07 April 2008 Issue
Seventy-five years ago, facing the catastrophic, worldwide failure of the free market, Franklin Roosevelt launched what is perhaps the greatest democratic experiment of the twentieth century. Touching nearly every aspect of American life, the New Deal transformed banking, business, labor, agriculture, arts and literature, urban and rural landscapes and, of course, the relationship of citizens to government itself. Today, decades of conservative rule have jeopardized much of the New Deal's legacy. Many of its reforms and regulations have been gutted, and much of the infrastructure it built crumbles from neglect. Yet the New Deal endures, not just in institutions like the FDIC and Social Security but in the very idea that where and when there is crisis government should rise to the challenge for the good of the common people. How can a look back help us confront the challenges of the present - from the tangled housing, credit and financial market crises to global warming to the small-mindedness of public policy and debate today? What is the unfinished business of the New Deal? And what can we learn from its failures and limitations? On this historic occasion we asked an esteemed collection of activists, writers, scholars and artists to reflect on the "usable past" of the New Deal. Their answers follow.
Bill McKibben: A Green Corps
Michael J. Copps: Not Your Father's FCC
Andrea Batista Schlesinger: A Chaos of Experimentation
Eric Schlosser: The Bare Minimum
Frances Moore Lappé: The Only Fitting Tribute
Adolph Reed Jr.: Race and the New Deal Coalition
The Rev. Jesse Jackson: For the 'FDR'
Andy Stern: Labor's New Deal
Anna Deavere Smith: Potent Publics
Sherle R. Schwenninger: Democratizing Capital
Stephen Duncombe: FDR's Democratic Propaganda
Howard Zinn: Beyond the New Deal