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The 'Tea Party' of the 1930s

As would be expected, the intellectual elitism used today to defend Obamanomics was also on display during the New Deal. After allowing that "there is a great deal more anti-New Deal sentiment among smaller business men than the president and his counselors have conceded in their public utterances," a rabbi writing a February 12, 1938, column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette proceeded to characterize them as "little" businessmen "offer(ing) nothing constructive" while claiming, "There is no knowledge in them." Echoing what we hear and see today directed at the financial and housing industries and George W. Bush, he also wrote that "the business world has developed no constructive program that will prevent a return to 1929-1932."

Republicans. led by New York gubernatorial candidate Thomas Dewey, played up the corruption angle in the run-up to the November 1938 congressional elections and, in an ACORN echo, even warned that relief recipients were being cajoled into voting for Democrats.

On Election Night in 1938, an overwhelming Democratic majority (334-88 in the House, 76-17 in the Senate) shrunk considerably to 252-177 in the House and 69-23 in the Senate. The GOP gained 89 seats, while Democrats lost 82. After factoring in the considerable number of Democratic anti-New Dealers, it was clear that FDR's rubber-stamp days were largely over. The New York Times, which had endorsed Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, blubbered about how "party control and party responsibility have been restored to a more normal place in American government."

R. Emmett Tyrell Jr. at the American Spectator summarizes Barone's take on what became of the late-1930s push-back:

Barone now believes that had World War II not arrived this late-1930s tea party manifestation would have supported a stiff challenge to FDR's precedent-breaking third term.

Indeed, despite the world war and the dangers it was posing here, Roosevelt's 1940 winning margin of 55%-45%, while wide by modern standards, was far narrower than his victories in 1932 (by 17%) and 1936 (by 24%).

The strenuous objections manifested during the early stages of FDR's second term to his and the federal government's increasingly authoritarian tendencies explain an item of fallout from his administration that most people have never quite understood. Posed as a question, it is this: Why, if historians are correct about the population's general reverence for Roosevelt when he served, did Congress pass the 22nd Amendment only 19 months after the end of World War II, thereby ensuring that no future president could ever run for a third term in office? Further, why was the amendment able to attain its required ratification by three-quarters of the states just four years later, proving that it was far more than mischievous Republicans and conservatives who supported it?

Answer: Roosevelt's legendary popularity with the masses is a convenient urban legend not supported by history. Despite FDR's generally fine leadership during World War II, few Americans at the time wanted to risk a return of his New Deal statism.

Can the popular uprising of 2009-2010 known as the tea party movement outdo its 1930s counterpart? Perhaps, but the modern version will have to overcome two sets of enemies: the left itself, and the considerable collection of control-obsessed, counterproductive, go-along get-along dingbats on the right who would rather empty their treasuries than see genuine sensible conservatives prevail.