No, it was never intended to be an “insurance” program.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s legacy — or is it mythology? — lies at the center of an emerging chasm on the right. His domestic statism bequeathed us the modern American welfare state. His World War II leadership was largely responsible for victory over Nazi and Japanese totalitarianism, yet set the stage for the brutal Soviet conquest of half the world — and whether “set the stage” means “passively indulged,” “actively facilitated,” or something in between, is the nub of the argument.
At the peril of oversimplification, I would contend that neoconservatives — an important bloc of the conservative movement, and one that is extraordinarily influential in the Republican party — recall FDR more fondly than do more traditional conservatives. As Charles Krauthammer observes in Things That Matter, a terrific new collection of memorable Krauthammer columns, many neoconservatives have made the political journey from left to right, as Charles himself has. They harbor sympathy for liberal aspirations to a more egalitarian society, even as they recognize the damage wrought by New Deal and Great Society programs. They see FDR as the heroic trailblazer of a true Pax Americana, a world stabilized by U.S. engagement, leadership, and strength.
To the contrary, more traditional conservatives (I count myself in this camp), seethe over the evisceration of limited-government constitutionalism and the blurring of lines between prudent foreign interventions and international adventurism, between sovereignty and multilateralism. It makes for a healthy intramural debate — as long as we try to remember that it really is intramural, as we often forget when it gets as heated as it is at the moment.
Ronald Radosh, the former Marxist and accomplished neoconservative historian, has lately been the spear’s point in defending the FDR legacy on both the foreign-affairs and domestic-policy sides. His blistering review of Diana West’s American Betrayal vigorously champions Roosevelt’s conduct of World War II. I believe Ron gives Diana’s book a bad rap, and I will explain why in another column, coming soon.