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How FDR won the war of public perception | Book Review | Chicago Reader

Hardcover , pages. Published November 30th by University of Chicago Press. More Details Littleton-Griswold Prize Other Editions 4. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Michele Dauber

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Sort order. Mar 04, Jessica rated it it was amazing. The Sympathetic State adeptly demonstrates the difference between reality and perception.

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Indeed, while Americans might see themselves as vigorously embracing laissez-faire and rejecting the social welfare policies of Western Europe, the reality is the federal government has a long history of extending federal relief dating back to the earliest days of the republic. Sep 20, Mills College Library added it.

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Michele Landis Dauber. However, in this new study, the author discovers a long tradition going back to the early Republic of federal relief to those overtaken by disaster and viewed as morally blameless, and presents the New Deal as the culmination or creative adaptation of that tradition. Neither antistatist political culture nor the Constitution deterred Congress from responding sympathetically to "disaster narratives," so long as the claimants could establish their helplessness and deservedness.


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That fact owed much to the power of precedent on Capitol Hill: Once such unimpeachable small-government men as James Monroe and John C. Calhoun had endorsed disaster relief for those fleeing the Haitian rebellion, for example, or those who lost property at the hands of the British in the War of , then legislators wishing to justify other broad constructions of the Constitution had an easy task. What is more, the Supreme Court went along with this: Contrary to the conventional wisdom, it has never challenged Congress's authority to define the scope of the general welfare clause even though state courts frequently struck down redistributive legislation that was deemed to serve an insufficiently "public purpose".

The disinclination of even conservative lawyers to overturn legislation resting on the taxing and spending power provided a crucial opening for New Dealers crafting what became the Social Security Act. Dauber's argument is fresh, well supported, clearly articulated, and powerfully suggests an emerging historiography of nineteenth-century government that emphasizes its surprising activism with a more established historiography on the limits of the New Deal.

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Where another historian surveying the history of American disaster relief might instinctively look for turning points and crystallizing moments, Dauber, a law professor, looks for persistent patterns, exploring the fundamental character of the American political regime. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. Read preview.