David Greenberg: Obama: He’s Just Like Hoover (But in a Good Way)

David Greenberg is a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers. He is a contributing editor for The New Republic.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Barack Obama for president Thursday is the latest piece of evidence to suggest that, at the least, the president’s performance during Hurricane Sandy won’t hurt his reelection prospects. But if the President wants a model for boosting his election prospects on the basis of such heroics, he should consider the example set by Herbert Hoover. More than anyone, it was Hoover who established the precedent of treating natural disasters as a proving ground for the presidency, and a measure of executive compassion and competence....

[President] Coolidge’s belief in a hands-off presidency was tested when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks in April 1927, creating the worst natural disaster in American history until Hurricane Katrina. The floods killed hundreds, displaced hundreds of thousands, and left damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To spearhead a rescue, relief, and reconstruction effort, Coolidge named Hoover. He was the obvious choice for the job, having built a reputation as a hypercompetent humanitarian in World War I by delivering needed food first to the Belgians who had been overrun by Germany and then, after the war, to vast swaths of ravaged Europe....

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