Thursday, July 21, 2011

The slide to the right

I've been trying not to pay much attention to politics lately. It's too depressing. Discussions about the economy seem to all revolve around arguments over the best way to fuck over most of us while making it look like the other party is responsible for destroying the economy, and talk about the 2012 campaign season keeps highlighting candidates who are batshit crazy while touting them as being the frontrunners.

Adding to the funk, I've been reading a biography of Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover, the man who gets blamed for the Great Depression and gets held up frequently as the Ultimate Evil Republican. Well, the bad news is that going by current teabagger standards, Hoover was so far left he might as well have been sleeping with Lenin.

What were some of the things Hoover advocated?
  • a shorter work week (only 48 hours) and a shorter work day
  • a minimum wage
  • the right of workers to form unions
  • the creation of labor/management councils that would give workers a say in how a company was being run (basically putting ordinary workers on the board of directors)
  • a federal old age pension
  • a nationalized electrical grid system (public power that would bring electricity to everyone)
  • nationalized trains
  • equal pay for women, i.e., what a person got paid should depend on what the job was and not on the gender of the person performing it
Like just about every other politician of his time, Hoover worried about the threat of Communism -- the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war in Russia were riveting news -- but his perspective was that people revolt for a reason. (He did have an edge over some of his contemporaries in this regard; he had been to Russia and knew what conditions were like there before the Revolution.) If workers were making a decent living in a safe work environment and felt like they had some control over their lives, they wouldn't feel a need to listen to radicals. In short, he was rational.

At the point I'm at now, which is right around 1920, Hoover is still spending more time schmoozing with the Democrats than with the Republicans. Among other things, he was one of Woodrow Wilson's advisors.  I am becoming increasingly curious to see how he ends up as the Republican presidential candidate barely 8 years later, because, based on what I've read so far, it doesn't make sense.

Then again, 100 years ago Republicans were sane. They were the progressives advocating for equality, conservation, regulation. . .


  1. Do you get any feeling for the political polarity of the country back then? I was just wondering this morning about whether we really are more polarized between parties and ideologies today than any other time before us. I can see either way being possible, so...I wonder...

  2. Hoover's "Efficiency Movement" sounds much like today's "cut the fat and waste of government" Republicans.

    And it was Hoover who sent nutso Gen. MacArthur and his charging troops with fixed bayonets into Army vets ... to get rid of the Bonus Army in DC's "Hooverville".

    That act alone probably guaranteed FDR's election.

  3. One big difference between Hoover in 1920 and Republicans now, though. Hoover thought the rich should pay more in taxes -- he believed in a progressive tax scheme and figured that the wealthy should be happy to pay more because it was the patriotic thing to do.

    After I finish the book, I may do a review. The chapter I'm in now is going into loving detail about Hoover's reorganization of the Commerce Department, so I've got a ways to go before I get to his Presidency.

  4. Depressing to think Hoover was that progressive...but look at Eisenhower - he was definitely far to the left of the current GOP as well, probably would be a Democrat today if he were alive. A leftist Democrat.


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