The Birth of 'New Deal' Independent producer John McDonough talks about a phrase born in Chicago 75 years ago, when Franklin Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States and promised America a "new deal."
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The Birth of 'New Deal'

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The Birth of 'New Deal'

The Birth of 'New Deal'

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Tonight, the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago honors a famous political phrase that was first coined on this date in 1932. Seventy-five years ago, the Democratic National Convention was meeting in that city. It nominated the then-governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his acceptance speech, Roosevelt promised America a new deal.

And as independent producer John McDonough tells us, that phrase was never intended to be quite so memorable.

JOHN McDONOUGH: It was not an original or stately phrase. It had appeared without notice in the works of Henry James and Mark Twain. And just before the 1932 Democratic convention, the new republic began a series of articles called "A New Deal for America." In those days, it was considered unseemly to want to be president. So navigating the intrigues of the process was something the wise candidate left for others to do on his behalf.

For Roosevelt, this was the job of two men: Louie Howe and Jim Farley, the gregarious point man who did the legwork, the handshaking and the bargaining on the convention floor. Roosevelt listened at a polite distance from Albany over the radio. This is what he heard after his name was placed in nomination.

Unidentified Man #1: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Unintelligible) as the candidate of the presidency of the United States.

McDONOUGH: But he was not the only Democrat who wanted to be president. As the nominations drowned on, Howe listened, worked the phones, and one by one picked off Roosevelt's opponents with promises of position for some, exile for others.

Unidentified Man #2: The honorable Harry Flood Byrd.

McDONOUGH: The price of Byrd's support was a seat in the U.S. Senate. The fact that Virginia already had two Democratic senators was not a problem for Howe. Senator Claude Swanson would simply become secretary of the Navy.

Mr. CLAUDE SWANSON (Former Democratic Senator, Virginia): For the needs of humanity, I give to this convention the name of Alfred E. Smith.

McDONOUGH: Smith would bet his entire political future against Roosevelts, make no deals with Howe, and walk away with nothing.

Unidentified Man#3: The democracy of Texas presents her more distinguished son, John F. Garner.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MCDONOUGH: Garner came to Chicago with the support of William Randolph Hearst and enough Texas and California delegates to put Roosevelt over the top. When Howe offered Garner the vice presidency, history struck Roosevelt on the fourth ballot. William McAdoo of California sprang the switch.

Mr. WILLIAM McADOO (Former Democratic Senator, California): I would like to see Democrats fight Republicans and not Democrats. California, cast 44 votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

McDONOUGH: With that, Texas flipped and the deed was done. According to tradition, the candidate was now obliged to wait several weeks in silence for formal notification of his nomination. It was a pretense as leisurely as it was obsolete. Roosevelt had quietly told his inner circle that if he were nominated, things would be different. A month before Chicago, he had asked Raymond Moley to have an acceptance speech ready by the convention. Moley's first draft was finished by the third week in June.

Meanwhile, Louie Howe was quietly working on an acceptance draft of his own, one he refused to share with anyone including Roosevelt. As the convention rumbled on in Chicago, Roosevelt and his speechwriter, Sam Rosenman, polished the Moley draft in Albany. On Friday, July 1st, Rosenman scribbled out a concluding paragraph. He may have had the current new republic story in mind when he jotted the phrase down for the first time.

I pledge myself, he wrote, to a new deal for the American people. He saw nothing remarkable in it and penned it in lower case. That night, Roosevelt was nominated.

Unidentified Man#4: Franklin D. Roosevelt, having received four of the two-thirds of all the delegates voting (unintelligible) the nominee of this convention for president of the United States.

McDONOUGH: The next morning, in an extraordinary gesture, Roosevelt boarded an airplane in Albany, flew through a barricade of thunderstorms and set down on a gravel runway in Chicago. During the nine-hour flight, his Garner was being nominated for the vice presidency at the convention. He and Rosenman edited the Moley draft and a secretary typed the finished copy.

But when the plane landed, Roosevelt found an awkward surprise waiting for him - Louie Howe and that 12-page acceptance speech he had never laid eyes on. Howe was Roosevelt's oldest and most intimate advisor. He could not disregard his advice or his feelings. During the motorcade at the convention hall, Roosevelt quietly weighed the two drafts against his debt to Howe. By the time he reached the Chicago Stadium, he had tactfully slid the first page of Howe's speech on top of the Moley-Rosenman draft.

President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: I regret that I am late, but I had no control over the winds of heaven.

McDONOUGH: Reading Howe's words, he told the convention why he had come to Chicago and made it symbolic of what to expect.

Pres. ROOSEVELT: The appearance before a national convention of its nominee for president is unprecedented and unusual. But these are unprecedented and unusual times. Let it also be symbolic that in so doing, I broke traditions. Let it be, from now on, the task of our party to break foolish traditions.

McDONOUGH: The message was clear. Roosevelt's campaign was off and running while the Republican nominee was still waiting to be told he had been nominated. Roosevelt paid tribute to Woodrow Wilson, then moved into his planned text. Moley and Rosenman breathed more easily as they heard the familiar rhythms of their words emerge, words that would mark the Democratic Party for decades to come.

Pres. ROOSEVELT: Ours must be a party of liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens.

McDONOUGH: After 45 minutes, Roosevelt came to the final paragraph, the one Rosenman had written in Albany the morning before. He gave it only modest emphasis, preferring to save his rhetorical thrust for the final call to arms.

Pres. ROOSEVELT: I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people.

MCDONOUGH: He used the phrase new deal only once. But if Roosevelt missed its symbolic potential, reporters did not. In a text of nearly forty-four hundred words, they spotted it immediately and tabbed it for stardom. The next morning, the Chicago Tribune singled out the phrase in a headline. Other papers flagged it in their leads. Cartoonists turned it into a label. Soon, it became shorthand for everything the party stood for. Within 10 months, reporters started writing it in upper case. And by the end of the first 100 days a year later, the words new deal had become the most powerful political brand of the 20th century.

For NPR News, this is John McDonough.

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