I was reminded of how Republicans in the past have engaged in political and economic sabotage to stop progressive policies. The Huffington Post has an interview with historian David Rauchway on his latest book about President Hoover’s attempts to sabotage FDRs New Deal. And I remember reading about Hoover’s attempts at political and economic sabotage before. And Amy Davidson Sorkin of The New Yorker has some details of her own this sorry episode in U.S. history.
I don’t have the book with me, but another historian — David M. Kennedy — from his book “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945” described how Hoover’s and FDR’s bad relationship began. First, Hoover hated being challenged for reelection, especially by someone he considered not up to the task. Basically, he thought FDR was an ignoramus. And Hoover thought he had done a good job.
Yeah, let that sink in for a few seconds.
And Hoover showed his thoughtlessness when it came to FDR. I cannot remember when this exactly happened, but FDR came to visit Hoover in the White House. And Hoover kept FDR waiting standing up for quite some time. Remember, FDR is in those painful braces and using all his strength to try and maintain the public fiction that his legs still functioned. Despite FDR’s cheery attitude, I’m sure this soured things from the get go.
Now, Hoover has lost the 1932 Election, but he is not done. Hoover is still in office to March 1933, and Hoover decides to rope FDR into helping him with dealing with the Great Depression with an offer to help in negotiations between the U.S. and European of war debts. Hoover’s real aim was to tie FDR’s hands by aligning FDR with Hoover’s policies.
The fundamental oddity of the Roosevelt-Hoover imbroglio has to do with how deeply unpopular Hoover was: he had failed to act when much of the nation was facing desperate, Depression-driven poverty, and he lost the election by some seven million votes. As Freidel noted, Hoover thought that Americans had made a mistake, and he felt that Roosevelt should let him make use of his popularity so that he, Hoover, could take the necessary steps to protect the country from Roosevelt and his New Deal. It didn’t make any sense, unless you thought, as one member of Hoover’s Cabinet put it, that F.D.R. had only “a most laughable, if it were not so lamentable, ignorance of the situation.” The voters thought otherwise.
And it wasn’t just negotiations on war debt.
But Hoover also believed that the debt question couldn’t be dealt with without bringing in other policy issues—such as defense spending, trade deals, and a larger international economic-policy pact, one oriented toward his monetary priorities. He intended to have the delegation continue on to a planned World Economic Conference. He proposed that Roosevelt give him some names of possible commissioners, which would give the delegation more clout than if it were simply the project of a lame duck. In fact, he wrote in one telegram, he intended to include a few Democrats whom he liked—all Roosevelt had to do was express his approval to the press, and Hoover would take care of the rest. In short, he was asking F.D.R. to put his stamp on a commission that would then be under Hoover’s direction, free to enact his agenda—that is, his New Deal-sabotage project. And he thought that F.D.R. was behaving badly by not coöperating.
FDR did not take the bait, and FDR told Hoover he would deal with things after his own inauguration. Hoover was pissed off, and he leaked the details of his offer to FDR to the media. Yes, there were those in the media who gave FDR a hard time about his lack of bipartisanship. But FDR sensed a trap, and he was right.
The country had 25% unemployment, and millions of Americans were homeless and going hungry. And Hoover’s policies did not work. But what does Hoover want to do? He wants to make sure that FDR continues those failed policies. Hoover was rigid in his idealogical thinking and IMHO callous. And this was also personal. Hoover simply did not like FDR and wanted to hurt him.
I bring all of this up because I think this situation is very analogous to our present political situation. I do not believe we can work with Republicans. They have proven to be bad faith actors the last several years — look at what happened to Obama. And despite what some might want to believe that this is something that will pass if Trump is gone, Republicans have tried political and economic sabotage of progressive policies before.