The Second New Deal—the legislation that Roosevelt and Congress passed between 1935 and 1938—was strikingly different from the First New Deal in certain ways. Perhaps most important, the Second New Deal legislation relied more heavily on the Keynesian style of deficit spending than the First New Deal did. Roosevelt altered his policy making in part because of complaints from critics and in part because, by 1935, it was clear that more Americans still needed federal relief assistance. Roosevelt thus aimed approximately half the Second New Deal programs and policies at long-term reform.
Predictably, Roosevelt’s New Deal came under attack from the right, from Republicans, conservative Democrats, bankers, and Wall Street financiers who claimed that it doled out too many federal handouts. Many of these critics also feared that the policy and programs involved were a dangerous step toward socialism and the destruction of the American capitalist system. Such misgivings were understandable given the political atmosphere in the 1930s, as communism was becoming a more imminent threat. In fact, Soviet agents in the United States went so far as to launch a “popular front” campaign to actively support the president. Moreover, an unprecedented number of people joined the American Communist Party during the decade.
Perhaps more surprising, the New Deal also came under attack from the far left. Many socialist activists denounced the New Deal because they believed that it was too conservative and that it did not provide enough relief and assistance. Over the years, many historians have tended to agree with this argument. Several have argued that the Great Depression would not have been so devastating for so long had Roosevelt handed more federal money out to a greater number of Americans.
One of the most vocal of Roosevelt’s critics was Father Charles Coughlin. A Catholic priest from Michigan, Coughlin began broadcasting a weekly radio show in 1930 that outwardly criticized the New Deal. Within a few short years, Coughlin had amassed a following of 40 million listeners who agreed with his anti–New Deal opinions. He blamed the Great Depression on Wall Street, crooked financiers, and Jews and campaigned for the nationalization of the entire American banking system.
Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana was another major thorn in Roosevelt’s side, albeit from the left rather than the right. Long was among those who believed that the New Deal was not doing enough to help Americans. Believing that income inequality had caused the depression, he promoted his own “Share the Wealth” program (sometimes referred to as the “Every Man a King” program), which would levy enormous taxes on the rich so that every American family could earn at least $5,000 a year. Long enjoyed enormous popularity during the first few years of Roosevelt’s first term but was assassinated in 1935.
The first major legislation that Roosevelt and Congress passed in the Second New Deal—in response to the critics—was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Created in 1935, the WPA was an effort to appease the “Longites” who clamored for more direct assistance from the federal government. The WPA was similar to the Public Works Administration of the First New Deal, this time hiring nearly 10 million Americans to construct new public buildings, roads, and bridges. Congress dumped over $10 billion into the projects in just under a decade.