Last September, after meeting with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernacke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson concerning the “need” for the $700 billion bailout, President Bush reportedly remarked to a White House aide, “I am not going to be another Herbert Hoover.”
Bush thus displayed a common misunderstanding about our 31st president. According to popular myth, President Herbert Hoover was a do-nothing president who simply allowed the greed of Wall Street to run roughshod over the nation until the country was plunged into a great depression.
The truth is something else entirely. As Amity Shlaes points out in her brilliant book, “The Forgotten Man, A New History of the Great Depression,” Herbert Hoover paved the way for Franklin Roosevelt’s socialist New Deal, not by doing nothing, but rather by doing the wrong things. Hoover was far from the hands-off, laissez-faire chief executive whose failure to use government power resulted in “Hoovervilles” of Americans living in squalor with 25 percent unemployment. In fact, it was his use of government power that created these problems.
Herbert Hoover had been an up-and-coming Democrat when he changed parties to support Warren G. Harding’s bid for the GOP nomination in 1920.
The first president born west of the Mississippi River (in West Branch, Iowa), Hoover was a mining engineer by trade. He had been Harding’s Commerce Secretary, yet found himself distained by Harding’s vice president, the reserved Calvin Coolidge.
Coolidge called Hoover “Wonder Boy,” but kept him on at Commerce after Harding died in office. When Coolidge chose not to run for another term in 1928, the popular Hoover easily captured the Republican nomination and the presidency in a landslide, despite never having held elective office before.
Herbert Hoover, like George W. Bush, was a believer in big government. Both men created new government programs and departments, with spending to match. Both believed that only government had the resources to make right the economic woes of the nation. And both paved the way for their successors to implement even more government intrusion into the private sector.
In Hoover’s case, he did two things that were disastrous for the country. He raised taxes and signed the Smoot-Hawley Act, which placed a protectionist wall of tariffs on our foreign trading partners. This paved the way for FDR to claim that more needed to be done — much more. Roosevelt blamed Hoover and the greedy, idle rich whom he said were not paying “their fair share.” Sound familiar?
With Bush, it was a massive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement program and a $700 billion bailout package that socialized the financial sector of the American economy, thus setting the stage for Barack Obama to enter the scene with some of the wildest, most grandiose schemes ever seen in Washington, DC.
I talked to an average, blue collar small business owner last week. This man will retire from his business within the next year. He told me he was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. I asked him why? His answer should not have surprised me, but it did.
“The only Republican worth voting for in my lifetime was Ronald Reagan,” he said.
That man reflects the essence of the 1984 presidential election, when Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in the biggest rout in the history of presidential politics. His statement about Reagan is a statement about the condition of politics in this country. When given the choice to vote liberal or conservative, the American people will vote conservative. When given the choice to vote liberal or liberal-lite, they will choose the real thing every time.
Generally, young voters are “branded” with the emotion of the first vote they cast for president. The generation that elected Franklin D. Roosevelt four times became Democrats for the rest of their lives.
Many who came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s supported Ronald Reagan and became lifelong Republicans, thereby propelling GOP candidates into the White House in five of the last eight elections.
But last year’s presidential election probably has placed liberal Democrats in the majority for a generation. Barack Obama is a skilled communicator who will not be easily removed from office. Like FDR before him, he is already saying that the problems created by his predecessor will take “years” to “fix.”
Thank God for presidential term limits.