The campaigns for the presidential election of 2008 have begun, and they already reflect an old political challenge. Whether Democrat or Republican, candidates must address the same dilemma: on the one hand, voters have enormous faith in the private sector; on the other, they expect the government to provide them with ever more generous entitlements. They know they must reform the entitlements that threaten America’s growth. But they cannot bring themselves to turn their backs on powerful constituency groups—who demand even more generous initiatives.
Amity Shlaes will take us back and prove that the roots of the problem lay in a single election year, 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt systematically established modern political interest groups from unions to artists to senior citizens. Roosevelt often spoke of the “Forgotten Man,” the man “at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Yet Shlaes will argue that Roosevelt’s New Deal created a new “Forgotten Man,” the man who subsidizes the funding of other constituencies, and who haunts the politics of all developed nations today.