Nothing to Fear brings to life a fulcrum moment in American history-the tense, feverish first one hundred days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency, when he and his inner circle completely reinvented the role of the federal government. When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, more than 10,000 banks had gone under following the Crash of 1929, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, and riots were breaking out at garbage dumps as people fought over scraps of food. Before the hundred days, the federal government was limited in scope and ambition; by the end, it had assumed an active responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens.
Adam Cohen provides an illuminating group portrait of the five members of FDR's inner circle who, more than any others, drove this unprecedented transformation. These five men and women frequently pushed FDR to embrace more radical programs than he would have otherwise. FDR came to the White House with few firm commitments about how to resolve this national crisis-as a politician he was more pragmatic than ideological and, perhaps surprising given his New Deal legacy, a fiscal conservative by nature. Instead, he relied heavily on his advisers and preferred when they had conflicting views so that he could choose the best option among them. For this reason, he kept in close confidence both Frances Perkins-a feminist before her time and the strongest advocate for social welfare programs-and Lewis Douglas, an entrenched budget cutter who frequently clashed with the other members of FDR's progressive inner circle. Rather than commit to a single solution or ideology, FDR favored a policy of "bold, persistent experimentation." As a result, he presided over the most feverish period of government activity in American history, one that gave birth to modern America.
The political fault lines of this era-welfare, government regulation, agriculture policy-remain with us today. Nothing to Fear is both a riveting narrative account of the personal dynamics that shaped the heady hundred days and a character study of one of America's defining leaders in a moment of crisis.
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Staggering contradictions of logic
Here's the best review I can make: Have you ever seen Jay Leno go out on the street to make fun of stupid people? He says something like "There are too many chemicals. Chemicals are dangerous. Would you sign this petition to outlaw hydrogen dioxide?" And people agree and sign? Then Jay tells them they just outlawed "water." Yuck. Yuck.
That's what this book is. The author paints one misrepresentation after another suggesting that FDR was a good president and the New Deal was a good idea, hoping, I guess, that stupid people will agree without investigating the specious word play. The only difference is there's no Jay at the end pointing out the lie.
Well, that makes me Jay. It's a lie.
I don't know how to sum them all up. The author uses six people to "prove" his point (Raymond Moley, Lewis Douglas, Francis Perkins, Rexford Tugwell, Henry Wallace and Harry Hopkins). And then, in his own book, he goes on to show how two of them refuted their own efforts and turned on FDR and two others were an avowed socialist/Marxists. The last two he fails to mention turned out to be Soviet agents (Venona Decrypts), so they were enemy agents against America. That means all six of his examples either refuted the author's thesis or were actively trying to undermine the results. (This is where Jay would ask you to sign).
I don't wish to give the details away. The author deserves to sell his work (clearly not the position of 4 of the 6 examples). So allow me to reference a shocking contradiction in the first 20 minutes and then list an alternative solution that the so-called Brain Trust never advanced and why.
In the introduction the author paints a picture of the misery of 1932. An unemployed single mother in Chicago with her son picking through fresh garbage for food. She removes her glasses so she won't see the maggots. Oh he really rubs it in. People were starving and desperate for food. Not 20 minutes later, Rexford Tugwell is giving farmers money not to grow food. Later, Henry Wallace destroys six million hogs. He doesn't cut them up and distribute them to soup kitchens, he buries them.
The author never asks why the government didn't buy the excess food from the farmers and give it to the people in garbage dumps. I mean, we were giving them money anyway, why not take the food and help the starving. That never occurred to the Brain Trust or the author. Here's why: There's no patronage advantage. If you just feed people, there's no bureaucracy. There's no Assistance infrastructure. You can't control armies Relief workers pushing your candidates in key cities. The New Deal wasn't about relief, it was about buying power with "other people's money."
How do we know?
The Unstated Solution
This is how: What was the final lynchpin that launched the Great Depression? The Smoot/Hawley Tariff, which raised the cost of all imports 50%. They author even mentions it. He doesn't explain how it pushed the dominoes over however, so let me. The whole world owed the US money after WWI. Most of them were ravaged and had no gold in reserve. So all they had to raise money were exports to the US. When Hoover signed Smoot/Hawley these other nations couldn't sell goods, so they had no money, so they couldn't pay their debts, debts held by American banks in the form of stocks and bonds. When payments didn't come in, the stock market fell, banks couldn't sell the stocks, everything collapsed.
If they had just left things as they were…Oh sorry, that's the definition of conservative.
So what should Hoover have done? What should FDR have done? What should the Brain Trust have suggested? Revoke Smoot/Hawley. But they didn't. Why? They wanted the crisis for patronage and power (see above). What did Rahm Emanuel say under Obama? "Never let a serious crisis go to waste." The New Deal wasn't about relief, it was about a redistribution of power. Nothing to Fear? The rise of FDR got us half a million dead before the end of his term in Europe and the Pacific and a 50-year cold war with millions more dead after that.
So instead of outlawing water, fear that.