Presidents long viewed as below average… or failures tend to be associated with significant historical events. Actions taken during these events can be overlooked due to hindsight; historians possess the benefit of knowing the paths actually traveled. Ineffective policy is easily tossed aside in historical assessments because hindsight provides the student of history with an alternate and possibly more effective course. Executive action is also overlooked in the context of significant history. Events that change the course of history are often analyzed with little thought afforded the actions of the President. Take these examples….
Herbert Hoover did nothing about the Great Depression… The Great Depression was a transformative historical event and Hoover’s attempts to stem the coming flood have been long overlooked. His policies did not prevent the deepening of the Depression, so they are discarded so historians can prepare students for the coming of the New Deal. Hoover often misspoke about the state of the economy, like encouraging Americans to “work harder” when work was more difficult to find.
- Hoover signed bills creating the National Finance Corporation and the Emergency Relief Act. These two laws gave huge government building contracts to select businesses around the country. The laws pumped $4 Billion dollars to American economy.
- Hoover signed two tax increases that raised the top marginal rate from 24% -63% and the corporate rate from 11%-18%. These were the first tax hikes in over 20 years.
- Hoover was lambasted by the Roosevelt campaign in 1932 for taxing and spending the country into socialism. New Deal Democrats later admitted that many of their programs were simply boosts to bills signed by Hoover.
Richard Nixon was a war criminal… The Vietnam war changed America in countless ways. The New Left school of historic thought dominated the scholarship about Vietnam with anti-government rhetoric and a firm belief that grass-roots activism trumped strategic policy. Nixon’s decision to attack NVA bases in Cambodia put him near the top of their list of villains.
- Beginning in 1969 (first year in office) Nixon began withdrawing American troops at a rate of nearly 200,000 per year.
- Nixon signed a bill repealing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and aggressively pursued a diplomatic end to American involvement in the war
- Kissinger and Nixon decided Vietnam was not in America’s strategic interest…..not the hippies….
Consider the policies enacted by these two Presidents… in terms of the issues that faced the American people. Should they be considered failures?