Quantcast

The End of Herbert Hoover | The Nation

  •  

The End of Herbert Hoover

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Franklin Roosevelt is elected on the promise of a new deal, something the country needs desperately.

About the Author

Also by the Author

His deportation policy isn’t just a moral failure—it’s bad politics, too.

The McCutcheon campaign finance ruling is only the latest in a series of bad decisions that have sparked growing grassroots resistance.

For Mr. Hoover's defeat we give profoundest thanks. Even though the change to a Democratic Administration offers no real relief, insures no worth-while program, and none of the far-reaching changes so desperately needed to extricate us from the disaster in which the country finds itself, we cannot but take heart at the verdict. It quickens our faith in the essential right-mindedness of the electorate when it has the facts before it -- and this time no amount of Republican falsification and fustian could conceal certain essential truths. The people realized that whether Franklin Roosevelt had anything to offer or not, it was time to make a clean sweep in Washington and not only to retire Herbert Hoover as a complete failure, but to get rid of the fourth- and fifth-rate men surrounding him. We are aware, of course, that the very existence of the depression made Mr. Hoover's reelection impossible -- indeed, we have been certain of this since May, 1931. But the depression alone does not explain the magnitude of the defeat, nor the undeniable fact that no other President within the memory of man has been so profoundly hated and distrusted by such great masses of his countrymen as has Herbert Hoover.

Unquestionably, any Democratic candidate -- unless the exception is Al Smith -- would have won this year. That is doubtless what Mr. Hoover's associates and loyal party press will tell him by way of solace for his dismissal from the White House. None the less, the size of the disaster is chiefly of his own making. Even with the depression, an outstanding, able, rugged, frank, and attractive President could have convinced the electorate that he was above all else devoted to the common weal, that from the outset he had really labored to save the plain people, and that he had not been first, last, and all the time working in the interest of big business, the railroads, and the banks. But the people saw in Mr. Hoover a servant of the interests, a man who, instead of taking them into his confidence in 1930 and 1931 as to the gravity and the danger of the economic collapse, lied to them, either deliberately or through stupidity, with the intention of keeping up their morale. How could any self-respecting people fail to resent this attitude? It is a false and unworthy conception of the American people which portrays them as not to be trusted to keep their heads in an emergency. It is a narrow and stupid philosophy of statesmanship which seeks to create illusions and then, after the deceit is exposed, expects that the people will still have the same confidence in the benign personage who has been in-trusted with their government but does not think they can stand being told the truth. When to that are added Mr. Hoover's blunders and delays in the matter of the necessary relief measures, his absolutely rigid refusal to consider direct relief for the millions of starving Americans, his passionate clinging to economic gods long since proved utterly false, there are reasons enough for the intense personal antagonism to Mr. Hoover. He entered the White House with by far the largest popular vote ever cast for a candidate and an overwhelming majority of 444 to 87 in the Electoral College; in four short years he has completely dissipated that unprecedented bank account of the people's confidence.

As for Franklin Roosevelt, if he fails to recognize and admit the fact that this election went against Mr. Hoover and not for himself, he will have made his initial -- and very serious mistake. What the voters did was to concentrate on getting their false public servants out of the way. They have been only mildly interested in Governor Roosevelt and his views. Trained to believe that a jump from the frying-pan to the fire is inevitable, they have taken little account of the panaceas offered by the Democrats. As it was, the Governor grew weaker in the latter days of the campaign. His sickening wabblings on the tariff, his absurd program for the farmers, his pathetic belief that he had outlined a big constructive program certain to cure our ills, have all revealed the economic ignorance, the callowness, yes, the juvenility of his mind, as well as his burning desire to say to each group just what he thought it wished him to say. While displaying a good deal of conventional political strategy and an unexpected aggressiveness, it cannot be said at the conclusion of the campaign that he has added anything to his political or personal stature.

Now Governor Roosevelt has an even greater opportunity than came to Mr. Hoover in 1928, without, however, being as free from political debts and entanglements as was the present President on the day after his election. What a vista spreads out before him! The wreckage, the ruin, the disaster to the lives of millions, especially the children deprived of decent nutrition, that confront him are enough to daunt the bravest and wisest. It is by no means sure that the corner has been turned and the long, long climb back to prosperity begun. It may well be that he will find himself taking over the greatest of offices at a moment when the economic and popular distress will be at their worst, with the government's revenues falling off at a still more alarming rate. But even if the situation is brighter, he will find himself charged by his political opponents with the responsibility for the coming effects of all their own misdeeds and their ghastly economic blunders, such as the Hawley-Smoot tariff and the Farm Board.

Far more than that, if there is in him a trace of genuine statesmanship, he must see that the situation which confronts America goes even deeper than the economic crisis of the moment -- dreadful as that is. Repeatedly, during the campaign, he has quoted and praised Woodrow Wilson, under whom he served. Let us remind him that it was this same Woodrow Wilson who declared in 1912: "Don't you know that this country from one end to the other believes that something is wrong?"; that "some radical changes we must make in our law and practice"; that "we stand in the presence of revolution...whereby America will insist upon recovering in practice those ideals which she has always professed, upon securing a government devoted to the general interest and not to special interests." Not one inch of net progress have we made in this direction since Woodrow Wilson spoke those true words; the slight gains made under him from 1914 to 1917 have long since been lost by the folly and wickedness of our plunge into the World War, by the completely reactionary character and crookedness of the governments by and for the rich under Messrs. Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. When all the mess of the economic collapse is cleared away, America must begin in earnest that radical reorganization for which Mr. Wilson called twenty long years ago -- twenty precious lost years during which the country has gone down and not up.

There lies the real opportunity for Franklin Roosevelt. Knowing the overwhelming magnitude of the problem before him, and the utter inadequacy of the party whose leader he now is, we are tempted to condole with him and are little moved to congratulate him. Rather, we wonder at his incredible temerity in seeking the responsibility that broke Mr. Hoover and must challenge any man essaying it down to the last drop of his blood, the final bit of fiber in his character. But if he should meet that challenge; if he should have the God-given wisdom to chart the way so that this America of ours could once more be set upon the path of progress, could throw off the shackles of our masters -- "the heads of great allied corporations with special interests" -- he would rise to a height in the affections and gratitude of his countrymen never attained by any President since George Washington.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size