With Obamacare, Dodd–Frank, and other progressive policies, it is clear that liberals have gone too far. Nearly 80 years ago, liberalism was undoubtedly more popular, with New Deal programs in full expansion. At the same time, while former President Herbert Hoover never fully won over the American people, he went about offering an alternative view. Today, Hoover’s outlook is looking better and better: liberty, limited government, and constitutional conservatism.
He was voted out of office in 1932 during a crippling depression. Franklin Roosevelt promised to do many things that might improve the economy.
For the rest of his days, Hoover warned Americans about the disastrous policies of his successor. He urged a return to liberty instead of the “gigantic shift of government from the function of umpire to the function of directing, dictating, and competing in our economic life.”
According to the Hoover Institution’s David Davenport, Hoover’s direct challenge to Roosevelt in the 1930s over the size of government spurred the growth of modern conservatism.
Davenport is co-author (with Pepperdine University professor Gordon Lloyd) of The New Deal and Modern Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry.
“In our view, the New Deal is what really brought about modern American conservatism,” he said during a recent appearance at The Heritage Foundation.
The authors view the height of the New Deal as the American version of the French Revolution. It was “a complete overturn of not only governance, but we would argue our whole fabric in this country.”
Hoover was a “voice crying in the progressive wilderness” who warned that Roosevelt’s New Deal “would destroy the very foundations of [America].”
As Secretary of Commerce and then President during the 1920s, Hoover thought “rugged individualism” and “a constructive government” would be a tamer version of progressivism. But Hoover became cold to any sort of progressivism once he saw what Roosevelt wanted to (and then did) implement. He realized that an all-out assault on liberty was underway, and he responded with a passionate defense of unalienable rights, liberty as “an endowment from the Creator,” and a decentralized government.
Today’s conservatives can and must show that progressivism is not something that can be accommodated or moderated. As Hoover realized, it is an idea and a pseudo religion that must be soundly defeated.
Curtis Houck is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.