Misplaced Scorn And An Inapt Comparison

December 19, 2008

h_hoover1This McClatchy story has been bugging me for a little while since I first read part of it, and I think I should say something about it (this excerpt in particular)…

WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush suddenly saw that he could very well be the 21st century’s Herbert Hoover.

OK, I think I should stop right here and note that Dubya has been compared in wingnut circles to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (I have a feeling that someone this drunk on the Kool-Aid isn’t likely to change their opinion now or ever; I should note that Mostert wrote this tripe in February 2004) and even that “traitor to his class” FDR by someone with the same ideological persuasion (here, in January 2005).

Now that the full-mooner perspective has been acknowledged, allow me to present that of historian Robert S. McElvaine, who tells us (in an article dated from February 2004)…

The reasons stated by some of the historians for their choice of the presidency that they believe Bush’s to be the worst since are worth repeating. The following are representative examples for each of the presidents named most frequently:

REAGAN: “I think the presidency of George W. Bush has been generally a failure and I consider his presidency so far to have been the most disastrous since that of Ronald Reagan–because of the unconscionable military aggression and spending (especially the Iraq War), the damage done to the welfare of the poor while the corporate rich get richer, and the backwards religious fundamentalism permeating this administration. I strongly disliked and distrusted Reagan and think that George W. is even worse.”

NIXON: “Actually, I think [Bush’s] presidency may exceed the disaster that was Nixon. He has systematically lied to the American public about almost every policy that his administration promotes.” Bush uses “doublespeak” to “dress up policies that condone or aid attacks by polluters and exploiters of the environment . . . with names like the ‘Forest Restoration Act’ (which encourages the cutting down of forests).”

HOOVER: “I would say GW is our worst president since Herbert Hoover. He is moving to bankrupt the federal government on the eve of the retirement of the baby boom generation, and he has brought America’s reputation in the world to its lowest point in the entire history of the United States.”

COOLIDGE: “I think his presidency has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment, for international relations, for health care, and for working Americans. He’s on a par with Coolidge!”

HARDING: “Oil, money and politics again combine in ways not flattering to the integrity of the office. Both men also have a tendency to mangle the English language yet get their points across to ordinary Americans. [Yet] the comparison does Harding something of a disservice.”

McKINLEY: “Bush is perhaps the first president [since McKinley] to be entirely in the ‘hip pocket’ of big business, engage in major external conquest for reasons other than national security, AND be the puppet of his political handler. McKinley had Mark Hanna; Bush has Karl Rove. No wonder McKinley is Rove’s favorite historical president (precedent?).”

GRANT: “He ranks with U.S. Grant as the worst. His oil interests and Cheney’s corporate Halliburton contracts smack of the same corruption found under Grant.”

“While Grant did serve in the army (more than once), Bush went AWOL from the National Guard. That means that Grant is automatically more honest than Bush, since Grant did not send people into places that he himself consciously avoided. . . . Grant did not attempt to invade another country without a declaration of war; Bush thinks that his powers in this respect are unlimited.”

ANDREW JOHNSON: “I consider his presidency so far to have been the most disastrous since that of Andrew Johnson. It has been a sellout of fundamental democratic (and Republican) principles. There are many examples, but the most recent would be his successful efforts to insert provisions in spending bills which directly controvert measures voted down by both houses of Congress.”

BUCHANAN: “Buchanan can be said to have made the Civil War inevitable or to have made the war last longer by his pusillanimity or, possibly, treason.” “Buchanan allowed a war to evolve, but that war addressed a real set of national issues. Mr. Bush started a war . . . for what reason?”

“In terms of economic damage, Reagan.
In terms of imperialism, T. Roosevelt.
In terms of dishonesty in government, Nixon.
In terms of affable incompetence, Harding.
In terms of corruption, Grant.
In terms of general lassitude and cluelessness, Coolidge.
In terms of personal dishonesty, Clinton.
In terms of religious arrogance, Wilson.”

My rather obvious point I suppose is that it’s extremely difficult to comprehend how truly awful Dubya’s reign has been as opposed to his predecessors, and you only can only comprehend that when you start to measure him up against others who have held the office.

But back to Hoover, I should note the following from this article that appeared in The New Republic two months ago (in which Cokie Darling earns her pundit cred once more by totally whiffing on what is thought to be an obvious comparison; a bit apt in terms of temperament and willful blindness to free-market ideology, but that’s it)…

Not until the credit meltdown of the past few weeks raised new doubts about Republican policies, however, did the analogy (between Dubya and Hoover) reach its current pitch of intensity. On ABC’s This Week, Cokie Roberts remarked, “Whenever Republicans get into this kind of mess … the specter of Herbert Hoover comes out to haunt them.” During the debate on the bailout, conservative Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, after saying that “this bill offends my principles,” announced he was going to vote for it. “This is a Herbert Hoover moment,” he explained. “He made some big mistakes in the Great Depression, and we have lived with those consequences for decades. Let’s not make that mistake.”

But these statements about Hoover provide a grossly distorted view of history. In contrast to George W. Bush, who, as the Yale historian Beverly Gage has said, “stood by and didn’t forge a clear direction” as the housing market collapsed around him, President Hoover moved in unprecedented ways to cope with economic calamity. Two days after entering the White House in March 1929, Hoover, who for years had been warning about “the fever of speculation,” exhorted Federal Reserve officials to rein in brokers and investment bankers. Following the Black Monday stock market crash that October, he summoned leaders of industry and finance to the White House, where he implored them to maintain wage rates; he urged Congress and state and local governments to accelerate public works spending; he prodded the Federal Reserve Board to expand credit; and he encouraged a newly created Federal Farm Board to bolster crop prices.

His White House tribulations consumed only four of more than 90 years studded with extraordinary achievements–as Great Engineer, as World War I Food Czar, and, above all, as Great Humanitarian. During the Great War, Hoover heroically crossed mine-strewn waters from Britain to the Continent on errands of mercy countless times. While Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s, he sped relief to famine sufferers in Soviet Russia despite his loathing of bolshevism. “In the past year,” Maxim Gorki wrote him, “you have saved from death three and one-half million children, five and one-half million adults.”

Far from being a right-wing zealot, Hoover won the admiration of progressives for his advanced views. In the Wilson era, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called him “the biggest figure injected into Washington by the war,” and John Maynard Keynes, reflecting on the Versailles conference, concluded that Hoover was “the only man who emerged from the ordeal of Paris with an enhanced reputation.” As the 1920 election approached, Franklin D. Roosevelt said of him, “He is certainly a wonder, and I wish we could make him President of the United States. There would not be a better one.”

I also don’t think the comparison between Hoover and Dubya is completely apt because, when Hoover was elected, this country had already endured eight years of Republican presidential neglect. Dubya, however, owns our current mess all by himself.

So when the pundits tell us that “George W. Bush…could very well be the 21st century’s Herbert Hoover,” I have only this to say:

Dubya should be so lucky.

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