Mitt Romney’s Hoover Moment?

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“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

—Mitt Romney, inleaked comments from a fundraiser in May 2012

For a while, I’ve been thinking Obama might be the next Herbert Hoover, the poor sap who entered the Presidency without realizing that a pattern of absolutely horrific economic conditions were going to dog him for his entire Presidency, and that he would get the blame for the repercussions that follow. If you listen to the general Conservative narrative, that is certainly what you hear. “The lagging recovery is all Obama’s fault”.

Some of the criticism is certainly warranted. Someone please explain what “Cash for Clunkers” was supposed to do again?

That said, I’ve been reticent to make the Obama / Hoover because too many of the pieces simply don’t fit. Up to his election and inauguration, Hoover enjoyed a tremendous amount of admiration because of his business acumen, and especially his humanitarian effort to get food to a starving European civilian population during and after World War One. Hoover also redefined the Secretary of Commerce from a minor cabinet position into one that worked with business to improve the lives of the citizenry. While Barack Obama is known for his work as a Community Organizer, unlike Hoover, his work and the results of his efforts in that capacity remain to this day a murky footnote to the Obama legacy – nobody really knows what the heck a “Community Organizer” does. And Mr. Obama is not exactly know as a business guru.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is as much known and admired by many not only as a fine business man, but also as a hero for literally saving the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, certainly a much more high profile accomplishment than that of being a community organizer. What about Bain Capital? Hoover gained his fortune by rising up in the ranks of the Bewick, Moreing & Co. mining company, and under his tenure, relations between management and labor were also not always wine and roses:

The 1890s was a depressed decade, and Hoover ran a tough management regime. He cut wages and increased hours. He also raised ethnic tensions in the workforce by employing immigrant Italians – ‘the rivalry between them and the [other] workers is no small benefit’, he wrote, because it made united action more difficult. This was a very American tactic, not often used in Australia.

You can imagine some of this popping up in several of the SuperPAC ads if Hoover was running for the highest office today.

OK. You might be thinking these are some interesting parallels, but since one was President during hard economic times, and one has yet to be, how I can make the Romney / Hoover relationship stronger than one to Obama and Hoover?

Empathy my friends. Empathy…. Or the appearance of a lack there of.

Hoover was not a strict adherent to Laissez-Faire / separation of business and government policy, as his tenure as Secretary of Commerce shows. When it became apparent that the aftermath of the Great Crash of 1929 was becoming much more sever than anyone had predicted, Hoover started implementing a number of government based solutions to try and help people in need (a good portion of what became known as the New Deal were actually implemented by Hoover, and turned up to 11 by FDR), and to get business to do all they could to keep people employed. But, like many in power during this era, Hoover was convinced that the best way for the country to get back on track was through local intervention and volunteer efforts. So he stressed that instead of pointing out what he himself was doing behind the scenes to try and fix things.

This was his undoing. FDR was telling people help was on the way, literally bragging how programs he implemented while Governor of New York created jobs for people, while Hoover would make no such statement even though he was starting to do the same. FDR milked it for all its worth to become president. Though Hoover had a long history of being a real humanitarian, and behind the scenes, he was indeed pushing government levers to try and get the economy going again, the citizenry, by his own doing, only saw an out-of-touch millionaire at the helm doing nothing. The lavish dinners at the White House and the Bonus Army incident only reaffirmed the public image of Hoover being a heartless, uncaring soul.

This is at the core of Romney’s real problem. Even though we know he’s done some fine humanitarian work, Romney has a knack of coming off as a rich guy who has absolutely no clue about what the people of this country have gone through in the last few years! That Romney refers to those 47% and asserts “they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives” is a stunning comment! The people who are taking government assistance, and who don’t pay income tax, are doing so not because they are lazy and are content to suck on the government teat, but are people who through no fault of their own have fallen from the ranks of the middle class and are only taking the benefits because there are no jobs out there that will feed the family and pay the bills. For many, a government handout is the difference between eating and having a roof over their heads or being homeless. These people in unfortunate circumstances would LOVE to have good paying of jobs again and get off the government dole. Yet all they see and hear are rich people insulting them and calling them lazy parasites. They see the rich, candidates like Romney or your choice of radio blow-hards,  making litle meaningful investment back in this country instead of shipping jobs overseas, and creating real good paying middle class jobs here at home that will get them off the welfare rolls.

Mitt Romney, at this point, is in no danger of seeing shanty towns renamed to Romneyvilles, or have turned out pockets called Romneyflags. To the larger point; while the perception that the wealthy are not investing in the well being of this country, or are not creating any jobs at all, is not accurate, neither is the assertion that the 47% of the country who are not paying income taxes, and who are on some sort of government assistance, are automatic Obama supporters… Though I think Romney might have just converted more than a few with these latest comments.

PS. Here is another thing I’ve been thinking about. Hoover, with all his business and government experience, should have been the PERFECT man to deal with the onset of the Great Depression. But, as it turns out, he wasn’t. Somehow, his advantages seem in the lens of history to perhaps have been more of a hindrance to him than an asset. Could this also apply to a Romney Presidency? Does his business experience really matter in the grand scheme of things?