An Interesting Analogy

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College who writes a daily Letter addressing many of the subjects covered in this blog. Given her background, it isn’t surprising that she sees historical parallels; in one recent Letter, she analogized the current political situation to the latter part of  the Hoover Administration.

After describing aspects of Trump’s disastrous non-response to the Coronavirus, she wrote

In all of this, the administration sounds much like that of President Herbert Hoover who, when faced with the calamity of the Great Depression, largely rejected calls for government aid to starving and displaced families, and instead trusted businessmen to restart the economy. To the extent relief was necessary, he wanted states and towns to cover it. Anything else would destroy American individualism, he insisted.

But by 1932, the same Americans who had supported Hoover in 1928 in a landslide recognized that his ideology had led the nation to catastrophe and then offered no way out. They rallied around Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who worked together with Congress to create an entirely new form of national government, one that had been unthinkable just four years before.

Ironically, Trump’s disastrous administration and the Republican fecklessness that has enabled it, may have created an opening that Biden, with his deep knowledge of the Senate and his non-polarizing persona–is especially well-situated to use.

Biden has previously been considered moderate, rather than “left” or progressive, but he clearly understands that the times call for significant change.

News and Guts has reported that Biden worked with Bernie Sanders on a recently unveiled plan that would both create jobs and combat climate change, and that the plan was far more ambitious  than anything he had discussed during the primary.

Biden’s campaign has characterized his overall economic proposal as the “largest mobilization of public investments in procurement, infrastructure, and R&D since World War II.” It calls for desperately-needed investment in infrastructure and R&D, incentives to revive trade unionism, higher wages, and higher taxes on corporations. It makes environmentalism a high priority, and includes a public option for health insurance that would be a huge step toward universal access. It would  also reverse Trump’s horrific approach to immigration.

The New York Times, characterized the plan, in its typically understated fashion.

But the ideas put forth on Wednesday are also indications that progressives succeeded in pushing some proposals leftward, influencing Mr. Biden’s policy platform as he prepares to accept his party’s nomination for president next month.

Richardson notes that the document is strong politically, “undercutting both Trump’s “America First” language and promising concrete policies for voters suffering in the Republican economy.” She also points to an underlying philosophical shift–  “a return to a vision of a government that stops privileging an elite few, and instead works to level the economic playing field among all Americans.”

That philosophical shift is reflected in Bernie Sanders’ approving remarks about the campaign’s economic plan; it is also reflected in the decision of the progressive organization to endorse Biden and the overwhelming vote of its members to do so. (Biden won 82.4% of votes cast by MoveOn members.)

Too many Americans think progress requires revolutionary leadership–that it is the product of extraordinary people who have spent their lives on the ideological barricades. But social change (like so much else) is a  complicated process; often, it is the result of a fortuitous combination of factors: when emerging imperatives of a particular time produce leaders who recognize the degree of change required, and possess the personal and institutional skills to make change happen. 

Before his election, FDR didn’t look like a revolutionary, but he met the imperatives of his time. Whether Joe Biden can meet the imperatives of ours remains to be seen–but the prospect shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

The signs are encouraging.


  1. “Biden has previously been considered moderate, rather than “left” or progressive, but he clearly understands that the times call for significant change.”

    “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Oscar Wilde

    I trust Joe to know where the starting points and the ending points are to be found; he spent 8 years in the White House so he has “been there, done that” along with President Obama.

    “But the ideas put forth on Wednesday are also indications that progressives succeeded in pushing some proposals leftward, influencing Mr. Biden’s policy platform as he prepares to accept his party’s nomination for president next month.”

    Let’s get Joe Biden elected and inaugurated before finding fault with his leadership abilities or tactics.

    Hmm; I just realized that today’s middle-agers are the “younger generation” to many on this blog. John Steinbeck’s classic book “The Grapes Of Wrath” or the classic movie could be used as a teaching instrument for them to better understand Heather Cox Richardson’s analogy.

  2. JoAnn – Enthusiastic Kudos from this reader who can’t forget Steinbeck and his Grapes of Wrath.
    In 1930 I was on the cusp of 5 years old and hadn’t read Steinbeck, (ha) A decade later I chose it from a high school list of suggested reading and I was mesmerized. It astonished me at that age that a book could so clearly convey what I was experiencing.
    I desperately need that shift from Hoover to Roosevelt again but I’m terrified that the Orange Ogre will figure out a way to screw us and doubtless he’ll do with the help of Red State Electors, Red State Governors, and a daunting host of deplorables who have not read Steinbeck.

  3. I think too much emphasis is placed on left v. right. Who cares? Our society still operates under many of the New Deal guidelines that the dinosaur party continues to attack.

    The New Deal has been attacked by the corporate-sponsored party before the ink was dry. Several milestones of their success have all resulted in the same disasters that the above-mentioned Hoover mentality created.

