FREE WHITEWATER

What the New Dealers Got Right – What Whitewater’s Local Notables Got Wrong

There’s sound reason to doubt that the New Dealers’ economic solutions to the Great Depression were effective, but there’s no doubt that Roosevelt’s Brain Trust was hard-working, smart, and candid in its description of America’s economic problems. For a critical assessment of the New Deal, written accessibly, see The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate how admirable one finds the vigor and commitment of those advising Roosevelt, however much one doubts the effectiveness of their solutions. (Not all New Deal legislation came at the same time – there were proposals now broadly lumped together as New Deal legislation that came at different times, with varying objectives.)

What’s most commendable about that group is that they did not deny America’s problems, try to wish them away, or to simply accentuate the positive in the face of economic hardship. That is, they did not resort to boosterism and babbittry in the face of others’ suffering.

They were candid, knowing that candor is the foundation of worthy remedial efforts.

When one reads something like the Janesville Gazette’s Rock County economic indicators point positive (Gavan, reporter; Schwartz, editor), one reads another story in a long line of local, Panglossian tales.

The reporter relies on cherry-picked data to say that unemployment in Rock County is low, but neglects to report that unemployment in all 72 Wisconsin counties has been rising year over year:

In more than 1,000 counties, or about one in three, the unemployment rate is higher than it was a year ago. That includes all 72 counties in Wisconsin and all 10 in New Hampshire, as well as most in Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina. The numbers can be volatile from month to month, but this trend remains even if you look at entire quarters or years.

See Unemployment is climbing in key swing states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.

I’ve previously asked if anyone at the Janesville Gazette has a dictionary; perhaps one should ask if anyone at the Gazette has an abacus.

Note well: In Whitewater, when the Great Recession began, and long afterward during our present stagnation, a whole class of local officials and hangers-on stuck with accentuating the positive and pretending all was well.

In 1922, when conditions were good, Sinclair Lewis satirized this outlook in Babbitt; he likely could not have imagined that someone would adopt that sugary outlook even when seeing undeniable, widespread economic hardship in every direction. And yet, and yet — that was the official outlook in Whitewater during the Great Recession and beyond. The men of that time – the city manager, the website publisher and councilman, the chancellor, the landlords and their public-relations man, among others – all talked this way. Free market, progressive, traditional conservative, etc. – almost anything would have been better than their babbittry, small-town state-capitalism, and insiders’ myopia.

Admittedly, neither they (nor I) were personally disadvantaged. That should not have mattered – boosterism and babbittry should have been anathema to them as it was – and always will be – to any sensible person.

The Gazette has a right to push a dishonest outlook; they cannot expect to do so without reply.

1 comment for “What the New Dealers Got Right – What Whitewater’s Local Notables Got Wrong

  1. Attendee
    11/05/2019 at 1:03 PM

    A lot of people want to feel they aren’t the generation that screwed up. The paper can’t stop telling them there’s a pot of gold under the rainbow. It’s a bedtime story for them, I guess.