Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama and a Banana Republic
Less than two years under President Barack Obama's leadership, America is emerging from the serious financial crisis begun under President Bush.
Voters will soon decide if Obama's prescriptions for economic recovery justify staying the course or if America should shift 180 degrees to alternative GOP solutions contained in the Republicans' "Pledge to America."
The pledge is basically a rehash of failed Bush policies, which allowed rampant Wall Street abuses, promoted a rush to a needless war and produced a damaging recession.
The Republican pledge, according to Nobel laureate and respected economist Paul Krugman, makes permanent tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, thus "adding $3.7 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade." Krugman says the GOP position is: "Deficits are a terrible thing. Let's make them much bigger."
Today's nasty political climate reminds one of 1932, when more than 10,000 banks failed, unemployment reached 25 percent and GDP fell almost 50 percent. President Herbert Hoover, campaigning for a second term, was met by hostile crowds and threats on his life. Eggs and rotten fruit were thrown at him by disgruntled Americans whose rage was not unlike that of 2010's often raucous tea party members and addled birthers.
Hoover stubbornly rejected direct federal relief to individuals, believing that a dole would be "addictive and reduce the incentive to work," a view still fervently held by many conservatives and tea partiers seemingly bent on shanghaiing the unpopular GOP.
Hoover's prescriptions included: volunteerism, reliance on local charity, protective tariffs, limited federal regulation of the nation's economic system, and forced migration of 500,000 Mexicans, deemed usurpers of American jobs. Thousands of homeless Americans were forced into squalid shantytowns called "Hoovervilles," and soup kitchens became commonplace.
Hoover lost re-election. Voters concluded that he lacked creative solutions to defeat the Great Depression and that he didn't "feel their pain."
Ironically, only four years earlier, the majority opinion was that no American was better prepared and qualified to be the 31st president than Herbert Clark Hoover: a self-made man, an orphan who graduated from Stanford University, an incredibly successful mining engineer and executive, a great humanitarian and administrator who led successful Belgian relief efforts during World War I, and an enlightened secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge.
Hoover espoused the Efficiency Movement, believing the economy and government were riddled with waste that could be eliminated by experts who'd identify the problems and solve them. Two decades later, President Harry Truman, an admirer of the long-vilified Hoover, invited him to head a commission to streamline the government, which he gladly did.
Hoover carried only six states in 1932, losing to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who'd attacked him during the campaign for his "reckless and extravagant spending" and his belief that "we ought to control everything in Washington as rapidly as possible." FDR's running mate, John Nance Garner, accused the GOP of "leading the country down the path of socialism." Sound like something you'd hear on FOX?
Once elected, FDR's "Brain Trust" proposed bold Keynesian economic measures aimed at putting people back to work. His chief adviser, Rexford Tugwell, observed after the Depression subsided that many New Deal innovations were actually good ideas considered but rejected by the usually progressive Hoover.
FDR's Social Security legislation stands as the hallmark of his administration. In 2010, the GOP, which vigorously opposed Social Security in 1935, now promises to privatize it.
Hoover asked Americans to patiently trust his "tried and true" conservative remedies. The electorate didn't buy it. In the approaching 2010 midterm elections, fearful citizens may deny the Obama administration a vote of confidence.
Should voters realistically expect the reactionary "Party of No" to be any more creative and successful than Herbert Hoover? I think not. Paul Krugman predicts "Republicans may gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way ... a banana republic, here we come."
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. com.
More like this story