Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hoover as a continuing metaphor for what's wrong with today's Republican Party

Crossposted from our new home blog,They gave us a republic...

Republicans have one subject they hate to have thrown in their face--Herbert Hoover. And, with good reason. The President who was woefully out of touch and ineffectual at the onset of the Great Depression was replaced by Franklin Roosevelt and the dominance of the Democratic Party.

Michael Cohen at TPM Cafe rounds up some great reading material:

As Todd Gitlin noted, Herbert Hoover's "tribute to rugged individualism" was a product of a specific moment in history - the calm before the storm of the Great Depression. As the famed historian Richard Hofstadter said of our 29th President, "The things Hoover believed in - efficiency, enterprise, opportunity, individualism, substantial laissez-faire, personal success, material welfare - were all in the dominant American tradition. The ideas he represented - ideas that to so many people made him seem hateful or ridiculous after 1929 - were precisely the same ideas that in the remotest past of the nineteenth century and the more immediate past of the New Era had had an almost irresistible lure for the majority of Americans."

Of course, as we all know, by 1932 Hoover was hopelessly out of touch; practically an overnight anachronism, unable and unwilling to shift course. Instead it was FDR's call for bold, persistent experimentation and his pledge of a New Deal for the American people that resonated. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that even in 1932, as the country was mired in economic depression, Roosevelt did not run for President on a liberal agenda. He even attacked Hoover for increasing government spending and not balancing the budget.

Gitlin says:

I don't think I've ever read a Hoover speech before. You know, this one, a week before he beat Al Smith, isn't half bad. Of course, a tribute to rugged individualism sounded better on October 23, 1928 than it would have on July 2, 1932, when Roosevelt gave his great "New Deal" speech. But for all its stuffiness, it hangs together. It addresses the voters as grown-ups. It makes an argument. It And--bonus!--it even embraces liberalism as "a force truly of the spirit." This liberalism, Hoover insists, "is no system of laissez faire." (French yet!)

But the difference between Hoover's speech and Roosevelt's is not just four years of crash, unemployment and social misery. It's also the difference between an uninspired speech and an inspired one. Roosevelt makes an argument, of course, but he's witty, too: Trickle-down theory "belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776." He's clear about who the adversaries are: not the "Republican Party" but the "Republican leadership" (Barack Obama, are you listening?). He's sparing with metaphor but trenchant when he indulges: "During the past ten years a Nation of 120,000,000 people has been led by the Republican leaders to erect an impregnable barbed wire entanglement around its borders through the instrumentality of tariffs which has isolated us from all the other human beings in all the rest of the round world."

He addresses his listeners directly: "Go into the home of the business man. He knows what the tariff has done for him. Go into the home of the factory worker...." He's blunt about values: "My program, of which I can only touch on these points, is based upon this simple moral principle: the welfare and the soundness of a Nation depend first upon what the great mass of the people wish and need; and second, whether or not they are getting it."

And those are great words to remember. The contrast between the party of Hoover and the party of Roosevelt is apropo today--McCain is out of touch, lazy, and doesn't bother with details. Obama commands the details and the rhetoric, and seems to inspire people beyond the grasp of the media.

For all of his shortcomings, you'd think Obama would draw middling crowds. Instead, the media downplays the fact that Obama events are raucous and filled to the rafters.

Someone must know something the media doesn't know...
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