Embarrassing Quotes from History: Herbert Hoover

If ever a politician promised the moon but could only deliver a malaria and crocodile infested swamp, it was Herbert Hoover. Here’s what he said about American prosperity:

“We in America are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before.”

Though you can’t really blame him. No one saw or predicted what was happening in the 1920s even though the signs (in hindsight) were everywhere. Farming suffered great losses in the 20s after the boom of the war years. By 1929, manufacturing of steel had plummeted, the automobile market was shrinking, people were over-tapped with crushing consumer debt, and the stock market was artificially inflated.

These were the heady days of the stock market, long before the SEC cracked down on illegal practices. Crooked pools were used to drive up stock prices and then quickly sell, making a fortune while leaving others with pennies. Buying on margin allowed the average Joe to purchase stock with as little as 10% down, foolishly thinking (both the stockbroker and the investor) that future revenue would be more than enough to pay off the remaining 90%. Companies ended up with a public value far greater than their private output could match.

And so when the stock market crashed in October 1929, no one knew what hit them, or knew what to do next.

Hoover was content to let the free market sort things out, and while the economy slowly started to come around, it was too slow to have tangible impact on the lives of many ordinary Americans who lost their savings and their jobs. The 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff, meant to protect American farmers, inadvertently closed off foreign markets to US goods, thus slowing down the economy to a crawl.

Thousands of banks became insolvent. Companies went under. People, who in the 20s purchased whatever product they wanted on credit, had to worry about their next meals. Hoover’s actions were cumbersome and slow, leaving many without hope and opening the door for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be elected president in 1932.

The New Deal was coming. Hope was around the corner. Unfortunately, neither Hope nor the New Deal ended the depression, but it gave tangible help where the country needed it the most.

At another time in history, Hoover might have been a great president, but he ultimately said too much and did too little.

My Grandpa, Baseball, & Democrats

My grandpa, whom I never had the privilege of knowing, was a staunch Republican. He ran a modest country store during the Great Depression and war years in Sarver, PA. All summer long he would have the radio on listening to Rowsey Rowswell call the play-by-play for his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. (I have to lament a little here. My mother talks about all of the baseball cards that she had from the store throughout the 1940s. She admits they must have been thrown away. I shutter to think about it.)

When the country store talk eventually found itself in the political arena, my grandpa would be sure to show his displeasure for Roosevelt, and you have to admit, 12 years of FDR and the Democrats would have given the Republicans plenty to complain about.

By 1946, my grandpa would have plenty more to complain about. The Pirates went 63-91, setting off on 12 years of mostly futile play. After the 1952 season when the Pirates were an unbelievably horrible 40-112, it must have been quite the consolation for him when Ike won the presidency in November, putting the White House back in control for the first time since Hoover handed over the reins to FDR in March of 1932.

But I bet he would have traded the White House for a pennant.

The 1953 Pirates lost 104 games. The 1954 Pirates lost 101. At least he could read about Ike’s golf scores in the paper.

By the end of the 50’s, things were looking up for the Pittsburgh franchise. They had a winning season in 1958, and after stumbling back in 1959, were poised to compete for a pennant in 1960. There was another competition on the horizon, however. Nixon vs. Kennedy for the White House.

My grandfather, the WASP that he was, could not fathom a Catholic in the White House – and the prospect of a catholic Democrat made it all the more sinister.

But baseball took center stage first in the fall of 1960 – and what a fall it was! The Pittsburgh Pirates entering their first World Series in 33 years – a rematch of the 1927 series versus the dreaded New York Yankees.

That was a series for the ages, and my grandpa, who suffered through decades of bad teams, was finally rewarded when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off, series winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field to do the impossible – beat the Yankees and win the series.

A month later, fortunes were not as favorable for my grandfather as Kennedy squeaked by Nixon in one of the closest elections of all time.

My grandfather died of a heart attack the next day. My mother says he couldn’t have taken it – having a catholic Democrat in the White House.

But he had satisfaction before he passed on. He saw the Pirates win, and perhaps that was enough.