Like a hurricane FDR’s New Deal is blowing away Washington’s old line powerbrokers on the strength of FDR’s personality and his ability to use the radio to get his message across to the American people.
Franklin Roosevelt has so far swept everything before him with the strength and velocity of a March wind. His measures have been designed with consummate skill to give the country what it most desires: a sense of vigor and action. The slow results may fall short of the demands of the crisis and so prove ultimately disappointing, but the first effect has been thoroughly satisfying. One may doubt the wisdom of any one of his measures and yet be won by their form and manner of presentation— so refreshingly in contrast to the dull and ungrammatical pronouncements of his unlamented predecessor. Mr. Roosevelt’s messages have been direct, terse, vigorous; his public statements lucid and simple. His address to the people over the radio was strikingly effective, partly because his voice is clear and attractive, partly because his words brought into the room a friendly, personal tone to which the most skeptical listener must have responded. His expression was varied and forceful, but never oratorical; he did not “talk down.” His approach to the press in Washington has been equally successful. He has abolished the subterfuges behind which Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover took refuge. He employs no “White House spokesman”; he demands no questions submitted in advance. He talks to the correspondents face to face and answers their questions directly and without preparation. Finally, he shows no inclination to utilize the old tactics of silence and deception as methods of “restoring confidence.” As we go to press he is insisting upon the continuance of the Senate inquiry into banking practices—the very inquiry which, according to fearful conservatives, is supposed to have weakened confidence before the bank holiday. To us this act is an encouraging sign that Mr. Roosevelt realizes how much remains to be done before the financial structure can be considered sound. All of these attitudes reveal him as a person of courage and candor.
The pressure of public opinion has for once put to rout the organized lobbyists of Washington. Whether or not we like the powers bestowed upon President Roosevelt by Congress in the matter of reducing federal salaries and Veterans’ Bureau expenditures, it must be conceded that he has been given this power in the face of the desperate efforts of one of the most powerful lobbies ever known in the national capital. As soon as the terms of the President’s economy bill became known, these lobbyists invaded the Capitol and poured all sorts of dire threats into the ears of Senators and Congressmen. Their attack threatened for a while to disrupt the Roosevelt program, but so strong had the popular demand for government economy become that Administration leaders had no difficulty in finding two Republican votes for every Democratic vote that was captured by the representatives of the veterans and federal employees. The public will have its economy, but whether that will bring any immediate reduction in taxes is exceedingly doubtful. The best thing about the measure is its assertion that an end has at last been made of the scandalous draining of public funds into the pockets of persons who have no legitimate claim upon it.
Unemployment relief was almost lost sight of in the frenzy of the Roosevelt Administration’s first fortnight. This grave problem should have received attention immediately after the passage of the emergency banking law. Certainly it should have come before Mr. Roosevelt’s beer bill. It is reported that there has been a difference of opinion as to whether construction of public works or direct relief should be given precedence in the Administration program. Because of the pressing emergency it would be only natural and human to put direct relief first, to adopt the La Follette-Costigan plan and then proceed to a program of public building. It takes time to prepare plans and begin construction. Moreover, this sort of relief costs on the average 30 percent more than direct assistance to the unemployed. The first need is to get food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention to those who must have it today, not next week or next month. By the time these lines appear Congress may have received from the White House a specific plan. Whatever it may contain — and we are assured that it will be much broader in scope than any relief program yet presented to Congress— the division of opinion between those who favor construction and those who want direct relief should not be allowed to delay its passage.