match. No one knew what would work. Everything was tried. Immense efforts at great human and material cost frequently turn out in retrospect to have had little direct material effect on the outcome.

The numbers on the corporatist ramp-up in production of tanks, planes, ships, trucks, bombs, rifles, etc., are staggering. Finally, a model government science initiative produced a technological fix in the form of a weapon so powerful it forever changed the nature of international diplomacy and warfare. Not private industry - a rigidly controlled government run enterprise. Even better for the progressive story, the model proved, with adjustments, to work well over the long haul - for generations with a few ups and downs, up to and including the present day.

Maybe something else would have worked better, but that's just an idea. Also the idea that we need something radically new or different. What is is what is, not anything else.

Now, that's just one version of the progressive story. Not the whole story, but I think conservatives are deluded if they believe that they've constructed a radically more persuasive and defensible totally non-progressive alternative narrative explaining how we got the good parts of what we think of as ourselves.

narciso wrote:

That’s Ken Pollack, CK,

Thanks. I suffer from chronic dysfunction on his name, which is why you will rarely see me at public events, since I am always deathly afraid that Western Liberal Foreign Policy will come up in conversation, and expose me to laughter and ridicule when we get to the Ps.

Often, he's Kevin to me. Sometimes he is the man with no (first) name and a coin-flip for a surname. In this case, he turned into the author of the WSJ op-ed on Turkey that helped inspire Schoenfeld's post, and that I could have believed came from - checking carefully here - Kenneth M. Pollack.

@ adam:
BTW - why are we stuck on the Nation and Mother Jones, adam? Zero referred to Western Liberal Foreign Policy, not "transnational far leftism."

Robert PollackKenneth Pollack is a name much more representative of liberal foreign policy. He wrote a book supporting the Iraq war and was one of the first people from the elite for pol community to recognize that the Surge was working. His book on the Middle East - A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT - was totally clear-eyed about enemies of the U.S. and freedom in the Middle East, and about a "Grand Strategy" for advancing our interests. Leslie Gelb, Martin Peretz come to mind. Even Brzezinski, hardly one of my favorite people, doesn't run around dreaming of a "civilization without enemies."

Western Liberal Foreign Policy pretty much is our foreign policy. If you're going to start from some Manichean perspective, an eternal war of good against evil, light against dark, you're not talking about foreign policy at all anymore. You're talking about a religious or philosophical outlook, that has nothing uniquely to do with liberalism.

To FDR’s credit, he understood that.
Had he not quietly begun the mobilization effort who knows what might have happened in Europe.

Is FD "Unconditional Surrender" Roosevelt not also "Western Liberal Foreign Policy"? Truman? JFK and Johnson?

In practice, they are loath to engage in any military operation

And conservatives aren't? You sure you want to stand on that one?

to a populace that did want to believe them for very understandable reasons.

Different from ours. In my estimation the American populace is much more comfortable with war and intervention, accustomed to involvement around the world than still-isolationist America of the 1930s. This goes to the "it's 1935" argument more than to the WFLP argument.

But I have a basketball game to finish watching...

@ adam:
You made me realize something I wanted to say - and I've added it to the top post: That this supposed central flaw may be, or be attached to, what is in fact the central strength of WLFP, or in any event its indispensability.

@ narciso:
Right, and even by 1941 we still had military that was marching with broomsticks instead of rifles and stovepipes instead of mortars. There were no nuclear weapons, of course. That's just an iddy-biddy taste. The differences are as important as the similarities. Maybe nuclear forces and aircraft carriers are like the Maginot Line. Or maybe the character of conflict in the 21st Century is radically different.

And I don't know how President Drone Strike's tactics square with a disbelief in present enemies, or where a mainstream liberal Democrat has recently spoken of complete world disarmament, world government, or some of the other dreams that used to be much more commonly discussed among visionary progressives. Maybe you can enlighten me, or provide a quote from your reading of MJ or THE NATION. Seriously.

@ adam:
Nope - GS said it is unquestionably the 1930s. He didn't say like the 1930s or parallels with the 1930s.
As far as it goes, your description of the leftist press contradicts your own claim, and Zero's. Of course, I can't speak to your generalizations, but even what you say indicates the existence of real enemies, maybe different ones - maybe Bushitler was one of them, I can't say. The mainstream left, for instance, continues to finance a tremendously expensive military. There's certainly a desire not to accept as an eternal the enmity of a Chavez or an Ahmadinejad, but a simple recognition that they act as enemies (for someone like Danny Glover or Sean Penn, on the other side, that's even a good thing) is not beyond your everyday lefty.