(CBS) Kroft: Have you been reading anything about the Depression? Anything about FDR?
Mr. Obama: You know, I have actually. There's a new book out about FDR's first 100 days and what you see in FDR that I hope my team can--emulate, is not always getting it right, but projecting a sense of confidence, and a willingness to try things. And experiment in order to get people working again.
The problem is that such experimenting that Mr. Obama is referring to could very well be rehashing old liberal ideas. Ironically, FDR did the same thing according to Amity Shlaes:
Miss Shlaes goes on in the column to document other spectacular failures of experimentation in the New Deal including the NRA. The entire column is, of course, worth reading.
The trouble with new financial crises is that they provide pretexts for implementing old social agendas. As the president-elect's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said recently, "never allow a crisis to go to waste."
Consider President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which President-elect Barack Obama invokes when he talks of "a defining moment." Like Obama today, FDR was inaugurated into trouble. He wisely addressed the financial crisis through the steps that we learned about in school. He signed deposit insurance into law, reassuring savers. He created the Securities and Exchange Commission, making the stock market more transparent and consistent. He soothed our grandparents via his radio Fireside Chats. This was the FDR we love.
But FDR also used the crisis mood to push through an unprecedented program of reforms that progressives had been hoping to put in place for years. Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, for example, had for decades argued that utilities should be in the public, not the private, sector. As far back as the early '20s, Norris wanted to build a big power project on Tennessee River. He wanted the government - and not the Ford Motor Company, which was drawing up such plans - to be in charge. FDR made Norris' progressive dream a reality by creating the publicly owned Tennessee Valley Authority. Washington won out, but it wasn't clear its power served the South down the decades.
I've just started reading Miss Shlaes' book The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression. Perhaps Mr. Obama would be well served to also read it before he takes office. While some of FDR's experiments were huge successes, many were not. President-Elect Obama should be careful to not experiment with solutions simply for the sake of experimentation. Yes, voters asked for change but more importantly they want governmeent to deliver solutions and not create more problems. FDR's legacy was one of creating as many economic problems as he did solutions. Perhaps Obama can avoid repeating that legacy.