As a response to the Great Depression and an expression of executive power, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is widely understood as a turning point in American history. In How Public Policy Became War, David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd go even further, calling the New Deal “America’s French Revolution,” refashioning American government and public policy in ways that have grown to epic proportions today.
Roosevelt’s decisions of 1933 were truly revolutionary. They reset the balance of power away from Congress and the states toward a strong executive branch. They shifted the federal government away from the Founders’ vision of deliberation and moderation toward war and action. Succeeding presidents seized on the language of war to exert their will and extend their power into matters previously thought to be the province of Congress or state and local governments. Having learned that a sense of crisis is helpful in moving forward a domestic agenda, modern-day presidents have declared war on everything from poverty and drugs to crime and terror.
Exploring the consequences of these ill-defined (and never-ending) wars, How Public Policy Became War calls for a re-examination of this destructive approach to governance and a return to the deliberative vision of the Founders. “If we are constantly at war,” the authors write, “America becomes a nation under siege.”