(This is the first of a few posts laying out some of the very basic intellectual background for the political parts of this blog. Not at all a scholarly effort, but an attempt to put into words some widespread progressive assumptions about how America’s domestic economic policy and politics arrived at their current state.)
In response to the Great Depression, America went through a political and constitutional transformation. The New Deal violated classical liberal notions of the division between the government and the private market economy, created a federal safety net against economic insecurity, and put in place innovative regulatory schemes that provided a democratic counterweight against the power of organized wealth. Through these and other measures, the New Deal redefined the role of the federal government.
The political opponents of the New Deal tried to resist this transformation. But by the end of World War II, once-radical innovations like Social Security were no longer subject to serious political challenge. What was once seen as an unconstitutional overreach—a violation of the limits placed on the federal government’s power by the Constitution—came to be accepted by the American public as an ordinary state of affairs. Eisenhower’s presidency showed that the New Deal regime had become bipartisan. Even right-leaning politicians who attempted to resist the expansion of the New Deal vision often found themselves lacking a viable large-scale alternative and adopting a basically New Deal way of framing the issues. Principled, branch-and-root opposition to the New Deal was relegated to far-right organizations lying outside the political mainstream.