The 1936 presidential election provided the perfect platform for the proponents of the New Deal – chiefly, Franklin Roosevelt – and the opponents of its policies, embodied in Republican candidate Alf Landon, to air their disagreements. One of the chief disagreements was over the role and size of the federal government. Under the New Deal policies, Roosevelt asked for, and received, tremendous authority, and congress authorized much spending so that the president and his administration could institute work programs and things like Social Security. Alf Landon argued, to his credit, that all of the power and authority handed over to the government was supposed to be temporary.

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He argued that the people of America only agreed to provide this kind of overwhelming authority because they believed that Roosevelt would only be using the power for a short time. At the heart of their disagreement was conflict over the role of government. The Republicans believed, and still do, to some extent, in a smaller federal government. Democrats believed, and still do to some extent, in the fact that a larger federal government is necessary to protect the ability of individuals to pursue their own personal freedoms. This conflict was present then, and it is present now, though the issues are not nearly as cut and dry today as they were during the election of 1936.

Likewise, there was a disagreement on just what it meant for the country to make a full financial recovery. While the New Deal certainly was concerned with providing jobs for Americans, it also concerned itself with the overall financial prosperity of the country. It took a look at various metrics, including the country’s international financial standing and the strength of the stock market, as markers for how well the country was doing in its recovery. Alf Landon proposed, however, that this kind of arrangement was not the right way to look at American progress. The Republicans during this time believed that the number on the stock market was less important than the capacity of the American people to conduct business or find jobs (Republican Party, “1936 National Platform,” in Kevin Fernlund, Documents for America’s History, 245).

Landon’s primary criticism of Democratic policies during this time was that they were unsuccessful in helping to alleviate the immediate job crisis faced by lower and middle class Americans. One might certainly say that there has been a shift in ideals between the parties on this matter. Modern Republicans could never be accused of thinking that the stock market was not important, as many of their policies are designed around the concept that prosperity for the richest Americans is good for all people. Likewise, modern policies of the Republican party tend to celebrate the fact that America has a strong role in the international market. The strength of the American economy is often assessed by these individuals using the factors that Alf Landon criticized during this election, and this represents a major change.

Overall, the heart of the disagreement was over whether or not it was necessary for the federal government to get involved in order to preserve the freedom of the people. While both parties were searching for ways to secure freedom for the people, Roosevelt and the Democrats believed that it was possible for a large central government to be a part of this process, while Landon and his ilk saw the federal government as being too big, too powerful, and in the way of the basic goals of the American people. Not much has changed in these ideologies, and although they are stated in different ways today, they get back to the heart of the issues between the two parties.