    During the Vietnam fiasco, when Johnson and the Democrats were politically vulnerable, the infamous Lewis Powell memo came about pushing the big money to buy and operate government. One of their biggest successes was Newt Gingrich’s idiotic “Contract With America” that began with the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act. That allowed banks to use depositor money for “investment”. The result? Typical Republican: Financial disaster … but not until the 1% got even richer.

    Since then, various Republican Presidents and Republican Congresses have chipped away at the New Deal and the Second Bill of Rights to try to get back to Hooverville. So, have you seen the income graphs from the OMB? Yes, the income gains of the top 1% looks similar to the graphs representing the increase in COVID cases in Arizona and Florida. Everybody else? Flat curves.

    The Biden/Sanders work is more than the New Deal reprised with the addition of elements for the problems caused by Republican mismanagement and corrupt government. It’s not a revolution. It’s a platform that outlines how our government SHOULD work for the PEOPLE of the country… you know, those poor sods who work like hell to make sure the 1% get their tax breaks so they can hide more money in Swiss banks and still afford the second Bentley. They are known as labor.

  4. Vernon, I think you give too much credit to Newt Gingrich for repealing the Glass Steagall act. I recall that during the last days of the Clinton administration, Phil Graham added a number of provisions to an economic “reform” bill which had already been approved by both houses of Congress, without telling anyone about them, and Glass Steagall revocation was one of them. Clinton signed the thing without reading it, because he assumed that it had been vetted by both houses.

  5. Vernon. A correction. Phil Graham was not responsible for eliminating Glass Steagall, as I said above. He slipped into a must-sign bill provisions that removed oversight of some of the securities that were partially responsible for the 2008 financial crash. Sorry for the mistake.

  6. Not sure how many of you are aware of this, but most bills are passed and signed by people who haven’t read them. There are people in the government who have read them and sent forward comments, but most of the comments never get read either. Battles frequently develop during the regulation making phase of government. You and I are disadvantaged in that process by the teams of special interest groups (mainly corporate lobbyists) who flood the Federal Register with comments designed to take away perceived negatives of the law. This is where a good law can be watered down to near zero impact.

  7. To “level the economic playing field” is exactly the right language. American voters respond well to “fairness for all” policies, like Social Security, and recoil from anything that looks like “favoritism” for the poor, like welfare.

  8. Pascal,

    Not to worry. I get out over my skis often… as you know. The situation and topic today is both simple and complex. The simple part is that greed, hoarding and elitism is part of the Republican party and has been since the day after Lincoln was killed. The complex part is the confluence of laws that want to both create new regulations and those that beg for de-regulation. The patterns over the decades has shown that DE-REGULATION allows the greedy, hoarding elitists to pillage the “least” among us for their own enrichment.

    As Karl Marx noted in “Das Kapital”, un-regulated capitalism will destroy itself from within. The Republican party, and its marriage to corporate/banking America are the people Marx was talking about. The Republicans simply don’t seem to grasp what their self-immolating operating philosophy is doing to our beloved nation. Then, they never have as they go hell-bent for the endgame.

  9. But it can happen only if we overcome the gerrymandered districts and win all three branches of government.

  10. “Keep your eye on the prize” was something John Lewis said often. We need to do that with getting rid of corrupt gerry mandering practices, the electoral college, and income tax reform that levels the playing field in our economy.

    I just keep wishing that the current administration’s failure to create a united effort to contain COVID 19 and Trump’s outrageous remarks regarding the protests will also move people to vote democrats into the Senate.

    Vote blue!

  11. “in its typically understated fashion” isn’t quite how I would put it – but how I would put it can’t be published on a polite family blog such as this one. I despise the NYT and consider it to be a right-wing rag; anyone who thinks it’s liberal has never read a truly leftist newspaper, like Liberation/La Repubblica (France/Italy) or Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany).

    Also – News and Guts? I don’t get the reference.

  12. Joe Biden (and most of the rest of the country) realize that Trump and his mostly unattended coronavirus are leaving our country in disastrous shape. It will take herculean effort to lift us out of it. Thankfully Biden understands that things like climate change, badly needed infrastructure improvements, the need for jobs, and public health and safety all intersect and complement each other. I wish the election were tomorrow.

  13. One aspect of Economics, which is in reality a dark art that is sold as a body of absolute knowledge, is that there are rules, something that can be taught and learned and claimed as expertise, that always apply. What if there isn’t? What if most macroeconomics is much more situational and less absolute?.

    Modern Monetary Theory, MMT, which is a version of macroeconomics that has been postulated for a century or more, could be among the many transitions that are equipped for the world that’s coming rather than the world that is gone forever that entitled so many of us for so long.

    Here’s a good primer on MMT.

    To me it offers a coherent set of guidelines as to how the Biden Administration can pull off what FDR did to save us from Hoover. In fact it is arguably the guidelines that FDR did follow whether or not he did actually or instinctively.

    One of the cults that gave us Trump and perhaps Hoover too is labeled today “Libertarianism”. I’m thinking that’s not really a thing at all but a group of disgruntled entitled who don’t like paying for their entitlements. They think that they deserve more for less. They want their lifestyle but don’t want to pay the cost of it so they can have more discretionary spending money to enhance it. They want to continue to enhance wealth redistribution up.

