Herbert Hoover’s record as a false prophet was consistent to the end.
At the risk of gilding the tinsel, let the record be set down finally as The Nation takes leave this week of the “only party fit to rule.” American memories are short. Four years from now the public will be asked to restore the Republicans and prosperity.
Let it therefore be recalled, now and henceforth, that four years ago not a cloud even as large as a man’s hand had appeared in the heavens. That it was, from the financial standpoint, a clear blue sky may have had a certain prophetic symbolism which was overlooked at the time. Herbert Hoover was about to assume the Presidency. His predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, in his valedictory message to Congress, had declared:
No Congress of the United States ever assembled, on surveying the state of the Union, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time. …The requirements of existence have passed beyond the standard of necessity into the region of luxury. Enlarging production is consumed by an increasing demand at home and an expanding commerce abroad. The country can regard the present with satisfaction and anticipate the future with optimism.
There was no difference of opinion, no variation in optimism between the retiring and incoming helmsmen of the nation. In his acceptance address the previous August Mr. Hoover had declared:
We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but, given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and we shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation. There is no guaranty against poverty equal to a job for every man. That is the primary purpose of the economic policies we advocate.
And having achieved office on the basis of this premise and promise, President Hoover reiterated his faith in his inaugural message:
Ours is a land … filled with millions of happy homes, blessed with comfort and opportunity …. In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure . . . . I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.
There is no need to set down once more the repeated mistaken prophecies which issued from the White House as the country sank deeper into economic chaos. Those forecasts were sufficiently quoted during the recent Presidential contest. But Mr. Hoover’s record as a false prophet continued consistent to the end. Throughout the campaign he asserted that his Administration was achieving victory over the depression. In Cincinnati, on October 28, 1932, he said: we have succeeded in defeating these forces. We have protected our institutions and our people. We have now transformed those measures into an attack on this depression all along the line.” Speaking at Des Moines of the farmers’ plight, he declared: “Happily, we have won this battle.” And at Indianapolis, on October 29, he said: I pointed out there [at Detroit] that the battle has now changed from successful defense of our country from disaster and chaos to forward-marching attack on one hundred fronts, through a score of instrumentalities and weapons toward recovery. Since that time I have further positive evidence showing that, the measures and policies we have set up are driving the forces of this depression into retreat with constantly increasing rapidity.
At St. Paul, on November 6, he stated, as he had earlier in the campaign, that a million men had returned to work in the preceding four months, and were returning at the rate of half a million a month, adding, “Every business index shows some progress somewhere in the nation.” And in his final address, broadcast from Elko, Nevada, on the eve of the election, he expressed the hope that the American people would “realize the great crisis we have successfully passed,” and contrasted the opposition’s “mirage of promises” with his party’s “reality of facts.”
It is needless to stress the hollowness of these final promises and assertions. Unemployment mounts—thirteen million men out of work is today a conservative estimate; a 3.9 per cent drop in employment with a 5 per cent pay-roll decrease was recorded for the month ending January 15, according to the latest Department of Labor statistics available. The people’s savings continue to be confiscated as banks close at an undiminished pace—272 closed in the month of January, 1933, and toward the close of February they closed, no longer singly, but by States —Michigan, Maryland, Ohio. Bankruptcy is becoming epidemic. The private and local relief upon which Mr. Hoover’s policies relied are increasingly inadequate; destitution, undernourishment, actual hunger are spreading through the land.
But we are taking leave not merely of a single Administration. For twelve years the Republican Party has been in power. During ten of those years it controlled the executive and legislative branches of the government. When, a few years hence, an attempt is made to minimize the disaster of this last quadrennium, and to point to a preceding eight year period of material development and growth, let it be noted that in a purely material sense the American people are much worse off today than they were twelve years ago. Far more than was gained has been swept away. Savings have been dissipated, lives have been blasted, families disintegrated. Misery and insecurity exist to a degree unprecedented in our national life. And spiritually the American people have been debauched by the materialism which made dollar-chasing the accepted way of life and accumulation of riches the goal of earthly existence. The record of Republicanism must be judged as a whole, although, in fairness, the consequences of the World War and the major responsibility of the Democrats for putting the United States into it must not be forgotten. The Republicans were as eager to make war—and both parties continued, until well after the crash, to be proud of their attitude in 1917. Moreover, economic disaster has been only a part of this sterile decade’s legacy, the burdens of which will descend to unborn generations. Our worthiest traditions have been impaired; vital tenets of American life have been destroyed. What has become of that fundamental American axiom “salvation by work”? In all our previous history it has been taken for granted that ours was a land of opportunity, and that rewards bore some relation to initiative, effort, and ability. Granting the large mythical content of these beliefs, they were more nearly valid in America in the first century and a half of our national existence than anywhere else on earth. They are no longer true today. The promise of American life has been shattered—possibly beyond repair.
Shall we assume that the Democrats, who now take office, offer a better prospect for America? The indicated liberalism of Roosevelt in the present desperate emergency, his power policy, more enlightened than any we have yet had, his nomination of a Cabinet superior to any within a generation, his apparent determination to tread new paths, are auguries of hope. But we should not forget certain fundamentals which The Nation has often reiterated: In recent times, certainly, the two major parties have been as like as peas, sterile, guided by approximately the same economic philosophy, motivated by the same quest for legal—and some not so legal—loot.
If the thievery of the “Ohio gang”—never atoned for by the Republicans— was wholly a party scandal, it is evident that, considerable as were those peculations, they were trifling beside the legalized plundering which has ever been non-partisan. Behind the Administration faςade, capped by the genial and banal Harding, the insignificant Coolidge, and the erstwhile superman, Hoover, have been the real rulers of America, some of whom Mr. Gerard identified in his famous list three years ago. They have included Samuel Insull, always a buyer-in to both parties; his friends and creditors, Owen D. Young and Gerard Swope; Charlie Dawes, also a friend of Lorimer; Charles E. Mitchell of the National City Bank, whose latest performances are discussed elsewhere in this issue; Albert H. Wiggin of the Chase National Bank, whose tale is still to be told; Mr. Mellon of the Colombian oil loans, the recipient, through Will Hays, of Mr. Sinclair’s Continental Oil bonds, aluminum, monopolist, and the greatest refunder of taxes to the wealthy since before Alexander Hamilton; Eugene G. Grace, Charlie Schwab’s million-dollar-bonus boy; Leonor F. Loree, buyer for his private account of Missouri, Kansas, and Texas stock to be unloaded on his company stockholders; George W. Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, who, only after a blistering Supreme Court opinion rendered in a stockholder’s suit, returned 13,440 shares of stock which, upon his own recommendation, had been given him. It was a Grand Old Party—for them—while it lasted. Makers and beneficiaries of our politico-economic system, these are the men whose failure is now written large in the towering empty edifices that scrape the New York sky, in the hundreds of thousands of “For sale” and “To let” signs which adorn our cities, in the closed banks, in the foreclosed farms, in the whole picture of devastation which has come under their rule.
Have these captains and kings departed—not to return? The epoch of their wanton and repulsive leadership is ending. Their incompetence and their betrayal are manifest. But much of the evil they have done lives after them. The coming years will see the struggle to purge America, to reassert the promise of American life, to validate, in consonance with the changed times and conditions, the high aspirations of the founders of the nation. Mr. Roosevelt has the opportunity to be the leader of this renaissance, but he will have to forge as his instrument a wholly different Democratic Party from that which so long has been indistinguishable from the Republican.