November 8, 2010

Profs Argue New Outlook on New Deal Is Needed

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Prof. Jefferson Cowie and Prof. Nicholas Salvatore, industrial and labor relations, discussed their upcoming book project as part of the 2010 Milton Konvitz Memorial Lecture in Ives Hall Monday, titled “The Long Exception: An Interpretation of the New Deal from FDR to Obama.” According to Cowie, the duo were the first Cornell professors to be invited to speak at the lecture, an event which usually hosts academics from outside the University.The talk began with a quick appreciation of the life of Prof. Milton Konvitz ’33, the namesake of the lecture and one of the three founders of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.Salvatore, in beginning his talk, noted that Konvitz was one of the most “distinguished and gracious” people he had met in his time at Cornell.Salvatore first commented on the immediate parallels that pundits on both sides of the political aisle drew to the administrations of President Barack Obama and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — especially the historical economic circumstances they were elected into.“Cartoonists had a field day,” Salvatore said of the election of Obama. An array of political cartoons on a slide was displayed behind Salvatore, many featuring Obama clenching FDR’s iconic cigarette holder between his teeth and sporting a shiny black top hat.Salvatore spent the majority of his talk providing the historical context for FDR’s election, noting the rise of corporate power and industrial wealth throughout the 19th century, which caused greater income inequality. Many civil activists in the 19th and early 20th centuries resisted this consolidation of wealth by a powerful minority, including well-known presidential candidates such as socialist Eugene V. Debs.The liberal backlash against the high-octane capitalism taking hold in America would provide much of the fuel for FDR’s proposals during the New Deal, Salvatore said.Prof. Cowie began his talk immediately after Salvatore, providing the context for the period after World War II and FDR’s term as president. According to Cowie, the triumph of the New Deal and FDR’s presidency was a product of the extraordinary circumstances the Great Depression presented, and is not something that can be easily repeated with any president under the current political climate. The parallels drawn between Obama and FDR are, many times, ignorant of historical context, Cowie said.Cowie explained the rise of conservatism in the 1960s, led by Barry Goldwater. Though Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election to Lyndon Johnson, who would go on to pass a number of liberal initiatives under his Great Society program, the American conservative movement was far from over in America.“With [President Ronald] Reagan, the conservative movement started by Barry Goldwater found its spokesman,” Cowie said.Cowie went on to frame current left-wing politics as continually influenced by the New Deal. However, the modern economic circumstances require new modes of thinking and policy-making beyond the new-deal framework, he said.“The opening for Obama is a byproduct of the failures of [President George W.] Bush,” Cowie said of the current political atmosphere.Cowie explained that a new outlook on the Great Depression and its relations to the problems of today is needed.“Historical analysis can empower us, but they can also limit us,” Cowie said.

Original Author: Brendan Doyle