“Herbert Hoover: A Study in Failure”
31. Herbert Hoover: Ah, Herbert Hoover. He’s another one of those forgotten faces of American history who either precedes, or comes after one of the great leaders of world history. Some called Woodrow Wilson a leader, in the past, but by Herbert Hoover’s time–The Great Depression one of the highlights–the world was a far less patriotic place than it had been during the war. Cars and gambling and deadly plagues crippling people for the rest of their lives, or even outright killing them. Prohibition was in full effect and it had hit America very hard. The only way left to make money when there is no work is frequently crime.
This was an unfortunate age for Hoover to be elected Taker of All the Blame, which is just another way to describe the job of the US President. Everything is his fault, am I right America? If that dumb motherfucker from the other party had figured out a way to win then the whole world wouldn’t going to shit! Right? Any idea that sways from my own limited reference becomes toxic, a deep, sour stench in air that slides down your to tongue like a burning paste. This goes down your throat and into your lungs and causes everything in your body to go haywire. What are all these crazy people saying? They are going to cause The End of the World.
We’ve become a much more apocalyptic world since the first big explosion. Suddenly we can visualize our doom. Look at the news footage. Look at what that megaton virus did to the people who survived. That can happen to us! Oh no! Run and hide! Lock the windows! Say a prayer. Come out shooting–
This is an increasingly pervasive attitude–this fight or doom attitude that has made the world into such a nasty place. I mean, look at Herbert Hoover. When he entered office the stock market had just crashed. By the time he was voted out of office only four years later, Adolf Hitler took over Germany. Herbert Hoover had bad luck. Next nothing of the chaos throughout the world was not his fault. He was blamed for everything anyway.
Wild conspiracy theories and the formation of secret societies that wanted to hold onto the truth should the world really come to an end began to flourish. People pointed fingers at one another in the street. It was the start of trusting nobody,
Herbert Hoover caused the crash, people were saying, and then made it worse day after day with his stupid ideas. Nothing was the fault of the public, who had also thrown away their life savings on speculation. It was Hoover’s fault. Blame everything on Hoover. He hadn’t done a thing. Maybe Coolidge would have been better after all?
The rise of Hitler was thought to be (by those who rejected fascism) Hoover’s fault as well.. People said that he must have figured that if we had were to deal with that millionaire-commie, at least internationally Nazi Germany would keep him and the Russians in check! Hoover must have given money to the Nazis. He supports them! some claimed without knowing whether this was true or not. All Hoover had really wanted to do was imitate his revered idol, Theodore Roosevelt, a far better man than his younger cousin would ever be!
The great leader from Hoover’s past was definitely Theodore Roosevelt. He was the last man–other than Wilson for a few years–to truly impact American government and the whole world’s view of us, as well as our view of the world outside our borders.
TR had been a brilliant innovator with everything he put his mind to, the legends started saying after the great man died. He took on human rights and the environment. Teddy even cared about standing up for what’s right. He fought for racial equality and fair wages and an endless supply of fascinating jobs that would keep America prosperous for all time, and now the nation had gone to shit, they kept on telling us. It was Hoover, and before him Harding (Coolidge was even an afterthought in those days), and Wilson and all those goddamned party-before-nation crooks that came in between the two Roosevelts. Teddy had taught the nation courage in hard times, and fought to restore the identity of America through suffering and working hard to make a better day. That was real leadership, people shouted in the speakeasies. Not that idiot Herbert Hoover. I read this editorial in The Times . . .
This is a memory of schoolchildren America retained, remembering that great time they had when they were young and they knew who was the boss. This is what became the legend of Theodore Roosevelt, an exceptional man who didn’t have nearly has much influence on the future as his admirers later came to believe.
Some presidents have a terrifying aura about them, like you don’t know what’s going to happen on any given day. You know they are going to do something that they will be remembered for, and accomplishment and victory are seldom a good thing in international diplomacy. People were frightened by George Washington and by John Adams, and by Jefferson and Franklin and Hamilton and a few of the other, lesser, American patriots who’s personal stories have not been properly told. Thomas Paine, a radical and fundamentalist preacher of Democracy stands our as a terrifying revolutionary, at the time comparable to any radical we must deal with today.
Andrew Jackson definitely had this aura of doom. People wanted William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor to be great, but they died too early, and nothing is any longer known about them as the forgotten Tyler and Filmore served out most of their terms.
Lincoln was horrifying to much of America. People saw him as another radical, yet now he had won the nation’s highest office. And not only did we actually go to war with ourselves under Lincoln, but there was also a simultaneous social revolution that overthrew slavery. America was forced to face the scars of the crimes of ever growing race hatred. Society degenerated after The Civil War and Lincoln’s death into even more secret clubs, some, people started believing, from very time ago. People developed these theories that someone was controlling the world and they were evil. The true believers convinced themselves that they knew exactly what to do to win this Cold War.
