As the great-granddaughter of President Herbert Hoover, political commentator Margaret Hoover has the Republican tradition in her blood. She's worked on Capitol Hill and in the White House and provides her perspective for Fox News. But in these changing times, Hoover believes the GOP has lost its way and is failing to connect with the younger generation. In "American Individualism," Hoover looks back at the legacy of her great-grandfather's presidency and spells out how conservatives can reclaim their footing and inspire more young voters. Here's an excerpt.
GROWING UP HOOVER
Vindicating Herbert Hoover’s legacy is an uphill battle, because today Democrats are still running against my great-grandfather. Senator Joe Biden offered this remark during the 2008 presidential campaign: “I’m proud to say that we Democrats aren’t experts at Herbert Hoover depression economics like John McCain and his pals. From Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, we just get elected to clean up the economic mess these Republicans leave behind.” Senator Harry Reid had this to say about my great-grandfather: “For Herbert Hoover, I guess ignorance was bliss. It wasn’t until the American people replaced this out-of-touch Republican president with a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that our nation’s economic recovery began.”
More disturbing, conservatives and Republicans have joined this chorus. In 2008, John McCain made history by becoming the first Republican nominee to run against Hoover, when he said, “My friends, the last president to raise taxes during tough economic times was Herbert Hoover, and he practiced protectionism as well…” Mitt Romney piled on as recently as the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference with “Obama’s Hoovervilles,” and even Rush Limbaugh has shamefully called our current president “Barack ‘Hoover’ Obama.”
I happen to have an ongoing argument with pundit Glenn Beck, whom I have gotten to know a bit from our shared perch at Fox News over the past few years.
If you’ve watched Glenn Beck’s television show during the past year, or listened to his radio program, you’ve been exposed to his crusade against progressivism. Beck has launched a movement to identify and expel progressives from government, and has framed it in a historical narrative that begins with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose candidacy for president in 1912 and extends straight through to Barack Obama’s White House. Beck has plopped Herbert Hoover into the middle of this narrative, mischaracterizing him as just another progressive.
I don’t fault Beck for making this mistake once, or even twice. After all, Hoover did call himself an “independent progressive in the Republican tradition.” He believed, for example, that children shouldn’t work in factories, and that government had a responsibility to prevent child labor and unsafe working conditions. But does that make him a socialist? Not at all. Hoover was no progressive in the continuum from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was instead FDR’s most prominent and consistent philosophical opponent. He detailed his opposition to socialism, big government, and, later, the New Deal in successive essays and books. Glenn Beck completely overlooks this evidence, and although I have brought it to his attention, he continues to repeat his mistake. I suppose it’s easier to hammer away at Herbert Hoover. But on this, Glenn Beck is worse than Joe Biden: he gets it wrong even when he knows better. Certainly the liberal image of Hoover as an uncaring and out-of-touch, do-nothing president was always wrong. But conservatives who dismiss Hoover out of embarrassment, ignorance, or a misplaced sense of principle are just as misguided.
There are signs, however, that the tide is finally beginning to turn. The financial crisis of 2008 and the unprecedented experiments in federal takeovers of banks and auto companies, as well as the creation of penalties and taxes regulating the private health insurance market and now the federal effort to regulate carbon—all these measures have given conservatives, as well as independents, a reason to reconsider their vilification of Hoover. They are taking a fresh look at the history and the economics of the Great Depression and the New Deal.
The columnist and political thinker Thomas Sowell writes that “what was widely believed then and later was that the stock market crash of 1929 was a failure of the free market and the cause of the massive unemployment that persisted for years during the 1930s. Given the two most striking features of that era—the stock market crash and a widespread government intervention in the economy—it is not immediately obvious which was more responsible for the dire economic conditions. But remarkably little effort has been made by most of the intelligentsia to try to sort out the cause or causes. It has been largely a foregone conclusion that the market was the cause and the government intervention was the saving grace.”
Amity Shlaes’s 2006 bestseller, "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression," inspired a wave of scholarship that has begun chipping away at the perception of FDR as the country’s economic savior during the Great Depression. Other books, such as historian Burton Folsom Jr.’s 2008 New Deal or Raw Deal: How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America and the 2009 work by Robert Murphy, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal, have challenged the predominant narrative that FDR’s New Deal saved America from Herbert Hoover’s Great Depression. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “Did FDR End the Depression?” Folsom answered in the negative: “It’s a myth. FDR did not get us out of the Great Depression—not during the 1930s, and only in a limited sense during World War II.”
In the reevaluation of Herbert Hoover, Americans are becoming acquainted with his life and career prior to and after leaving the White House, when he made some of his most lasting achievements. Hoover’s legacies are as diverse as the electrification of the neon skyline of the Las Vegas Strip, the vast agricultural economy of California, the Hoover Institution’s contributions to public policy, and the descendants of the millions of Europeans he saved from starvation. Those who fixate only on making money or winning elections will find it an unhappy existence much of the time. My great-grandfather understood this, and that’s why he chose to dedicate his life to serving others.
He was always oriented toward the future. He was, after all, the first president born and raised west of the Mississippi River, which was still considered America’s great frontier. It is there where he was laid to rest, on the sunrise side of a hill in the humble hamlet of West Branch, Iowa, overlooking the cottage in which he was born and his presidential library.
Hoover was a globalist and a technologist, and he understood America’s rising position in the world. He believed that America could extend its power not just with arms, but also with assistance. Surely no nation in the history of the world had ever done so much to help civilians in other nations as America did under Hoover’s guidance. And that is a tradition that continues to this day. These are all values that I see as familiar, because they are the values of my generation. In some ways, Herbert Hoover can be considered a millennial in spirit: young at the turn of the century, aware of America’s past but deeply committed to building its future. His greatest passion and highest calling was service to others, and he measured his life’s successes not in dollars and votes but in results achieved. He lived a life that millennials today would embrace, and I believe he gave voice to their interests, and those of every generation committed to the ideals of American individualism.
From "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party" by Margaret Hoover. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group.