Progressives and liberals may take heart from the great protest registered by the voters of the country on November 4. They will find much encouragement in the sharp but well-deserved rebuke administered to Mr. Hoover, who came into power two short years ago as the high priest of prosperity, but whose promised miracles have dwindled to a timid and stupid defense of the status quo. They should find more encouragement in the fact that despite the widespread apathy of the public toward politics, the spirit of protest still lives and can when necessary express itself decisively at the polls; without this potential capacity for protest among the voters there could be no dependable foundation upon which to base a genuine progressive or liberal movement. More immediately important, however, is the probability that the new Congress will enact a good deal of progressive legislation — which the reactionaries of the old Congress succeeded in stifling by means of their numerical superiority in the House.
It was a revolt similar to the one of November 4 that two decades ago ushered in the Sixty-second Congress, one of the most progressive Congresses in the history of the country when measured by the volume of enlightened legislation it adopted. There is some hope that this performance may now be repeated in the Seventy-second Congress. It is not only conceivable but probable that the Democrats of the new Congress will work with the Middle Western Republicans toward this end. That is what happened after the 1910 revolt, the result of conditions remarkably like those obtaining prior to the Democratic successes of this year. Business was bad, as it is at present; the workers were suffering, not so much from unemployment as from low wages and high prices; the farmers were complaining of the high cost of implements and supplies; the government was being administered by a weak and vacillating President surrounded by self-seeking political advisers; and, of foremost importance, tariff rates had just been revised upward (after the Republicans in the 1908 campaign had promised downward revision) in the Payne-Aldrich tariff act, which was as notoriously unsound and unpopular as the Grundy-Smoot tariff legislation of 1930. A nationwide protest against this state of affairs brought a Democratic Congress into power in the 1910 elections. Unfortunately, just as now the Democratic Party was not noted for its progressivism, but a sufficient number of Democratic members joined with the Middle Western progressives in putting through most of the proposed laws and reforms in the progressive program, which included popular election of United States Senators, the income tax, popular control of the judiciary, larger social control of public utilities, direct nominations for political offices, and increased popular control in the election of delegates to state and national conventions. If the parallel is carried through in the Seventy-second Congress, there is every hope that we shall see legislation enacted abolishing lame-duck sessions of Congress, extending public control of power and other utility interests, reforming the federal judiciary, correcting the evils of the injunction system, establishing federal employment offices and adopting other measures to check growing unemployment, and perhaps also revising the tariff drastically downward.
Obviously, success for a legislative program of this character would add greatly to the burdens and woes of the supersensitive Mr. Hoover. His discomfiture over his patent failure in the Presidency (assuming that a man of his cleverly advertised intelligence should be aware that he has failed) and over the nationwide repudiation of himself and his shabby management of the country’s affairs must be already hard to bear. It would be enough to make the most hard-boiled and thick-skinned of politicians squirm. Yet Mr. Hoover has only himself to blame. Sweeping promises of clearly dubious validity were made on his behalf two years ago. He was to work miracles, to usher in a new era. He himself promised to hasten “the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” But, alas, this is not an era of miracles, nor is Herbert Hoover a worker of miracles. Indeed, his record reveals him as a man of weakness and timidity, a man who will stoop to the cheapest sort of politics, as he did in the appointment of Judge Parker, and who will not stand by his own convictions but prefers to swallow them in the most humiliating manner at the command of his party subordinates, as he did when he accepted the 1930 tariff bill (and thereby, incidentally, wiped out the last hope of the people that he was to be the great economic statesman). Probably the hard times would in any event have caused a weakening of the Republican hold on Congress. But that the elections turned out to be a disaster for the Administration party was entirely due to Mr. Hoover’s false optimism, his lack of initiative, and his seeming inability to grasp the magnitude of the problem before the country. His pratings about the nobility of American institutions and the fundamental soundness of the business structure at a time when business is languishing and millions of workers and their dependents are in desperate want must also have lost him and his party many costly votes.
The President cannot hope to find much comfort in the fact that after all a number of Republicans were also elected. Many of these men openly disowned him and his policies in their campaigns, and some of them campaigned on anti-prohibition platforms that presage further trouble for Mr. Hoover in 1932. It should be clear by now that the Eastern Republicans are irrevocably hostile to prohibition. Mr. Hoover cannot win in 1932 without their support, and it appears doubtful that he can gain their support unless he unequivocally embraces the wet cause. However, by doing so he is certain to lose the following of the inalienable days of the Western Republican ranks. There are already many rumblings, growing in volume, of a split within the party on this question two years hence. Thus, in addition to the loss of Congress and to the probability that he must face a barrage of progressive legislation next year, a more serious difficulty arises to plague him. While the prospect of a split is by no means assured, it has cast gloom over the Republicans and made the Democrats more hopeful. What it might profit the progressives lies largely with the progressives themselves to decide.