Calling someone "this generation's Hoover" is about the biggest insult you can give a President. Even Republicans run away from Hoover's legacy. (Personally I think George Bush was a worse president, but that's a subject for a different diary.)
80 years later Herbert Hoover is still the standard for the "do-nothing" president in the face of economic collapse.
Like most easy comparisons, these examples lack details. That's because the names are there for the purpose of accusation, rather than enlightenment.
However, if you dig down into the individual economic policies of Hoover, Bush, and Obama, the story gets much more interesting.
Both Hoover and Obama came from similar backgrounds:
Both Hoover and Obama were products of broken homes;On that last item, Obama actually falls short of Hoover's progressive instincts.
both were widely traveled;
both had modest political resumes and "went deep into enemy territory" for support when they were elected, winning states that hadn't voted for their parties in many years;
Hoover was seen as the "great progressive of his day," Mead writes;
and Hoover's ticket — with a Native American running mate — was the "most diverse" in the nation's history until 2008.
Hoover "was a strong supporter of disarmament ... began the withdrawal of U.S. forces his predecessors had committed ... sought to avoid confrontational U.S. statements and to downplay possible grounds for conflict" and his "strong humanitarian instincts ... made him reluctant to use force but also left him concerned about the well being of people in other countries."
Obama is trying to keep troops in Iraq. He increased troops in Afghanistan, and he increased bombings in countries such as Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.
In contrast, Hoover ended America's 21-year occupation of Nicaragua.
On a humanitarian level Obama simply can't compete with Hoover.
Caught in the siege of the Western delegations in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, only Hoover and his fearless wife, Lou, cared enough to sneak food and water to the Chinese Christians besieged elsewhere in the city. He first came to national attention after the start of World War I, when he led the effort to feed the 7 million people of occupied Belgium and France. He worked for free, donated part of his own fortune to the cause, and risked his life repeatedly crossing the U-boat–infested waters of the North Atlantic. His postwar relief efforts rescued millions more throughout Europe and especially in the Soviet Union; it’s unlikely that any other individual in human history saved so many people from death by starvation and want. Questioned about feeding populations under Bolshevik control, he banged a table and insisted, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!” In 1920, many people in both major parties wanted to run him for president, but he opted for the Republican cabinet. As secretary of commerce under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he was a dynamic figure, tirelessly promoting new technologies, work-safety rules, and voluntary industry standards; he supervised relief to Mississippi and Louisiana during the terrible 1927 floods and advocated cooperation between labor and management.While Hoover personally risked his life shipping food to starving Russians under a murderous regime, the Obama Administration cut off food shipments to starving Somalians because of the risk that some of it might feed insurgents there.
Hoover the progressive
Until the summer of 1931 there was realistic hope that the Depression would end soon. Laissez-faire economic policies dominated all political circles, even in the Democratic Party.
There had been no federal actions to the severe economic downturns in 1873, 1893, and 1920, and still the economy had bounced back in a couple years. Outside of socialists and communists, there was no serious proposals for direct federal aid to the unemployed.
The failure of Creditanstalt in May of 1931 changed all that.
Within a few months the Austrian government was broke. This led to a run on German credit, and finally a crash in British Sterling, which led to Britain leaving the gold standard. By September of 1931 the economic crisis had jumped from Wall Street to Europe and now back to Wall Street. America was rocked by the first severe banking crisis of the Great Depression that wasn't centered in farming states.
In 1931, 2,294 banks in the U.S. failed.
It is sadly ironic that several years into this financial crisis, Obama is facing a potential banking crisis originating from the heart of Europe again.
And so in October 1931, Hoover set out to rescue Wall Street. How was he going to do that? By using the Federal Reserve Banks to swap out illiquid mortgage-backed securities with sound Treasuries.
Does that sound familiar? It should, because the Federal Reserve has been doing that non-stop since the spring of 2008. President Bush was just following Hoover's Plan.
On January 15, 1932, Hoover signed into law the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. This was a continuation of the Wall Street bailout. In addition to bailing out banks, mortgage companies, and insurance companies, it also bailed out railroads. It did this through a combination of loans and buying equity in banks. The RFC continued to exist until the 1950's.
Much like the 2008-2010 bailouts, Hoover's bailouts approached fixing the economy from the top-down, taking care of the wealthy and powerful first.
the RFC was derided by populist critics as "bank relief" and "a millionaire’s dole"—criticisms echoed today by all those who see George W. Bush’s Troubled Asset Relief Program and Obama’s own Public-Private Investment Program as outrageous giveaways...Critics raised the same criticisms they would raise about Obama’s bailout plans seventy-eight years later. If the banks get a bailout, why not everyone else? Were bailouts only for the rich?Just like the RFC, the 2008-2010 Wall Street bailout was plagued with corrupt, insider dealing, ethics violations, and obvious conflicts of interest. Like during the RFC, Wall Street is hoarding the bailout money, thus failing to help out the economy.
