Clownish Rachel Maddow Rewrites History of Great Depression, Reinforces Liberal Creation Myth

Must have been that full moon. Or "fool full moon" as Rachel Maddow stumbled in referring to it.

If the Newseum is accepting suggestions for exhibits, a possibility comes to mind -- the Pantheon of Unfortunate Punditry. First submission -- Maddow's hilarious revisionism of Herbert Hoover on her MSNBC show Friday. I've watched the segment several times, each time in awe at Maddow's supreme confidence, unrivalled since Ted Baxter in his heyday. I plan to preserve it for posterity, to share with my children as a cautionary tale -- This is what happens when a person makes an utter fool of herself in public.

Maddow told of Vice President Dick Cheney visiting Capitol Hill earlier in the week and warning congressional Republicans that if the GOP blocks the auto bailout, "... We will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Here's where Maddow kicked into gear, emboldened by the keen awareness that nearly all her viewers and hardly anyone at MSNBC know enough history to refute her assertions --

That's a bad thing! Hoover is a political epithet in bad economic times because his response to the Depression (pause) was to first do nothing and then do stuff that made it worse. The country needed massive federal spending to stimulate demand and keep people working.

Hoover cut spending.The government had an economic responsibility to borrow some money and get credit moving. Hoover picked that awesome time to balance the budget. Everything was going the wrong direction economically, so the government needed to make some big, bold moves in the opposite direction.

Hoover picked that time to proclaim his own impotence, telling Congress in 1930, 'Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement.' (Maddow holds photo of Hoover to her face and mimics him) I'm Herbert Hoover, I can't do anything helpful. How about I hurt the economy some more instead because of my dumb, moralistic, ideologically-driven, ignorant, short-term, self-serving, bad ideas? I'll take this Depression and make it not just good, but great! That's the ticket -- the Great Depression!

What made Maddow's puppetry all the more insipid is that she's been on a tear of late condemning -- you guessed it -- revisionist history, specifically where she sees it emanating from the Bush administration on Iraq. Maddow has apparently decided to fight firefighters with fire, responding to her fantasies of revisionism where none exist and providing examples of the real thing.

For example, her claim that Hoover "cut" spending. By this, Maddow must mean Hoover did not increase federal spending at a rate preferred by liberals, who have resorted to this rhetorical sleight of hand for decades.

But as conservatives and Republicans are well aware, Hoover did the opposite -- he increased spending, and not by a little.

In his book "The Herbert Hoover Story," written by Reader's Digest senior editor Eugene Lyons and published in 1959, Lyons wrote this about Hoover's alleged tightwad tendencies --

He sought to provide jobs through public works; more was spent for this purpose in his administration than in the preceding thirty-six years, including the building of the Panama Canal. (emphasis in the original)

Surely Maddow has heard of at least one of these projects, which bears the name of the man instrumental in initiating it -- the Hoover Dam -- the largest public-works behemoth of the era. Other public projects begun by Hoover include the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

How's this for irony? Hoover's response to the stock market crash in 1929 was to call for massive federal spending on public works, which is exactly what Maddow wants Obama to do (though Maddow prefers to fetishize it as "infrastructure," a word she can't utter without squirming in her seat).

In an Oct. 5 article for National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg wrote --

William Leuchtenburg, possibly the greatest authority on the FDR era, wrote some years ago, "Almost every historian now recognizes that the image of Hoover as a 'do-nothing' president is inaccurate."

After the stock market crash in 1929, Hoover browbeat business leaders to keep wages and prices high. He invested heavily in public works projects. He pushed for an international moratorium on debts. He created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which later became a home for many of FDR's Brain Trusters. Hoover increased farm subsidies enormously.

Some of Hoover's interventions were good but ineffectual. A few were very, very bad and very effective.

In 1932, Hoover in effect repealed Calvin Coolidge's tax cuts, increasing the rates for the poorest taxpayers by more than 100 percent and hiking the top rate from 25 percent to 63 percent. Worse, contrary to his own better instincts, Hoover signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley trade bill that raised protectionist walls at precisely the moment the world needed trade the most.

That Maddow knows little of Hoover is not surprising, despite the fact she earned a doctorate -- in political science at that -- from Oxford. For many liberals, American history starts on March 4, 1933 with Roosevelt's inauguration and FDR uttering the words, "We have nothing to fear ..."

But you'd think their knowledge of history would extend a tad earlier, to include the 1932 campaign and Roosevelt's criticism of Hoover -- as a spendthrift hellbent on enlarging the breadth and cost of goverment. Doing so, however, could prove problematic for liberals' foremost creation myth -- that Hoover caused the Great Depression, "Did Nothing" in response, and Roosevelt rode to the rescue. As mythology goes, this one is Homeric in its longevity and as accurate in its depiction of actual events.

Here's what Roosevelt said in accepting the Democratic presidential nomination --

I know something of taxes. For three long years I have been going up and down this country preaching that government -- federal and local and state -- costs too much. As an immediate program of action we must abolish useless offices. We must eliminate unnecessary functions of government -- functions, in fact, that are not definitely essential to the continuance of government. We must merge, we must consolidate subdivisions of government, and, like the private citizen, give up luxuries which we can no longer afford.

Roosevelt's concern was understandable, given the nation's economic crisis and federal spending under Hoover. As pointed out by former Business Week bureau chief Andrew W. Wilson in a Nov. 4 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Five Myths About the Great Depression" --

After declining or holding steady through most of the 1920, federal spending soared between 1929 and 1932 -- increasing by more than 50 percent, the biggest increase in federal spending ever recorded during peacetime.

I mentioned Maddow's commentary to a friend over the weekend, who told me he'd also seen it. That's the perception of Hoover, he sighed, and my friend was right. Just as it was global "perception" for millennia that the world was flat. Agreed, perception often trumps reality in politics, but perception cannot trump truth.

This remains as true today it was in 1774 when a Boston lawyer named John Adams pointed out the stubborn nature of facts while defending British soldiers from an earlier pernicious perception.

Updated by N. Sheppard at 2:50 PM: To confirm what Andrew W. Wilson wrote on November 4, and to demonstrate just how wrong Maddow is about spending under Hoover, all one need do is examine the Historical Tables of the U.S. Budget available at OMB. 

What most folks -- especially liberals! -- don't understand today is that prior to the Great Depression, the U.S. government didn't like to spend a lot of money except in times of war. As such, spending declined precipitously in the years following World War I, and then basically remained flat from 1924 through 1928.

Then, contrary to Maddow's assertion, in 1929 spending rose $166 million, or 5.6 percent. This may not seem much, but it was the biggest increase in spending since the end of World War I.

The following year, spending increased $193 million, or 6 percent. In 1931, it increased $257 million, or 7.7 percent. In 1932, it increased $1.08 billion, or 30 percent. 

Add it all up, and annual spending increased by almost $1.7 billion dollars or 57 percent while Hoover was President.

Is this what Maddow believes to be a spending cut?

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts