Yes, Virginia, this is an endorsement of Herbert Hoover in The Nation.
I am an internationalist (and therefore a pacifist), a philosophical radical (or parlor Bolshevist, if you prefer the sneer), and something more than a skeptic as to the divine origin of the capitalistic system. Herbert Hoover is none of these things &mdash and yet I believe he is the only one among the numerous presidential aspirants, either in or out of the limelight, to whom it will be safe to intrust the leadership of the nation at this time.
Hoover, fresh from the agonies of the war and the delusions of the peace, delivered himself (in his address in New York to the engineers) of a summary condemnation of what he called socialism, in which he included not only the Russian experiment in communism but everything except individualistic capitalism, on the ground that no other social system “produced.” This was his immediate reaction to the confusions of Europe and the immense attendant misery, which he had observed at close range. It was the natural reaction of his Americanism (for in spite of the silly political insinuation of his being British, Hoover is, spiritually at least, the most purely American of all the candidates). He has never wavered since, so far as I know, in denouncing “the European patent medicine,” and in criticizing even milder forms of social reintegration. His views on these basic matters are more important than any “ship or shoot” chatter, because they are obviously the convictions of knowledge and experience &mdash the expression of a thought-out philosophy of life, rather than a mechanical reaction to popular or class prejudices, as with some of his conservative rivals. All his life this American engineer has dealt with men, singly and in masses, and his observation of “the human animal” &mdash a subtly indicative favorite phrase &mdash has led him to distrust the abstractions and higher idealisms of the radically minded. Self-interest seems to him the most reliable motive to get “the human animal” to function &mdash otherwise to produce.
And yet I am for Hoover. As the days go by and we approach the drawing of the grand lottery, I marvel more and more at men of my kind for their suspicion of Hoover, for their following a fake radical like Johnson or an out and out radical like Debs or some little radical like Walsh and others. And I marvel even more at the larger number of Americans of his own breed, capitalists big and little and parasites of capitalism big and little, who are too blind to see in the election of Hoover to the presidency their best guaranty of their privilege, their comfort, and their endurance.
I am not for Hoover because he fed the Belgians, splendid though that performance was, not (still more splendid) because he fed the starving women and children of Germany and Austria in the face of English indifference and French antagonism &mdash the combined cynical wolfishness of the old order enthroned at Paris &mdash no, not for these sentimental reasons, though they deservedly won for Mr. Hoover the prestige of being in the world’s esteem the leading American citizen.
Nor would I vote for Hoover for president because he told American women how to save food, when to eat pork and when to refrain, though as an achievement in popular psychology and democratic statesmanship the food control of this lax, undisciplined nation of an hundred and ten millions of very hearty eaters was the work of genius. But a Lowden, or a Cox, or even a Harding, might make an efficient administrator and organizer of world relief on a large scale, and General Wood, we are not allowed to forget, organized Cuba so that it lasted for a few years and built roads there, á la Cæsar, that are the admiration of the thirsty American tourist. … No, not for these things should we make a man President of the United States today.
I am for Hoover first and most importantly, paradoxical as it may seem, because he is an individualist and capitalist &mdash the only apparently sincere and convinced one of that faith in all the growing crowd of aspirants. He is not ashamed of capitalism: he really believes that it is the social system best fitted for “the human animal” (big and little) in his present state of political development &mdash to be administered fairly and wisely ameliorated, and not smashed. As the bellicose English Churchill put it &mdash “Capitalism has a good case.” But how few of those who profess it and live by it really believe in it or act as if they did? They wave the sword like Wood; they see red like Palmer. They have no faith in the righteousness and inevitableness of their order. They are furtive and sullen and suspicious; they act like men with a bad case, illegally and secretly. Not Hoover! He believes robustly, and is not ashamed of his faith. He trusts capitalism as he trusts human nature. Compare his attitude toward labor with Gary’s.
He believes in the system and he understands it &mdash which is an even more important thing than belief. It is the sheer intelligence of the man Hoover that has won my allegiance. The others babble platitudes; like members of an outworn priestly caste they seem to think that by merely mumbling catchwords they can exorcise the proletarian devil. Hoover understands the infinitely intricate machine that modern capitalistic society has become. He knows just what will happen if you pull this lever instead of that one &mdash or if you inadvertently should drop a wrench into its delicately interlacing gears. You never get a vague or evasive or rhetorical answer from Hoover, whether you prod him about sugar or inflation or compulsory arbitration. Instead of a rumble betraying emptiness or confusion of mind &mdash and the political fear of saying something definite &mdash you get from Hoover the cool ordered conclusions of the expert.
