I’ve been thinking about Herbert Hoover lately. Not sure why, but probably comes to mind when I buy gas and think about the potential collapse of our economy. Hoover died in 1964, but more importantly he was president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. Much of what Hoover experienced and his action or inaction was described as “unprecedented” at the time.
His presidential library is in West Branch, Ia. and is an unassuming place that I visited a few years ago. He was a Republican and was generally considered one of the worst performing presidents by historians that rate such things. He was elected president in 1928, assuming the presidency in 1929, a period of economic stability.
That quickly turned on him when the stock market crashed, and the Great Depression was born. Hoover often blamed Mexicans for the depression by using resources and taking jobs that “should” go to Americans. He also staunchly opposed any federal intervention in the economy, a belief that many held at the time. He was easily defeated in the next presidential election by Franklin Roosevelt, who led a federal government that infused federal dollars directly into the economy at new levels, forever changing the relationship between government and economy and also described as unprecedented.
I think what really reminds me of all of this is that no matter how much things change, they stay the same. We’ve been arguing about trickle down economics for at least 100 years. Arguing about the role of the Federal Reserve and monetary policy for at least 100 years and Republicans and Democrats alike have blamed most of any woes that we have experienced on outsiders. We’ve had Democrats and Republicans both throw money at and blame at our problems in a relatively similar fashion, yet we seem surprised each time it happens by our politicians of choice as if we expect something different.
If you’ve never been to the Hoover Library, I do recommend it. Hoover was a fascinating guy. Successful engineer who became president at the urging of many who admired his business and engineering prowess, only to leave office with a battered ego and legacy. He took a lengthy sabbatical from public life after his presidency, only to return to chair the Hoover Commission appointed by Harry Truman to advise on administrative changes that could be made in federal government.
Yes, Democrat Harry Truman appointed former Republican President Hoover to the post. Do you think that would happen in today’s environment? Oddly enough, Truman also implemented the changes recommended by the commission Hoover led.
I’m sure the changes were described as “unprecedented” at the time.
Presidential Libraries are pretty cool, and I recommend them. I’ve been to four to date. In order of favorable experience, although none were bad:
1 – Harry Truman, Independence, Mo. By far the best presentation of information is at the one in our backyard. Just a plethora of historical information laid out in a very functional way. I’m not a huge fan of nuclear bombs, but this is the place to visit if you want to see a part of the human side of using such military force.
2- Andrew Jackson, Nashville, Tenn. The most interesting character and this is more museum of his home and former farm, “Hermitage,” than library. Take a break from your cowboy boots and longnecks on Broadway next time you’re in the area and read up on this cat, ’cause he was complicated and very flawed. I suspect he was “unprecedented” in terms of perceived poor character, but I haven’t read all his clippings or his Facebook page.
3- Bill Clinton, Little Rock, Ark. The most interesting architecture and nicest building of all that I have been to. Clinton’s rags to riches story is inspiring and it is well documented here. The museum lacks a bit of the negative historical markers of the era that most of us recall, but if you build a museum for me, I’d expect you to gloss over my failures as well.
4- Herbert Hoover. Poor Herb just doesn’t get nice things. He got a bad economy, bad rap, and a pretty pedestrian library. Interesting, but it felt like I was at something the local square dance club had put together one summer as a service project instead of dancing in the heat.
That’s my travel guide for you. All within driving distance. Each of them should provide you on a new perspective when something in government and politics is described as “unprecedented,” because history says that is rarely an apt adjective.
(Guy Speckman cannot be reached. He is advocating the retirement of the word “unprecedented” from the political landscape vocabulary)