In the age of Herbert Hoover Americans began truly searching through their past for that one joyful moment that made life worthwhile. This was the time of our lives when all we have to look forward to are revised memories. We degenerate into a culture yearning for its lost youth. We cannot see a vision of better days. This was everyone in the world older than sixteen, if they took any interest in the world at all. It was the age when young men and women start making decisions for themselves. This has dramatically altered American history, both the perception and the example of it as new histories are created out of the forgotten past way back before any of us were born.
It was America First–to hell with the rest of the world! This loud interruption to the the worried citizen’s sounded like a religious calling to the desperate people of 1931. What about those German National Socialists? I don’t like the socialist aspect because that sounds like the Commies, but their ideas had nothing to do with that. what the National Socialists were doing overseas and they were terrified by what the Communists were up to, and what the hell is going on over in Japan, anyway, and why is the world always shaking and drowning with natural disasters? We await The Big Earthquake. We start seeing giant meteorites hurtling towards earth. It must be the Apocalypse. We return to religion, to a vague notion of God. We blame Herbert Hoover instead of God. We begin following the faith of Atheism, which is all about human hope and an acceptance of this bitter world.
This was America in the years poor Herbert Hoover reigned. Every group of people was growing radicalized and you can thank the Communists for that. They had succeeded in pulling off a modern revolution, overthrowing every idea of power and creating what promised the people would be a Utopian paradise. The legend of America was getting stained by this New World Order. Our newest rivals were making us look bad, and we needed to radicalize ourselves as a response to this growing menace. They were taking every country in eastern Europe. These guys were building themselves into a serious world power that we would need to keep our eyes upon and maybe one day destroy.
Fundamentalist anti-Communists were born, the atheism of the Soviet Power transforming this into a modern holy war. It was God and The Devil fighting for all mankind’s souls, people told themselves on both sides. And then we reduced the fight once a more into stories, arguing about dangerous of political philosophers taking over a hopeless nation and transforming it into whatever alien mess scared us the most.
The founders of America, every one, were all noted philosophers and scientists. They were the TV stars of the day and everything seemed to be written by them. Herbert Hoover was no different, at least in his ambitions. Every President shares this thinking in some ways. They have an idea. They try putting it into motion. It sputters. It stalls. It makes the world into an even more divided and terrifying place, the present drying up and sinking back into the broiling earth, where it becomes petrified and joins with a part of the core.
Herbert Hoover was profoundly a failure. 1929 was not the time to be Theodore Roosevelt. Hoover was thirty years too late.
Herbert Hoover’s era was a time of mass paranoia. There was a genuine fear that everything could go wrong at any moment and that we had to prepare for the consequences. After all, nothing is permanent. Why do we have to be so cold and scared and hungry and I hate you Herbert Hoover! they screamed. I hate you! You did this to us!
There are crazy ideas swarming out of their hornet’s nest into the world. We can see into all these hidden corners that no one else notices, and you think that the world is in very great danger, always, but with great strength and loyalty and patriotic sentiments we can still make it to the other side and enjoy the victory of freedom. A few nice, quiet years to rest with whatever we make of peacetime.
And when the future isn’t what was promised we start seeing hidden plots and conspiracies. Was it all caused by the opposition party.? Or is it these worldwide cabals, these groups hidden protectively inside the world’s holiest faiths? This causes mutual worldwide insanity. There are violent uprisings everywhere. Is this finally the holy apocalypse? I’m tired of this struggle, I’m really tired. Let the whole world go. We’d all be better off . . .
All these things, the beating heart of modern America, were born during the presidency of Herbert Clark Hoover, one of our most forgotten men. He had been a man elected to the highest office during a time of social unrest, bankruptcy and extremely difficult times, with the weather and the development of the earth ruining everything that is pure. Changing the idea of God, once again, into that of a Warrior King.
Of course this inspired radical and revolutionary thinking. These were the days of pugilistic demagogues. What if Huey Long actually becomes President, with his nationalism and America First hollering that wants to abandon the rest of the world. It is people like this who will eventually make the whole world over in their image.
But Herbert Hoover was nothing but a timid a sad sack. Another puritan like Coolidge before him. The same troubles Coolidge caused had only gotten worse under Hoover and what were these idiots doing and why is this this way and that that way and why can’t things be like they always used to be in ‘the good old days,’ way back before I was even an idea in my parents’ mind?
