Support Marketplace

REICH: FDR 1936, Obama 2012

Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Bob Moon: Just when you thought you might be free of the political soundbite for a while, consider today the unofficial kickoff of 2012 presidential campaign.

Commentator Robert Reich says that poses a big question for President Obama: should he borrow Bill Clinton's olive branch to the GOP in 1996...

Then-President Bill Clinton in 1996: I want us to forge a partnership to produce results for the American people.

...or should he emulate FDR's approach in 1936?

Then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936: They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.


ROBERT REICH: Some people are going to tell President Obama that Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 because he moved to the center, and Obama should, too. But Clinton was really reelected because by 1996, the economy had come roaring back to life.

President Obama won't have that luxury in 2012. In all likelihood, the economy will still be anemic. It's now growing at the rate of no more than 2 percent a year, not enough to reduce unemployment. And it's doubtful that over the next two years consumers will buy enough to change that.

For the next two years, Republicans will try to paint Obama as a big-government liberal who's responsible for the continuing bad economy. Obama's best hope for reelection will be to reframe the debate, making the central issue the power of big business and Wall Street to gain economic advantage at the expense of the rest of us.

The relevant political lesson isn't Bill Clinton in 1996. It's Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. By 1936, the Great Depression was entering its eighth year. Roosevelt had already been president for four of them. Yet he won the biggest electoral victory since the start of the two-party system in the 1850s.

How? He shifted the debate from his failure to get the economy moving to the irresponsibility of his opponents. Republicans, he said, stood for "business and financial monopoly, speculation, and reckless banking." And Roosevelt made clear his opponents wanted to stop him from helping ordinary Americans. "Never before have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today," he thundered. "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."

Hopefully, the 2012 economy won't be as bad as the economy was in 1936. But there's no way it's going to be nearly as good as it was in 1996. For President Obama, 1936 provides the real lesson.

Moon: Robert Reich was Secretary of Labor for President Clinton. His new book is called "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." We'll hear from conservative commentator David Frum next Wednesday. And as always, your thoughts are welcome.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...