Liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Conservative Herbert C. Hoover

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt is commonly thought of as a liberal and President Herbert C. Hoover as a conservative. To what extent are these characterizations valid?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is commonly identified as a liberal and President Herbert C. Hoover as a conservative. The validity of these characterizations, however, is conditional upon the definition of these labels. If one adopts the most conventional contemporary definitions of the terms “liberal” and “conversative,” then the characterizations of Roosevelt as a liberal and Hoover as a conservative are valid, but the definitions of liberal and conservative vary and change over time and place.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, the meaning of the term “liberal” was contested. The conventional meaning of “liberal” was articulated by President Hoover, who argued for "political equality, free speech, free assembly, free press, and equality of opportunity." For Hoover, "liberty" was associated foremost with individual freedom and self-determination.By the end of the Great Depression, the content of the term “liberal” included different properties. President Franklin Roosevelt defined liberty as consisting of “Four Freedoms”: the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

Today, the definition of the term “liberal” is relatively uncontested, and its content is relatively well defined. A liberal today is someone who advocates for governmental solutions to various problems, not for unaided individual freedom. Liberals today trust and call for governmental action, not for the type of self-determination supported by Hoover. Contemporary liberals believe in individual freedom, but they typically advocate f...

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...reased under Hoover. Similarly, it underwent erratic fluctuations under Roosevelt as well; increasing, decreasing but one evident trend is that despite the efforts by both men, the total public debt continued to increase. Neither economic policy truly “worked.” The difference though was in the delivery. Hoover advocates a change in economy by forcing large corporations to act with “glass pockets” to expose any unethical tactics they might employ. He does not resolve to make any significant government changes but merely more regulations on those corporations directly contributing to the economy. By this, Hoover shows his conservatism. Roosevelt, on the other hand (Doc G), identifies “the most serious threat to our institutions” to be coming from “those who refuse to face the need for change.” He goes on to identify that willingness as both conservative and liberal.

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