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An 80-Year-Old Argument

3:10 PM, Nov 20, 2013 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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The battle over government's role in society has been raging for some time—culminating in today's clash over Obamacare. But for how long? In The New Deal & Modern Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, Professor David Davenport, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Gordon Lloyd, a professor at Pepperdine University, reexamine the Hoover-Roosevelt debates of the 1930s and find not much has changed.

At a Hoover Institution discussion this afternoon, Davenport explained the need to "go back to come back," or "using history to come back to public policy today." What he and his coauthor find are that the debates over health care reform and the budget battles of 2012 are the same, philosophically, as the disputes between Herbert Hoover's "rugged man" versus Franklin Roosevelt's "forgotten man" and the equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. Hoover feared FDR's plans for economic revival would forever change our relation to the federal government, creating a dependency that could not easily be reversed. Hoover's concern, says Davenport, "was more qualitative—what happens to the individual when the government takes over your life?"

Indeed, Davenport mentions polls showing that the 30-and-under generation deem government absolutely necessary to solve our current problems, whereas older generations are less enthusiastic about government involvement. "The current generation," he points out, "has had big government all their lives." It brings him to the question of whether liberty is still relevant?

From shower heads to large cups of soda to plastic bags, the government is constantly telling Americans what to do. The authors are hopeful that a constituency for liberty still exists and can be galvanized—and there's probably no better moment for this than the present.

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