Predictably, Roosevelt’s New Deal came under attack from the right, from Republicans, conservative Democrats, bankers, and Wall Street financiers who claimed that it doled out too many federal handouts. Many of these critics also feared that the policy and programs involved were a dangerous step toward socialism and the destruction of the American capitalist system. Such misgivings were understandable given the political atmosphere in the 1930s, as communism was becoming a more imminent threat. In fact, Soviet agents in the United States went so far as to launch a “popular front” campaign to actively support the president. Moreover, an unprecedented number of people joined the American Communist Party during the decade. Perhaps more surprising, the New Deal also came under attack from the far left. Many socialist activists denounced the New Deal because they believed that it was too conservative and that it did not provide enough relief and assistance. Over the years, many historians have tended to agree with this argument. Several have argued that the Great Depression would not have been so devastating for so long had Roosevelt handed more federal money out to a greater number of Americans. Coughlin and Long
One of the most vocal of Roosevelt’s critics was Father Charles Coughlin. A Catholic priest from Michigan, Coughlin began broadcasting a weekly radio show in 1930 that outwardly criticized the New Deal. Within a few short years, Coughlin had amassed a following of 40 million listeners who agreed with his anti–New Deal opinions. He blamed the Great Depression on Wall Street, crooked financiers, and Jews and campaigned for the nationalization of the entire American banking system. Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana was another major thorn in Roosevelt’s side, albeit from the left rather than the right. Long was among those who believed that the New Deal was not doing enough to help Americans. Believing that income inequality had caused the depression, he promoted his own “Share the Wealth” program (sometimes referred to as the“Every Man a King” program), which would levy enormous taxes on the rich so that every American family could earn at least $5,000 a year. Long enjoyed enormous popularity during the first few years of Roosevelt’s first term but was assassinated in 1935. The Works Progress Administration
The first major legislation that Roosevelt and Congress passed in the Second New Deal—in response to the critics—was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Created in 1935, the WPA was an effort to appease the “Longites” who clamored for more direct assistance from the federal government. The WPA was similar to the Public Works Administration of the First New Deal, this time hiring nearly 10 million Americans to construct new public buildings, roads, and bridges. Congress dumped over $10billion into the projects in just under a decade. The Social Security Act
Congress also passed the Social Security Act in 1935, creating a federal retiree pension system for many workers, funded by a double tax on every working American’s paycheck. The act also created an unemployment insurance plan to provide temporary assistance to those who were out of work, while also making funds available to the blind and physically disabled. Furthermore, Congress agreed to match federal dollars for every state dollar allocated to workers’ compensation funds. Despite its vocal critics, the Social Security Act had an enormous impact on Great Depression–era Americans and future generations. It brought the most sweeping change of the Second New Deal legislation as it not only gave income to some of the most destitute in society but also forever changed the way Americans thought about work and retirement. The paycheck taxes were advertised as a personal retirement savings plan even though those tax dollars were actually being redistributed as soon as they were collected. Nevertheless, retirement came to be seen as something every worker could...
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