FDR And Hoover Political Beliefs

FDR And Hoover Political Beliefs

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Hindsight is 20-20 only so long as that particular hindsight comes from an accepted frame of reference. This applies as much to descriptions of historical individuals as it does to any other thing. For their actions while serving as president, FDR and Hoover are described as a liberal and conservative, respectively. The label given to Roosevelt was mostly true, while the moniker used to define Hoover is largely false.
The description of a set of beliefs as "liberal" or "conservative" is a task that, in history, has changed in its requirements and protocol. We would now consider beliefs to be conservative that were at the onset of the American experiment considered liberal. Free markets, limited government, and federalism were ideas that were ridiculed throughout most of the civilized countries of the west up until recent history. On the other hand, what we would now consider to be modern liberalism can’t well be described in a similar fashion: Hobbes’ style of conservatism and its antidemocratic and autocratic impulses, while always the end result of collectivist tendencies such as modern liberalism, don’t translate completely into FDR’s style of governance and the Left’s penchant for social democracy (though Hobbes would appreciate the control that central planning entails). Modern liberalism, like modern conservatism, can be traced to a form of liberal thought. In modern liberalism’s case, though, it is rooted in continental European thought such as French Revolution radicalism and subsequent collectivist ideologies (devoted more to equality and a concept of "change") than in conservatism’s bedrock, more individualist Anglo Saxon thought. Thus, when referring to "conservative" and "liberal", the reference will be to the modern manifestations of such.
President Hoover, in his public statements, talked out of both sides of his mouth. He followed very conservative speech with liberal qualifiers. For example, he followed a classical-liberal statement such as "Liberalism should be found not striving to spread bureaucracy but striving to set bounds to it," with mitigating statements that contradict any of his rightward speech: "It does not mean that our government is to part with one iota of its national resources without complete protection to the public interest…" and "The very essence of equality of opportunity and of American individualism… demands economic justice as well as political and social justice. It is no system of laissez faire…" (Document A)
Hoover’s actions were in similar dichotomy. While he mostly opposed welfare in its humanitarian sense, he wholeheartedly embraced it in its economic: his programs pumped millions of dollars into businesses and public works projects, causing large scale interference in the market.

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This is highlighted when he said, "Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement…" and followed up with "… the federal government is engaged upon the greatest program of waterway, harbor, flood control, public building, highway, and airway improvement in all our history… I favor still further temporary expansion of these activities in aid to unemployment during this winter." (Document B) Hoover played a little of both sides, practicing economic interventionism, but attempting to restrain it somewhat. Thus, calling him politically conservative is false.
Roosevelt campaigned as a fiscal conservative, saying "[The Hoover administration] is committed to the idea that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible—federal control… I shall approach the problem of carrying out the plain precept of our party, which is to reduce the cost of current federal government operations by 25 percent… we can make savings by reorganization of existing departments, by eliminating functions, by abolishing many of those innumerable boards and those commissions…" And yet, like Hoover, he followed his statements with qualifiers, saying he will eliminate new spending except for welfare and that he will allow greater welfare in a time of "dire need". (Document E). Despite his campaigning, he revealed himself through his administrative actions to be left leaning. After a year in office, there was not a fiscal year in which federal spending did not exceed the most of the Hoover years by 200 percent or more. (Document F). From one of Roosevelt’s speeches comes the somewhat Orwellian statement that "the true conservative seeks to protect the system of private property and free enterprise by correcting such injustices and inequalities as arise from it. The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change… I am that kind of conservative because I am that kind of liberal." He, in other words, said that property rights and the freedom to trade could only be protected by curtailing property rights and the freedom to trade (war is peace). The founding fathers (political conservatives) would be aghast at the idea that liberty would be forsaken for security (and indeed the notion that security requires a debasement of liberty). Roosevelt’s speech highlighted his liberalism, and he went on to orchestrate the largest expansion of federal power in American history, raising taxes, creating federal programs for specific, entitlement welfare (usurping such functions from the states), myriad new regulatory agencies, and injecting government into a far greater swath of formerly private actions than ever before. His programs, whether intentional or not, would go on to create the largest dependence the American people ever had upon the federal government. His qualifications as a liberal, therefore, are sound.
As is shown by their words and actions, the historical labels given to Hoover and Roosevelt were false and true, respectively. Hoover, standing in the middle of the road as opposed to the right side, got run over by the jalopy heading west, the passions of a nation unemployed. Roosevelt, the liberal icon still praised today as the champion of planning by the chief planners, certainly deserves his description.
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