Hoover the guy was very much in favor criminalizing alcohol, even though he would sometimes sip brandy or cognac or expensive single malt Scotch in the evenings, in a White House sitting room, discussing policy and economics with his advisers and devising no solutions to the problems of the world. Always a hypocrite, another president merely follows in the pattern of corruption that has pock-marked the administrations of every single president since the Civil War, and most of the leaders before. There was an endless series of scandals overwhelming the tabloids and being added to and transformed by gossip. Had this prominent man murdered someone? Then he hushed it all up. Or what about that other guy? The patsy who went to jail? Or was the president impeached, I can’t even remember which. And wasn’t Grant a drunk?
But at a time of such cynicism and anger, clean as a whistle Herbert Hoover comes in and dares to try to play fair in a world where everything literally is falling apart. Let us blame Hoover. Coming up next is FDR. We have the next legendary President who really made a difference. Hoover was shit.
Let’s blame Herbert Hoover for everything that has gone wrong ever since.
The only thing that Hoover is truly remembered for these days is having his name on the eponymous dam, tucked away in the side of a mountain. And the dam wasn’t even named for Hoover until 1947, after eleven years of being known as The Boulder Dam. FDR had said of Hoover that “the only thing inside the man is jelly!” while he was crushing him in the election of 1932. This was in kinder times, I guess (or maybe just the public statement had to be cleaned up, because I can see Roosevelt saying to his handlers, “That man is so full of shit that he slips in it!” or some other fanciful imitation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in private.
Have we always been like this, paranoid people started to ask. Maybe it goes all the way back to the earliest days. The beginnings of the church? The meaning behind secret societies? Is it the governments, all those political bullies who keep stealing power? Who is it? Who’s the mastermind? Who is the cause of all of our unhappiness? I know it isn’t me and it’s not my friends and family either. Who is at fault for all our unhappiness? Can we blame the president, more of a symptom of decline, than the cause of the end of the world as we know it.
In case you haven’t noticed I’ve spent a great deal of time on the peripheral events that happened to Herbert Hoover throughout his lifetime. His influence had been negligible. Our memories are far from legendary, just a bitter reminder of when the world started going to shit. This was the beginning of radical conspiracy movements, a growing influence that would someday start taking over the world like the tentacles of the bigots holed up in Nazi Germany or the Gulag, or some other prison in Guantanamo Bay or someplace like it. There was a black ooze highlighted on maps to let us know just how much these opposing faiths were spreading.
Herbert Hoover didn’t come from much. He grew up in a small town in Iowa where his father was a blacksmith, as well as a prominent business owner. He had influence and was able to get his boy a proper education with the most celebrated tutors he could find.
Jesse Hoover was also an extremely religious man. He was a Quaker. This was the most important thing in his life. Herbert’s mother was actually from Canada, but they were, after all, living in Iowa in the 1870s and 80s, and there was very little difference in culture. They met, and if they didn’t actually fall in love, they at least believed in a spiritual commitment, staying truthful to one another for the sake of the children. It was a joyless, passionless marriage where the two of them would only tolerate one another for a few moments at a time. Jesse had probably had a few chances for adoring mistresses, but his faith in the Lord was too strong to give in to the sin of temptation. If he had a whip I suspect he flagellated himself in his hair shirt with masturbatory ecstasy.
Herbert was very religious too. He was a loyal young man, even as a toddler, and he was always waiting for his turn to ask another question, or do what he was told. He was not as smart as he later came to think of himself, but he had a certain visual and mathematical genius that impressed just about everybody. (Hoover actually was one of the designers of the dam, his name on the copyright and his presidential signature on the papers.)
Herbert Hoover’s rise to the top is one of dedication and hard work. He held many different jobs, each of them responsible positions, and all of them successful by his insight. He took everything seriously and he actually seemed to look forward to the work. Inevitably Hoover was thought of as a more cheerful variation on Calvin Coolidge. At least Hoover had a personality. He was engaging enough that one could find something worthy of hating.
Herbert Hoover was a very successful international mining engineer at the start of his distinguished career. He was considered “a genius” by corporate share holders seeking to gamble their way out of debt.
When World War I blew up a major portion of the world (The war against all Monarchies) , biblical prophecies were once more being talked about. Herbert Hoover, during the war, headed a major international food drive for the victimized people of Belgium, where I assume he must have had some relatives or friends from his time spent there building that nation’s infrastructure. By 1917 Herbert Hoover had become “food czar,” an odd term in the year of the Russian Revolution. The US Food Administration was formed by Wilson with Hoover in mind, and he was given a contract to feed American soldiers and other starving people overseas. This was a very expensive contract. Hoover helped it last throughout the entire war.