    No matter how it’s labeled, what Biden has to pull off is what Trump tried to prevent and that is the movement of the country back into the orbit of other like economies that are evolving with the times in order to reduce the threat of economic extinction as the environment inevitably changes. Germany is an example.

    That’s not an easy job. One reason is that what Trump managed to accomplish by applying his legendary incompetence, ignorance and corruption is to grind our economy to a halt. Maybe someday we will credit that as a necessary step in rebuilding economic America into something new for the new times that is attuned to the fact that our population and lifestyle are not sustainable by earth.

  14. The Trumpet is trying to use that old Reactionary Republican line that Biden will turn the country into a Socialist Hell Hole. At least from listening to the medical experts, The Trumpet and Pastor Pence had a chance to mitigate Corona.

    The Trumpet and Pastor Pence have used denial, deflection, and the abrogation of responsibility in dealing with Corona. The Trumpet and Pastor Pence from the get go tried to downplay the Corona Virus. The GOP lined up firmly behind this point of view. The problem for the GOP is the The Trumpet is the face of the party. At this point The Trumpet will be lashing out with incoherence at a greater level.

    The result is from coast to coast Corona is out of control. The fools want to start school again. The schools will be a giant petri dish.

  15. As an old self-defined liberal slightly left of center Biden was not my first choice in the primary. I was a Warren enthusiast. However, since Biden as a centrist has since announced an FDRish move on issues in dire need of address I have become a Biden enthusiast. Like FDR, he will have an enormous economic mess created by his Republican predecessor to clean up, but unlike FDR, will be confronted with a pandemic and social revolution as well.

    He will have a batch of initiatives to undertake, like massive infrastructure repair and renewal, ending wage inequality (including inequality by reason of gender), tax and bankruptcy reforms, a Wagner Act emphasis on unionization (and perhaps even repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947), and (dare I hope) reincarnation of Glass-Steagall.

    I here want to emphasize the importance of voting the down ballot this fall. Biden will not be successful in bringing about needed reforms (in addition to the few I have listed above) without a Democratic Senate and House, so yes, let’s remove Trump but let’s also remove his enablers as well. A blue wave will be inadequate. In view of Republican vote thefts and suppression techinques, a blue tsunami is necessary, so let’s have at it, make it happen, and then get to work.

  16. Perhaps we can eliminate a few of the most vile Republicans by sending them to jail. To that end, here’s a letter to the editor I wrote earlier today:

    The time has come to ask an urgent and relevant question about the pandemic. To wit, is a politician innocent if he knowingly withholds information that puts his constituents’ lives at risk? Unless said politician holds special information that the brightest, most experienced, best informed, and most thoughtful medical professionals are not privy to, he knows that masks can save individuals from the coronavirus. Not all lives, not all the time: nonetheless, this is an irrefutable truism. So by confusing the public, contradicting the scientific facts and encouraging reckless behavior, isn’t he responsible for the Covid-19 deaths of those he has misled?

    You can’t blame individuals, for they are known to be ignorant of information needed to make them safe. Many chose not to wear seat belts until their government imposed that requirement. To address such problems, we elect officials who claim intelligence and make available to them sets of experts in vital areas of survival. They, in turn, pass laws forbidding citizens from engaging in behaviors that put their lives in needless danger. Yes, we allow people to swim, but would we if we believed they risked drowning each time they stepped into the water? The lifeguards for Covid-19 sit on your face, not on wooden stands.

    In today’s America, people who associate at close range without wearing masks are proven to be at risk of contracting Covid-19. Politicians who abet such risky behavior without doing everything in their power to prevent it are derelict in their duty. If they actively discourage people from acting responsibly, aren’t they guilty of immoral and possibly illegal behavior? If my logic is flawed, who will accept responsibility for the 140 thousand mostly preventable Covid-19 deaths to date in our intentionally misled country?

  17. RMS – LOL, I have right wing friends send me Fox news stories discrediting that left wing rag the New York Times! I guess it depends on your point of view.

    The analogy of Hoover and FDR might be a good one that this monument in time and they do say the pendulum swings back and forth.

    I would like to remind people that Obama started out his term with an Republican economic induced mess, but I think the manufactured outrage at having a Black man in the White House severely limited any efforts at righting the ship. Plus at the time, nobody could see how destructive the pure pro-capitalism could be or predict that manufactured outrage could have backfired. Now the Republicans are firmly riding the tiger of Trumpism, they have no escape except to keep riding or tell people they have been lying for their own political gain.

    I am still not so sure a monumental swing will still be a lock. Driving south of Indy, I was still seeing Trump banners in yards. The Republicans still might yet come up with an even bigger lie that too many people might choose to believe. The COVID catastrophe, along with the economic and healthcare fallout, is making that more and more unlikely, but it is still a long way to the election.

Comments are closed.