The New Deal’s Dark Underbelly: David Beito has penned one of the most damning scholarly histories of FDR to date (Marcus Witcher, 1/23/24, Law & Liberty)
The Roosevelt consensus among historians, to the extent that it ever existed, has been unraveling for some time. Free market critics such as Robert Higgs, Burt Folsom, Jim Powell, Thomas Fleming, and Amity Shlaes have rightly condemned Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression and his inclination to use the coercive power of the state to impose his policy prescriptions—often with undesirable results and unintended consequences. But there is also an emerging group of historians on the left—Richard Rothstein, Ira Katznelson, Linda Gordon, and Richard Reeves, among others—who criticize FDR for reinforcing the white male breadwinner home, for creating organizations such as the Federal Housing Administration that helped segregate America through redlining, for not supporting anti-lynching legislation, for not ensuring that the New Deal programs benefited minorities on a more equal basis, and for the internment of Japanese Americans. Even David Kennedy’s comprehensive history of the period is critical of Roosevelt on some margins.
Although some historians have criticized FDR, most of the historiography of Roosevelt gives him a pass on the abuse of civil liberties during his administrations and hails him as a champion of democracy often citing his soaring rhetoric and the Four Freedoms. In reality, as Beito demonstrates, Roosevelt’s liberalism did not lead him to care about Americans’ civil liberties and he violated the Bill of Rights time and time again while in office. […]
Roosevelt was not a passive and reactive participant in these events and his racist views of Japanese people influenced his later policies. In 1925, FDR wrote that “anyone who has travelled in the Far East knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results.” In 1935, he insisted to a delegation that aggression “was in the blood” of Japan’s leaders. In 1936, when visiting Hawaii and thinking about the interactions between Japanese sailors and Japanese Americans on the islands, the president insisted that “every Japanese citizen or non-citizen on the Island of Oahu who meets these Japanese ships or has any connection with their officers or men should be secretly but definitely identified and his or her name placed on a special list of those who would be the first to be placed in a concentration camp.”
After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt ignored information that did not confirm his negative view of Japanese Americans and instead “sought out, and then amplified beyond all proportion, statements or anecdotes that conveyed, at least in his own mind, a more negative impression.” For instance, Roosevelt received one report from his secret intelligence unit that insisted that Japanese Americans were no “more disloyal than any other racial group in the United States with whom we went to war.” In another report, FDR ignored its conclusion that at least ninety percent of Japanese Americans “were completely loyal to the United States.”