Robert S. McElvaine: Obama vs. Hoover





Robert S. McElvaine is a historian at Millsaps College.  His most recent book is a 25th anniversary edition of “The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941.” He is currently completing a book manuscript, “Oh, Freedom! – The Young Sixties.”

The question Americans should be asking ourselves isn’t whether we’re better off than we were four years ago. It’s whether we’re better off than we were 80 years ago.

...[T]he most appropriate presidential term to use as a benchmark is Herbert Hoover’s. He was the last president to face an economic crisis on a scale similar to the one that confronted Obama when he took office.

I have been studying the Great Depression for the better part of four decades. A comparison of these two presidencies is both clarifying and highly favorable to Barack Obama.  Mitt Romney himself has drawn attention to the implicit parallel between the crises faced by Hoover and Obama. “This is the slowest job recovery since Hoover,” Romney declared in June 2011. He did not, of course, intend the association to be a positive one for the current president. Obama has returned the favor. In the final debate, he told Romney that “when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”...

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