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Herbert Hoover - Was He Really A Failure?

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Herbert Hoover

After the election of 1928 concluded, the citizens of the United States were satisfied as they inaugurated the new president because they had "summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved" (McElvaine, 53). Hoover depicted hope in the future and presented a strong and focused front. Having served in the government for years, Hoover embodied a man who had the intelligence and power to lead the country. With the position in office, good ideas, and strong beliefs, Hoover ambitiously entered office hoping to incite change.

As a child of Quakers, Hoover learned early on to work hard and eventually to give back to the community (54). However, he suffered the deaths of both parents within a span of four years and had to struggle, from then on, to find stability and strength (54). The real turning point in Hoover's life can be credited to his college education. Despite what McElvaine describes as challenged skills in English, Hoover became a member of the first class of the new Stanford University, which was desperately in need of students (54). This acceptance into the school allowed Hoover to experience his first level of acceptance into a higher level in society than the level at which he was born. After graduation, he became a self-made millionaire (55). By 1920, he was famous. According to McElvaine "he was the perfect man for the presidency: an expert, an engineer, a businessman, a 'nonpolitician,' a humanitarian" (53). Both political parties showed interest in nominating him for presidential candidate but he was not willing to run. Instead, Hoover opted to become secretary of commerce for the Harding administration and became one of the greatest in history. During Hoover's tenure, "the department itself moved from the shadows to the center stage of government activity" and finally became known for making a difference and seeking change (56). The image Hoover made for himself only promised that he would do as well or better as president of the country.

Hoover had some very positive personal qualities. He was a man who "hated idleness" (61). He was a very smart man who had the ability to make informed, clear decisions. His own ability to stretch his resources made him very skeptical of the idea that the government should immediately bail people out of the Depression. He instead waited and promoted the idea of voluntary action charity and fundraising to prevent hunger (59). This faith can easily be derived from his private activity and experience of serving as a humanitarian who volunteered during WWI to feed many people with little resources. He was not a protector of the rich but more aimed at avoiding poverty. As times worsened, Hoover maintained that "the burden should be borne by the rich" and "public works spending should provide a 'balance wheel' for the economy" (57). Hoover held strong to his belief that the wealthy should be generous and help the lowly in order to save government funds for a time of complete desperation.

According to McElvaine, Hoover's policy of rebuilding the economy through confidence and optimism was potentially sound (66). However, it was the wrong time to insist on those conventional resources. First off, the collapse of the economy-more extensive than Hoover seemed to realize-was causing chaos and optimism was simply not a possible response of many people.

Unfortunately, the next largest problem the country faced was having Hoover as president during such a difficult time. He was adamant about everyone's being optimistic, though everyone could see that he, himself, was doubtful. This would have worked if Hoover had been less pessimistic about the economic situation (67). Hoover's "business-confidence approach," as McElvaine calls it, "proved to be self-defeating" (67).

Although many still regard Hoover as a total failure, they are basing this opinion on only a few bad decisions that Hoover made. One continuing failure on Hoover's part-which made him look less intelligent

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