The COVID-19 crisis highlights the dramatic failure of “small government” ideology during a national crisis. The Philadelphia Inquirer headline is a chilling prediction that worst is yet to come. State and local authorities in collaboration with private business and charities can only do so much. The federal government, both the Administration and Congress, must take the lead. Collaboration to pass the economic rescue was just the beginning.
The ideology of small government, especially at the federal level, does not work in times of crisis. Herbert Hoover’s and Congress’ response to the onset of the Great Depression more than demonstrate the problem with holding back federal intervention. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s failures parallel Hoover’s tragic inaction. Federal leadership at the onset of a crisis is essential for guiding the public’s response, helping state and local governments, and finding short as well as longterm solutions. The rapid pace of corona virus’ spread put the need for big government intervention on steroids.
In 1928, Herbert Hoover was a respected humanitarian admired for his Quaker upbringing and practical skills as a mining engineer. Hoover had never been elected to public office before winning the presidency in 1928. President Warren G. Harding had tapped Hoover as Secretary of the Department of Commerce where he served until taking the presidency. In 1928, Hoover had handily defeated a very skilled and experienced politician, New York’s Governor Alfred E. Smith. That year, many Americans did not want a career politician in the White House.
Over the next three years, however, public sentiment turned and Herbert Hoover was quickly blamed for the Great Depression. Hoover’s conservative Republican ideology of volunteerism and small government made him seem deaf to the stories of suffering across the nation. He refused to consider taking the United States off the gold standard; a move other nations had taken to calm the crisis. Hoover and Congress also turned a deaf ear to the demands of unemployed World War I veterans who marched on Washington to call for early payment of an already promised veterans bonus. Instead, the president told Americans that the economic crisis would soon improve. By the time Hoover and and Congress finally acted by creating the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in early 1932, it was too little too late. Encampments of homeless became known as “Hoovervilles.” An empty pant’s pocket turned inside out was a “Hoover Flag.” Americans, looking for action by 1932, gave Franklin Delano Roosevelt the presidency in a landslide.
FDR did not have a plan to solve the crisis, but he confidently assured Americans it was time for a “new deal.” For more than 3 years, charities such as the American Red Cross worked along side local and state officials to offer relief as the nation’s unemployment rate rose to near 25%. Detroit went bankrupt with unemployment near 50%. State and municipal tax revenue plummeted. Roosevelt understood that only the federal government was large enough and powerful enough to make a difference.
In hindsight, FDR’s New Deal did not end the Great Depression, but it did keep Americans from starving or turning to revolution. Outside of federal intervention, FDR also convinced Americans that he understood their suffering and would use the power of the federal government to save the American economy and freedoms.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration seems closer to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt. President Trump and his advisors were slow to recognize COVID-19 as a serious threat. As late as February many said it was a hoax that was designed to undermine Trump’s presidency. For several weeks, even after it was clear the novel corona virus was at epidemic levels in China and spreading rapidly in Europe, members of the administration, including the president, told Americans COVID-19 would simply disappear and there was nothing to worry about. Sounded like Herbert Hoover to me. The federal government’s failure to approve a reliable test for the virus was a glaring mistake. This lack of foresight and failure of leadership resulted in a patchwork quilt of state and local governments responding to the growing crisis.
Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the federal government during the Great Depression, and especially during World War II, to SAVE AMERICAN CAPITALISM AND DEMOCRACY. Big government and strong leadership is absolutely necessary during crises of this magnitude. Calling it socialism is simply wrong. There is no better way to secure freedom and capitalism than to secure the future of the American people through the government that THEY OWN. #Leadershipmatters #historymatters