If you ever wanted proof that ideologues make horrible leaders, look no further than Herbert Hoover. Here is a man who came into the White House with the reputation and the qualifications to place himself among the greatest presidents of the twentieth century but managed to blow it. Some of Hoover’s poor reputation is not deserved. The Great Depression began seven months into his term. There were warning signs, but no one really saw them. It was a New Era, after all. However, Hoover was stubborn and self-deluded, denying federal aid when even the most conservative of business and political leaders fairly screamed for it.
Hoover is kind of like a libertarian version of Woodrow Wilson, the smartest guy in the room whose biggest fault is that he knows it. He had a pathological inability to see how anyone else could come up with a different conclusion than he did.
Which is too bad because Hoover was one of the most impressive men in the nation at the time. During World War I, he organized and ran the effort to feed Belgians, who were trapped between the Allies and Germany. So forceful was his leadership that German troops were under orders to allow Hoover to pass unmolested through their lines and back.
Under Warren Harding, and later, Calvin Coolidge, he became Commerce Secretary, often called the Wonder Boy as he took on tasks beyond the scope of his department. And therein lies the problem. Late in his second term, Coolidge would hear of something Hoover did and mutter “What has our Wonder Boy done now?”
Nonetheless, such was his reputation that Hoover was the only choice for the Republican nomination in 1928, which let him cruise into the presidency. As his term began, people predicted the 1930’s to be a period of unprecedented prosperity.
And then came Black Tuesday. Part of Hoover’s problem was that he would implement a policy and state “There. The depression is over.” Most of the time, he would be confronted with evidence that government intervention was called for and explain that it would hurt the people the idea was supposed to help. In 1932, with 25% unemployment and the stock market still in tatters, the people decided Hoover wasn’t the Great Engineer after all. Franklin Roosevelt defeated him in a landslide.