Is Barack Obama Becoming Herbert Hoover?
Harper's and the Wall Street Journal compare presidents
There are few magazines on the left more respected than Harper's, and few editorial pages more sympathetic to conservatism than that of the Wall Street Journal. One publishes poetry and abstract art, the other Karl Rove. Both readily challenge their respective political parties when they stray from the core ideology of liberalism or conservatism.
Yet these two august institutions are reaching the same conclusion about the past President who may be most comparable to the current. Both ask, is Barack Obama the next Herbert Hoover? They cite Obama's handling of the American economy as the reason he may join Hoover's legacy as well-meaning leaders who allowed total financial collapse. Of course, they differ in why Obama may fail so mightily, with the Journal accusing him of doing too much and Harper's of too little. But when two perspectives so different foresee the same catastrophe, it's worth wondering if maybe they're on to something.
The Wall Street Journal's staff editorial, lamenting a trade war with China:
President Obama traveled to Wall Street yesterday to press his case for more financial regulation, but the bigger economic issue of the day concerned other White House policies. To wit, what does it mean for the world economy if America now has its first protectionist President since Herbert Hoover? The smell of trade war is suddenly in the air.
The modern free-trade era began during the Great Depression, after the catastrophe of the Smoot-Hawley tariff of June 1930. Hoover also thought he was shrewdly playing tactical politics by adopting a tariff that the economist Joseph Schumpeter said was the "household remedy" of the Republican Party at the time. But the tariff ignited a beggar-thy-neighbor reaction around the world, and the flow of global goods and services collapsed.
Mr. Obama may not intend to start a trade war, but then Hoover didn't set out to pick one either. His political abdication is what made it possible, however, and trade passions once unleashed can be impossible to control. On his present course, President Obama is giving the world every reason to conclude he is a protectionist.
Kevin Baker of Harper's, concerned over failure to sufficiently address the economic crisis:
Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past—without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail.
Obama’s lack of direction, his lack of accomplishments in his Hundred Days and counting, cannot be attributed solely to his illusions about the august body he just vacated. Obama, like Hoover in his time, is almost alone among politicians in grasping the magnitude of the crisis. [...] But, like Hoover, Obama has been unable to make his actions live up to his words.
Just as Herbert Hoover came to internalize the “business progressivism” of his era as a welcome alternative to the futile, counterproductive conflicts of an earlier time, so has Obama internalized what might be called Clinton’s “business liberalism” as an alternative to useless battles from another time—battles that liberals, in any case, tended to lose.