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Social Security: Interpretation 3

Anthony Badger

The New Deal

Historian Anthony Badger, writing in 1989, disagreed with Deglerís celebration of the New Deal as transforming American ideas about government and the economy. Likewise, he found arguments like Bernsteinís overly gloomy about the New Deal. He argued that the New Deal was a ďholding operationĒ that helped people and businesses survive until WWII transformed the American economy. Badger argued that FDRís goal was to maintain the American system and help it survive rather than to transform it, and that the administrationís vision was inconsistent and ambiguous.

Badger characterized the New Deal as a practical program and used Social Security as an example of this practicality. He argued that the Act could not have been more extensive or it would have lost Congressional support. Badger pointed to several factors that limited the scope and extent of New Deal programs including conservative congressional opposition and a reliance on local governments that did not necessarily work in democratic ways or in ways consistent with what program designers had hoped. Most important, "the ultimate constraint" on Social Security was "the underlying conservative response of the people themselves to the Depression." Badger argued that FDRís New Deal was what the American public and system would tolerate and not the revolution that Degler saw nor the one that Bernstein imagined. Rather, Social Security was legislation that preserved the system the only way it knew how.

Anthony Badger (1989). The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940.