In 1920 Herbert Hoover lost the Republican nomination for president to Warren G. Harding. He took a post as head of the American Relief Administration, which was a privately owned company, a for profit conglomerate that had contracts with Central and Eastern Europe, and was presently trying to get as much of Asia as possible. The farmers were going out of business because the ARA horded all the crops that did not dry up in the dust bowl. The ARA took care of everything. Their resources were much greater than the US government’s.
One thing that Hoover did throughout these international years was note the growing mistrust among the citizens throughout Europe, and he must have known that a conflict was imminent. But all Herbert was concerned with at the time was business, and he would only worry about the state of the world in his spare time.
By the time Harding fizzled out, America was entering the Lost Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Of Gertrude Stein and the transformation of acceptable behaviors. It was the time of the death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin and the murder of Trotsky in Mexico. It was the early days of Adolph Hitler when no one believed that he could actually win the German crown. This was an era immediately after the most devastating war mankind had ever known, and no one on the winning team knew what to do with all of their extra money. They started buying things they didn’t need/ They commercialized society until there was nothing that wasn’t for sale.
In the years before The Great Depression, this is how people treated their war profits. They would put all their new things on credit and live the high life for a few years.. And there were always great new things to buy! We’ll worry about the danger when the rent comes due. For now let us just have a good time.
Calvin Coolidge had been a perfect president for the blankness of his time. But now the world was in real trouble. The economy had collapsed. American productivity hit an all time low. People were angry. People were dissatisfied with their lives. The people needed to find a solution to all of the world’s problems. Herbert Hoover was selected to lead this movement in 1929, and was still trying to get it started when he was kicked out of office after the end of only one term.
But did Hoover really do anything, I mean really? Let’s see. Bullet points?
- Herbert Hoover lived a very long time, and spent the many years up until his death in 1964 attacking whoever was in the White House. Towards the end Hoover even wound up on the TV News, politely debating someone whom he despised.
- All those food relief jobs both during and after World War I. Want to be thought kindly of by the people? Try and save some lives. Herbert Hoover was once considered for a Nobel Peace Prize before he became president.
- Hoover approved the ‘Smoot-Hawley tariff,’ an America First Congressional bill that brutally cut off supplies to nations struggling after the war. Within six months of the passage of this new law the Great Depression had spread to every nation in the world.
- He became the first really successful conservative pundit who could break through to more than just a core audience. Hoover became a radio star. A TV star. He was more recognizable as a member of the media than he ever was as president.
- Hoover was Secretary of Commerce in the Harding administration, perhaps the first example of his increasingly terrible luck as he rose to power.
- Hoover’s belief in industry and hard work made him as Secretary of Commerce one of the most powerful men in the nation. In what was formerly considered a minor cabinet position, far below the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of the Treasury, Hoover changed the function of the American economy. By the time Hoover continued the job into the Coolidge administration, people started to call him “Secretary of Commerce and Under-Secretary of all other departments.”
- In addition to all of the other disasters Hoover was blamed for, the horrendous Mississippi Flood destroyed a large piece of land and ended hundreds of lives. Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, was assigned to clean up the mess and throw some money at the people so they could survive another day before catching some horrible disease.
- Hoover’s reputation both went up and went down over his treatment of poor black folks during the flood. Government agents would jab them with cattle prods and kick them along away from the disaster. Some of the women were raped. Several of the men were killed. And these were just the people desperately trying to survive the washing away of their homes. There is no record of how the government treated the actual looters and criminals.
Hoover’s life is full of terrible luck and massive errors in judgment. He was just an ordinary guy ideas about how to fix the world, and a great deal of ambition. He had what some people considered important ideas. He knew. He just knew if he could make them work then the world would be a much better place.
Instead we careened toward World War II and the coming of modern liberalism and conservatism, those dueling hypocrisies that control so much of our lives. So let us blame Herbert Hoover for everything. There was not a time in our that anything wrong with America and the whole world was considered all of the president’s fault.
The literature on Hoover is again rather sparse, but there are a few notable highlights. Hoover has undergone a massive reconsideration by historians in recent times, with conflicting interpretations of his importance by Kenneth Whyte (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780307597960&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used), Glen Jeansonne’s excellent Herbert Hoover: A Life (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781101991008&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used), and numerous other rather interesting background stories, including Hoover’s own autobiography A Boyhood in Iowa (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=&an=herbert%20hoover&tn=boyhood%20iowa&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ats-_-used).
And so our 31st President has a name that is synonymous with failure, no matter how hard modern historians try to make him into a saint relieving us with a calm before Franklin Roosevelt’s storm.