Although Hoover had declared that the agency was "not created for the aid of big industries or big banks," a record of its operations revealed that most of its money had indeed gone to a very few of the country’s biggest financial institutions...
The recipients of some $642 million of the RFC’s loans—nearly half its total expenditures—were not revealed at all. Hoover, like Obama, had insisted on secrecy to keep the proceedings from being "politicized," but, inevitably, this fear of politicization in the end only led to more politics....
The RFC’s deliberations were understood—with good reason—not as effective management but as insider dealing: common financial practice through the 1920s, but politically and morally insupportable at a time when millions of Americans were losing their jobs, their homes, and their savings, and when some were literally dying of starvation.
More than any other item, the failure of the RFC has been echoed into our present economic crisis. The 2008-2010 Wall Street bailout was nothing more than the RFC written large.
A month later, Hoover signed into law the first Glass-Steagall reform law (this is different from the famous one in 1934). Like the financial reform bill under Obama's watch, this was no real effort at reforming Wall Street.
This law was aimed at expanding credit. To accomplish this, rules regarding what the Federal Reserve could accept for rediscount purposes, such as commercial paper, was expanded.
Expanding the range of acceptable assets is exactly what the Federal Reserve began doing in 2009 with its quantitative easing program. By no small coincidence, the Bank of Japan followed this route in 1999. Every time in history this method has been tried to expand credit it has failed, yet governments keep doing it.
Finally, on July 21, 1932, with the Great Depression now three years old and the wealthy taken care of, Hoover enacted the first piece of legislation that helped working America, Emergency Relief and Construction Act. The money was to be dedicated to state and local public works projects, as well as state-level relief projects, much like Obama's 2009 stimulus bill.
While a noble idea, Hoover didn't take it far enough (Obama made the same mistake 80 years later). The money was only allocated to states if the state could prove that its own resources were insufficient for legitimate relief needs. By March 1933, the money was exhausted.
By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated, the federal government was financing over 60 percent of all relief nationally. In the end, the $300 million in relief loans to the states was never repaid, and the federal government had permanently entered the field of public assistance.Also in July 1932, Hoover signed into law the Federal Home Loan Bank Act. This was to be Hoover's most lasting legacy.
Like Obama in 2009, Hoover felt compelled to address the foreclosure crisis sweeping America. The idea was to reduce foreclosures while encouraging home ownership and home construction by increasing the supply of money available to registered institutions in the form of home loans. Unfortunately, Hoover's efforts were overwhelmed by the size of the problem.
Much to President Hoover's great disappointment, however, the credit program was a complete failure. While 41,000 homeowners applied for FHLB loans in the first two years after its enactment, the government agency administering the program approved just three applications.80 years later, Obama's own efforts at curbing the foreclosure crisis would fail. His efforts at boosting the housing market would also fail.
"We didn't admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started."
- Rexford Guy Tugwell
As the economy contracted, government spending expanded, and to pay for it, Hoover went after the rich.
Between 1930 and 1931, government spending increased from 16.4% to 21.5%. To pay for it, in 1932, Hoover raised taxes. Most Americans saw their tax rates double, with the top rate rising from 24% to 63%.Conservatives were having a heart attack at the mere thought of a 3% tax hike on the rich when Bush's tax cuts expired. Can you imagine what they would do if Obama wanted to hike the tax rate on the rich by 2.5 fold while doubling the estate tax?!?
I'll tell you what their reaction would be. It would be something like this:
During the 1932 elections, Franklin Delano Roosevelt blasted the Republican incumbent for spending and taxing too much, increasing national debt, raising tariffs and blocking trade, as well as placing millions on the dole of the government.  He attacked Herbert Hoover for "reckless and extravagant" spending, of thinking "that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible," and of leading "the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history." Roosevelt's running mate, John Nance Garner, accused the Republican of "leading the country down the path of socialism."Let's also not forget that the famous Pecora Commission was started under Hoover. Like the congressional effort under Obama to investigate Wall Street, it was meant to be nothing more than a whitewash. It was only after Pecora was hired in 1933 that its mission changed.
Before accusing me of making a right-wing argument, consider that Paul Krugman has used the term Barak Herbert Hoover Obama, and its hard to consider Krugman a shill of the right-wing.
It's time to face up to the facts - Hoover had a more progressive record than Obama does. Hoover dramatically expanded the governments efforts to help the poor and unemployed. Obama, at best, is engaged in a fighting retreat of our social safety net.
A little perspective
Before declaring a "guilty" verdict of Obama, consider one important thing: Hoover was being pressured by a very active and organized leftist movement in America.
In Obama's America, there is no real leftist movement. There is no grassroots pressure for him to fight for what is right. So if you are a liberal or leftist and want to denounce Obama, you have to denounce the entire progressive movement in America at the same time. It has done nothing to hold Obama accountable.