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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why We Have A Hoover

Mr. Hoover
Image found at dreamstime.com
Stirling Newberry has a stimulating post entitled New Entrant For Worst. President. Ever (h/t Ian Welsh.) He gives a robust review of the major challenges (manufactured or otherwise) that were faced during the march of American history, and a mostly fair appraisal of how they were met by our "deciders." There is much to agree with, and whether or not you think (as I now do) that Obama is a candidate for unseating, say, GWB from this throne, it's a worthwhile read.

I've noticed that recently, for whatever reason, traffic has risen to this post of mine. This is, of course, embarrassing.

So I want to focus on the "Obama as Hoover" idea that is currently so popular and, frankly, apt. Sterling:
The President who Obama most resembles is Herbert Hoover, another one of those chief magistrates of government who became inflexible and iron willed. His idea of compromise is that he cuts out what he thinks is a compromise, and then relentlessly grind on it. He's dealing with people whose idea of compromise is a woman having an orgasm while she is raped. Neither of these two sides have actually compromised very much, other than compromising on extending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy.

Hoover was a malfortunate president. Unfortunate is not a sufficient adjective to describe it. He inherited an economy that was about to explode. He takes office in March of 1929, the move to January would, to no small extent be because the long gap between election and inauguration paralyzed the country when later he would lose the Presidency, and in October of 1929, the stock market plunges in what is know as "The Crash." In reality such a crash was essentially inevitable after the Olmstead Break in August. In effect he had 5 months of Presidency. The rest was a long grind and heavy flail. His response was not without compassion and, within his understanding, he worked hard to do what was right. He simply was a mammoth in a lake that had been swamped by a breaking glacier dam, to be found, frozen, as an oddity. His failure was that as his policies failed, he doubled and tripled down on them. In essence, he turned a single large downturn, into three back to back downturns, and left the very faith in capitalism and democracy bruised behind him...

...Hoover was terrible, because he faced terrible times, and was not their match. Fewer men, could have prevailed over the events that Hoover faced...
(There is much more there, even on this narrow aspect on which I am focusing, and I insist that the reader visit the original piece for context and general edification.)

I agree with the general idea that we have a Hoover-like presidency, but I do not think that President Obama is anything like President Hoover.

I feel that Herbert Hoover was of a limited intellect, and that he was blinkered by a lack of imagination. As David Kowalski noted over at Ian's place:
Hoover knew better but felt shackled by traditional ways of doing things.
I think that is right. Obama, on the other hand, appears to me to be too sharp to be excused with incompetence, or to be circumscribed by ideology. His only deer-in-the-headlight moments appear to be political - as with his ham-fisted treatment of the liberal "base," where he really did seem to be caught off-guard by the response. But policy? No way - things are so clearly bad, and so clearly a direct result of his administrations actions/non-actions, that if any of this were inadvertent we would be seeing something completely different than this "cool beans" attitude.

Compared to the appearance of this "Hoover," the original may be considered an historical accident, and that brings me to this question, why now? What is this that has been foisted upon us?

One possible theory that I would like to float is that it has to do with resource depletion. Because of the benefit of hindsight, and without the cover of the lack of intellectual constraints that I am generously giving the original Hoover, Obama could have, should have, gone the FDR route. As Sterling says:
Obama, at least, had the advantage of knowing what he was walking into.
Why ddn't he? (Couldn't he?) Before this begins to sound like an apology for a shackled but otherwise well-meaning Chief Executive, I want to make very clear that regardless of the challenges that face our economy, our society, I think that a sufficiently courageous and, yes, well-meaning, leader could, and maybe still can, do immense good.

My answer to why we "have a Hoover" is twofold. One, because the PTB needed one. Two, because Obama survived the vetting. As I commented a few days ago over at The Rogue Columnist:
...I'd like to throw something out there for you guys.

We know we're hitting a resource crunch, and I think it's safe to say that "they" (the corporate and financial movers) are aware of this, too - much as they're loathe to admit it, for reasons that are pretty easy to see.

This time around, "public works" projects would be more zero-sum in terms of wealth distribution than in 1934, when loads of oil were still in the pipelines, as it were.

What I mean is that back then manufacturers, contractors and their financiers, the ones that would make some coin off of the WPA, also probably grudgingly acknowledged that subsequent infrastructure would be useful in the long-term in growing their interests.

It seems that now that's less of an incentive, and perhaps these folks, as greedy now as they were then, realize that the only "growth" that they can now personally realize is the Ponzi game that they are alighting upon us with such a fervor today.

The FIRE sector is all they've got now.

Perhaps that's why their claws are as dug in as deeply as they are and we - our representative government - simply doesn't have an adequate crowbar against these tenacious folks (this is the third major siege against the public sector - the first two occurring during the "Gilded Age" and the "Roaring Twenties.")

This is not an apologia for Obama by any means, BTW. He's weak tea, but that's precisely why he got the nod to run in the first place, right?

Love to hear y'alls thoughts on this...
I would love to hear y'alls thoughts on this.

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