Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) seems to think that Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire conservative:
That’s going back to Hoover economics. The notion that the government doesn’t have much of a role, that the market will correct itself on its own. It didn’t work in the Great Depression, it wouldn’t work here, and even the previous administration recognized that.
It’s not remotely true; Hoover was a progressive interventionist. In fact, such was Hoover’s reputation among progressives that in 1920 there was talk of a Hoover-Roosevelt Democratic ticket. During the 1932 campaign, Hoover proclaimed:
Two courses were open to us. We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead, we met the situation with proposals to private business and to the Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put that program in action.
The most that can be said is that Hoover’s “gigantic program of economic counterattack” paled in comparison to his successor’s.
Perhaps Conrad is confusing Hoover with his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was a laissez-faire conservative, and he was frequently at odds with Hoover (his Secretary of Commerce). Regarding Hoover, he once remarked “for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice–all of it bad.”
Coolidge’s worst mistake, in retrospect, probably was declining to run for re-election. He said, if he were elected to a second full term, that would make him president for ten years, “longer than any other man has had it–too long!” We never found out how Coolidge’s policies would have worked. Probably he would have let the banks fail, which we know now was one of the major causes of the depression. On the other hand, Smoot-Hawley, another major cause of the depression, would certainly not have become law in the Coolidge administration.
It’s not surprising that the left wants to make Hoover into a laissez-faire conservative. Hoover, after all, was a disaster. But it’s far from the truth.