Whether one’s sympathies are radical or reactionary, what we must have as a leader today is some one who knows. And the only man in the United States who thoroughly understands this moloch of a machine to which we are all inextricably hitched is Hoover. The machine is running badly &mdash that needs no argument. Shall we smash it or patch it or try to forget its fearful groanings and act as if all were serene? I for one, who have no great faith in the machine or its perpetuity in its present form, would put the expert in charge and let him do his best for it. I do not like to set to sea &mdash in this turbulent weather &mdash in a Leviathan with a ferry boat captain on the bridge, trusting to chance and his good intentions. Nor with a captain who does not believe in steamships, but in dirigibles and planes! Hoover is our best expert, providentially trained in world affairs, and he is honest beyond the shadow of a doubt.
If human society is in a process of liquidation, if the World War was but the first terrific movement of forces that before they come to equilibrium will remake the spiritual geography of humanity, neither Hoover nor any “conservative” (not even the Attorney General waving an injunction) can stop these forces from grinding forwards to their appointed end. But in the convulsions through which we must pass human intelligence can do much to prevent needless antagonisms, avoidable wastes, fearful human misery &mdash the reckless devastations of revolution. Hoover, courageous, humane, and understanding, is our best intelligence. Let us liquidate the old order under the leadership of one who both understands and has faith in it. And who is neither partisan nor mean minded…
They say that Hoover cannot express himself. Remembering his “Americans do not fight women and children” and his “I believe in children,” I think he can make himself understood, and a little less “style” in the White House would not be felt as a loss by many Americans. His is the labored style of the acting personality, who has all his life projected his thoughts into deeds, without the necessity of exploiting them, but it is a style that Americans understand.
The coolness of the ardently liberal mind to Hoover is intelligible: he bluntly rejects the unproved hypotheses of radicalism and cruelly wounds its spiritual aspirations. But what is far less intelligible is why the comfort-loving classes daily with a Wood or a Lowden; why they cannot comprehend that Herbert Hoover has been sent to them miraculously as a life-preserver &mdash why Wall Street with all its satellites is not marching en masse upon Washington to terrify those few foul old men, who pull the political wires to which we all must dance, into putting Hoover into the Presidency. The phenomenon, however, is not new. It was the same with Roosevelt, than whom a sounder conservative never held power. The shrinking capitalist, the timid investor, were afraid of Roosevelt, almost until the end. (They may not remember it now that they have made a hero of him, and are even turning to his adopted sons!) The politicians did not think Roosevelt “safe,” nor always “sane.” They could not perceive that essentially Roosevelt was not only one of them, but being honest in his fashion and shrewd he was their man to clean the social machine of some of its grosser stains and set it merrily running for the continued benefit of themselves, their sons and daughters, maintaining intact that order of society to which God had agreeably called them.
That curious blindness persists. Hoover is now the man of destiny to stand between a corrupt and ignorant and timid upper class and a world seething with revolts, discontents, and hatreds like ours. Why can they not recognize their redeemer? Because he is too honest, too intelligent for them. He would demand too many stern things of men of the Gary mind. His regimen would be too drastic, they feel, and they shrink from it. Some easier, more complacent practitioner will do the cure for them &mdash a Dr. Wood or a Dr. Knox (the more orthodox the better). They will not call in this Hoover man until the crisis, when it will be too late for him or any other to save them.
Thus it has always been &mdash which leads to the abiding conviction that no state of society succumbs from outside attack: it crumbles from within, from lack of faith in itself, from lack of conviction, from timidities and cowardices and softnesses. …
But Hoover, they tell us, can’t be nominated. Those few blind old politicians, the mere cynical handful who in hotel parlors and clubrooms and party committees are even now “doping out” our destiny, hear no compelling voice from the nation to turn to Hoover. They will risk “putting it over” once more in the familiar fashion. They are looking for a “safe” candidate, the nearest possible to a phonographic nonentity, like a Coolidge or a Sproul. The Democrats emboldened by the impudence of the Republicans at Chicago will try to go them one better, in the opposite direction. For a Wood they have a Palmer; for a Lowden, a McAdoo. And the people of the United States? The irony of ironies, thanks to the perfect working of the two-party machine systemthe Bunk and Boodle System &mdash will happen unless &mdash
Unless the millions of Americans who have faith in the present social order if decently administered, and the millions of Americans who dream of a better, juster order about to come from the throes of world suffering, give over their doubts and their dreams, and clamor &mdash thunder for Hoover, until their cry penetrates even into the little rooms where those old men are “doping out” our destiny, with a Knox or a Harding as the leading card. Greater miracles have happened! They say that Hoover cannot be nominated, but nobody has dared to say that he cannot be elected &mdash if his nomination is compelled. For he has fallen heir to all the vaunted American idealism left after the Peace Conference.