This view of Roosevelt and the New Deal amounts to a myth compounded of ideological predisposition and historical misunderstanding. In the 1936 book The Menace of Roosevelt and His Policies, Howard E. Kershner came closer to the truth when he wrote that Roosevelt
took charge of our government when it was comparatively simple, and for the most part confined to the essential functions of government, and transformed it into a highly complex, bungling agency for throttling business and bedeviling the private lives of free people. It is no exaggeration to say that he took the government when it was a small racket and made a large racket out of it.
Prolonging the Depression
The irony is that even if Roosevelt did help to lift the spirits of the American people in the depths of the depression—an uplift for which no compelling documentation exists—this achievement only led the public to labor under an illusion. After all, the root cause of the prevailing malaise was the continuation of the depression. Had the masses understood that the New Deal was only prolonging the depression, they would have had good reason to reject it and its vaunted leader.
In fact, as many observers claimed at the time, the New Deal did prolong the depression. Had Roosevelt only kept his inoffensive campaign promises of 1932—cut federal spending, balance the budget, maintain a sound currency, stop bureaucratic centralization in Washington—the depression might have passed into history before his next campaign in 1936. But instead, FDR and Congress, especially during the congressional sessions of 1933 and 1935, embraced interventionist policies on a wide front. With its bewildering, incoherent mass of new expenditures, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and direct government participation in productive activities, the New Deal created so much confusion, fear, uncertainty, and hostility among businessmen and investors that private investment, and hence overall private economic activity, never recovered enough to restore the high levels of production and employment enjoyed in the 1920s.
In this madness, the New Dealers had a method. Despite its economic illogic and incoherence, the New Deal served as a massive vote-buying scheme. Coming into power at a time of widespread destitution, high unemployment, and business failures, the Roosevelt administration recognized that the president and his Democratic allies in Congress could appropriate unprecedented sums of money and channel them into the hands of recipients who would respond by giving political support to their benefactors. As John T. Flynn said of FDR, “it was always easy to interest him in a plan which would confer some special benefit upon some special class in the population in exchange for their votes,” and eventually “no political boss could compete with him in any county in America in the distribution of money and jobs.”