The Trouble with Spikol

Thinking About Herbert Hoover.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 24, 2008

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In March Amity Shlaes wrote on Bloomberg.com: "The real challenge isn't deciding who resembles Hoover. The challenge is for both parties to figure out how to avoid a whole era of mistakes."

Yet if there's anything both parties have avoided, it's meaningful discussion. Invoking Hoover may be good for an old-school sound bite, but it's largely meaningless.

Hoover was working within vastly different social and economic conditions. Women won the right to vote just a few years before he took office. The average life expectancy was in the mid-50s. Alcohol was illegal.

Comparing McCain to Hoover without appropriate historical context is about as penetrating as comparing him to Nero or Marie Antoinette, two other enduring symbols of coldhearted public servants.

Right before we went to press, I thought I'd do one last search for Hoover headlines. Sure enough, there were more--one of them, from Philly's Evening Bulletin, comparing Obama to Hoover, a less frequent analogy. (The Wall Street Journal compared Obama to Dukakis.)

It remains to be seen whether Hoover will have the staying power of Nero and his fiddle (actually a lyre; he wasn't Tevye). He's certainly popular in this election season.

But the pundits and politicians' vision of him isn't adding much to our discourse. Unless, that is, you like Annie.

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