We often can learn a lot more from presidential failures than those successes whose names glitter in our history. At least that's how I've always felt and if I'm right than Herbert Hoover will fascinate people to the end of time.
The paradox of Herbert Clark Hoover is how could a man who succeeded at everything in tried and took himself from being one of those forgotten persons of humble origin that his successor so lionized could have gotten to the top job and blown it so badly. Historians will be trying to figure that out for centuries. He was in fact the man who did the most to combat famine in Belguim and later in post war Europe. He was an innovative Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge and much of what that department does today was instituted under him.
I would offer two stories as insights. The first is try to read his memoirs in three volumes. The first is about his childhood through his years at Stanford as a man who amassed a fortune in the mining trade and then his years feeding Europe. They are a good read with nice anecdotes. The second two covering his years in the Cabinet and the White House read like reports to the board of directors. Completely utterly dull much like the speeches of the man himself if you watch newsreels of him. Project well he did not in contrast to his successor who had a musical voice just made for the new medium of radio.
There is another book called the Hoover Policies which was written post his presidency by Cabinet members of his Ray Lyman Wilbur his Secretary of the Interior and Arthur M. Hyde his Secretary of Agriculture. But if you've read Hoover's memoirs 10 pages into the Hoover policies and you know this man must have micromanaged the writing. Again it reads like a report to the Board of Directors.
Secondly in the midst of the Great Depression he made no effort to communicate his individual concern for Mr.&Mrs. America. He resisted mightily what later became known as photo ops or to use the presidency as the 'bully pulpit' his Roosevelt predecessor referred to it as.
There is a famous story that was brought to light by another book called Hoover Off The Record by his last Press Secretary Theodore Joslin. It concerned a pair of children who hitchhiked across the country to see President Hoover to get their father out of jail for Christmas. There was a made for TV film about the incident that starred Robert Urich as the father who is caught in a petty theft and jailed.
I can't think of any of his successors and most of his predecessors who wouldn't try for maximum publicity to show what a good man I am. Hoover did intervene and the man was freed but gave strict instructions that no publicity of any kind was to be garnered from this incident. Joslin told it in that book and at a time when Hoover was purportedly trying to refurbish his image, he cut Joslin off from any further contact from him for good.
The documentary mentions that Hoover emerged as the biggest critic of his successors policies. More than that, Hoover in both 1936 and 1940 let it be loudly known he was available to run again. He wanted vindication so badly. But the GOP wouldn't touch him and aspiring candidates treated him like a leper.
Landslide offers a good mix of commentary from both supporters and opponents and it has personal insight from a great granddaughter. I wish we had more of Hoover's voice both in live speeches and radio broadcast. Contrast it with FDR's and that illustrates better than anyone his weakness and FDR's strength as a great communicator.
If Hoover was a failure he was a failure on a grand scale.
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