January 2012, Week 3


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Sun, 15 Jan 2012 22:27:29 -0500
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Bill Daley, FDR, and the Influence of Presidential Advisors
by David Woolner
New Deal 2.0

An examination of the position of chief of staff reveals
how crucial the role was to FDR's tenure as president.

The recent news that President Obama's chief of staff
has decided to step down after just a year in office has
drawn attention to the role that senior advisors play in
the White House and the impact they may have - or not -
on directing policy and achieving a president's agenda.
The role of senior advisor has a long history, dating
back to President Woodrow Wilson's use of Colonel Edmund
House as an "unofficial" advisor. House was offered an
official cabinet position, but turned it down so that he
would be at liberty to advise the president on a host of
matters. Unlike many of his predecessors, House actually
lived in the White House and, thanks to his close
relationship with President Wilson, became something
akin to what we might think of as a modern-day chief of
staff or National Security Advisor, as he played a major
role in shaping U.S. wartime diplomacy. Due to the
complexity of the issues confronting the United States
in trying to shape the eventual peace that would come
after World War I, Wilson also asked House to lead a
special team of experts called "The Inquiry" that was to
help formulate U.S. policy at the peace negotiations.
The use of The Inquiry, which included many experts
drawn from academia, may have served as a model for a
far more influential group of expert advisors that came
a generation later under what FDR called the "Brains

The fact that FDR may have modeled this group of
advisors on Wilson's use of Colonel House and The
Inquiry should come as no surprise. After all, FDR
served as Under Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson
administration and was a great admirer of the latter.
The immediate inspiration for this group of advisors,
however, came not from FDR, but from his legal counsel
and speech writer, Samuel Rosenman, who suggested the
idea in the course of FDR's 1932 run for the White
House. With the country in the midst of the worst
economic crisis in its history, which seemed to defy
common understanding, the idea of putting together a
group of experts to advise the president during the
campaign seemed to make a great deal of sense. Moreover,
as Roosevelt had already made use of expert advice
during his term as Governor of New York, he readily
embraced the idea.

The term Brains Trust - which was first coined in 1932
by James Kieran of the New York Times -- would come to
represent the entire coterie of advisors that surrounded
FDR during the New Deal. But the original Brains Trust
was actually made up of just three individuals drawn
from the ranks of Columbia University: Raymond Moley,
Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf A. Berle. All three of these
men would play an important part in shaping the New
Deal, but it was Moley who had perhaps the greatest
initial impact.

Moley was a professor of law and government who had
supported FDR's 1928 gubernatorial campaign and was
active in the field of criminal justice. He also had a
knack for organization and for gathering support for his
progressive ideas which, along with his innate ability
as a speech writer, led Rosenman to suggest him as the
person to both recruit and head up the inchoate group of
advisors. Moley was only too happy to do so, and it
wasn't long before both Tugwell and Berle agreed to join

In April 1932, Moley undertook his first major
assignment for the would-be president, helping draft one
of FDR's first major national addresses of the campaign:
his famous "forgotten man" speech that focused on rural
and urban poverty. In the speech, Roosevelt publicly
proclaimed his firm belief in the responsibility of the
federal government to come to the aid of ordinary
citizens. In doing so, FDR rejected the trickle down
approach taken by the Hoover administration in response
to the economic crisis and instead called for economic
mobilization that focused on the lower - as opposed to
upper - echelons of American society. As Roosevelt put

	These unhappy times call for the building of
	plans that rest on upon the forgotten, the
	unorganized, but the essential units of economic
	power, for plans like those of 1917 that build
	from the bottom up and not from the top down,
	that put their faith once more in the forgotten
	man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Moley played a significant role in both drafting the
speech and in giving it its populist appeal. It was
Moley, for example, who suggested the phrase "forgotten
man" (which stemmed from an essay written in the 19th
century by the sociologist William Graham Sumner). The
line stuck a chord with the public and came to symbolize
FDR's support for the millions of poor and powerless
Americans that had been victimized by the Depression.
Moley also supported the theme of economic mobilization,
another concept that would reappear in Roosevelt's
rhetoric as the years progressed - most famously in his
First Inaugural.

Perhaps most importantly, Moley may also be responsible
not only for the use of the phrase "New Deal" to
describe FDR's social and economic agenda, but also - at
least in part - for some of its most famous components.
It is in a May 1932 memorandum written by Moley, for
example, that we first see the phrase New Deal.
Moreover, the same document also calls for FDR and the
Democratic Party to reject the more orthodox and
conservative elements of both major parties and embrace
instead a much more progressive agenda. He advocated
such ideas as a massive federal program of public works
to relieve unemployment, the regulation of the utility
industry, greater transparency in the financial sector,
and the separation of commercial and investment banking
- all issues that would be covered under the reforms of
the New Deal.

Ironically, in spite of Moley's strong influence over
FDR's policies in the early months of the New Deal, his
tenure as a presidential advisor, like that of Bill
Daley, would be relatively short lived. It was shorter,
in fact, than Daley's or his two fellow members of the
original Brains Trust. Under pressure in part from FDR's
Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, who was diametrically
opposed to the protectionist aspects of Moley's economic
agenda, as well as from FDR's long-time political
advisor Louis Howe, who began to see Moley as something
of a rival, Moley was forced to resign from public
service in September 1933.

Still, there is no question that during the first
critical months of the New Deal Raymond Moley wielded a
great deal of power and influence in Washington. The
fact that he was able to do so, and to rise to the upper
echelons of the government so quickly, serves as a
reminder of just how important presidential advisors can
be. This is surely something the press and public should
keep in mind as we move further into this election year.


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