Part of this received wisdom--Big Business baaad, New Deal gooood--is handed down through the oft-required text _Grapes of Wrath_, written by John Steinbeck. For a libertarian critique of this socialistic novel (i.e., why it is good entertainment, but bad economic history), see Nicholas Varriano,"The Trouble with Steinbeck," _Liberty_, March 2004, 41-44.
Another irritating example of the New Deal gospel can be found in the entertaining, yet historically jarring movie _Seabiscuit_ (2003). The movie is about a private entrepreneur--a highly successful Ford dealer--who has lost his son through a tragic car accident and his wife through a resulting divorce. In his search to find a new life, he takes risks on men (a jockey and horse trainer) who are"down and out" but who have the untapped potential to turn the horse"Seabiscuit" into a legend. In short, the movie is all about risk-taking, individualism, taking chances, and the rough trade of horse-racing. Instead, the creators of this otherwise endearing, if sappy, movie periodically insert monologues from David McCullough ("The American Experience" voice) about how the New Deal saved poor figures like those in the New Deal. Thus, when the jockey (played by Tobey Maguire) dips into a bowl of tomato soup at his mentor's house, the film cuts to New Deal soup lines"giving hope to the masses." It is this kind of political drum-beating that gives Hollywood, and academia, their well-deserved reputations for statist liberalism, because the New Deal had nothing to do with the characters in _Seabiscuit_.
A more proper context would be the manic pop culture of the era, documented so well in Gary Dean Best's short survey _The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Pop Culture During the 1930s_. People paid to watch horse-racing, just as they did for roller derby, six-day bicycle races, dance marathons, flag-pole sitting, and so on. But doing right by history would not allow Hollywood producers to grind their political axes against the past and present.
Fortunately, I have the time (fifteen weeks) to inform students of the broader aspects of American culture during the 1930s. Many people experienced"hard times," during the Great Depression, but many did not (real wages actually _increased_ fifty percent, though this caused higher unemployment, one of the unintended consequences of New Deal labor policies). Moreover, there was so much more going on than the New Deal, including horse races won by individuals who were not turning each corner for the ol' WPA or CCC, Hollywood notwithstanding.
In short, this is an historical topic that deserve much greater consideration from U.S. political historians. How did Republican politicians approach the black votes from 1865 to the present? Why have Republican presidents, from Nixon onward been such strong supporters of affirmative action once in office? (See Clint Bolick's critique of GOP hypocrisy on racial preferences:"The Republican Abdication," chap. 8 in __The Affirmative Action Fraud_ (Cato, 1996).
At a recent Liberty Fund conference--put on by an organization that does much to stimulate discussion of diverse topics related to"Liberty and Power" (www.libertyfund.org)--we read essays by Calvin Coolidge defending the civil rights of African Americans and Catholics. Coolidge wrote and published these letters or addresses at the height of the Ku Klux Klan's popularity. Readers may be interested in the excerpts from his letter"Equality of Rights," dated 9 August 1924, and published in Coolidge, _Foundations of the Republic: Speeches and Addresses (1926):
"My dear Sir: Your letter is received, accompanied by a newspaper clipping which discusses the possibility that a colored man may be the Republican nominee for Congress from one of the New York districts...you say:
'It is of some concern whether a Negro is allowed to run for Congress anywhere, at any time, in any party, in this, a white man's country.'
"....I was amazed to receive such a letter. During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it." [As president, I am]"one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution...."
Yours very truly, etc.
I'd be interested in more citations to the Republican party and race. There is, of course, Nancy Weiss's _Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR_ (1983) and Robert Burk, _The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights_ (1984). There is also a fast-growing literature on Nixon and civil rights; see, e.g., Kotlowski, _Nixon's Civil Rights_ (2001) and my own book, which devotes several chapters to his pioneering efforts at affirmative action: _Big Government and Affirmative Action: The Scandalous History of the Small Business Administration_ (2001). On Reagan, the best-researched work I have come across is Nicholas Laham's The Reagan Presidency and The Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government (Praeger, 1998).