Good morning, it’s Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. On this date in 1891, Stanford University opened its doors. On the first day of school, the incoming class of 555 students received a pep talk from David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president.
“It is for us as teachers and students in the university’s first year to lay the foundations of a school which may last as long as human civilization,” he said. “It is hallowed by no traditions; it is hampered by none. Its finger posts all point forward.”
Inspirational words, to be sure, although the speaker had a problematic career, as I’ll reveal some other morning. For today, let’s concentrate one of the 555 students in that pioneer class on the sprawling campus that would become known affectionately as The Farm. Herbert Hoover was an orphan with a bent for the sciences. Innovative and decisive, he succeeded at a variety of endeavors while saving many lives and making the world better almost everywhere he went. The great paradox of Hoover’s life is that we remember him today for the only job he ever failed at.
I’ll have more on this man in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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What That Was About. Sean Trende writes that traditional metrics for scoring debates shouldn’t be applied to Tuesday’s Biden-Trump face-off.
Debate Was a Missed Chance to Detail Mail-In Vote Flaws. John R. Lott Jr. explains system vulnerabilities that weren’t addressed, or that the president touched on only partially.
America Needs Real Debating. In RealClearBooks, Robert Litan advocates debate-centered learning in our schools, which emphasizes seeing issues from all sides — a necessary step in lessening political polarization.
Is “October Surprise” an Outdated Concept in Crazy 2020? Myra Adams considers how this topsy-turvy year may have rendered moot unexpected vote-shifting developments of past elections.
How to End the Dangerous Supreme Court Circus. In RealClearPolicy, Julia Baumel offers a prescription to combat the polarization infecting public trust in the nation’s highest court.
Don’t Fall for China’s “Net-Zero Carbon” Trick. In RealClearEnergy, Frank Lasee warns that the CCP’s pledge is only designed to push the U.S. to adopt an economy-draining “Green New Deal.”
Mark P. Mills and Daniel Yergin Go Deep on Energy. RCE reports on the great thinkers’ recent discussion at the Manhattan Institute.
Tax Avoidance Is a Tax Cut for Everyone. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny argues that every dollar flowing to Washington is an extra dollar of control that Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy have over the economy.
Why Ancient Human Eyes Were Nearly Black. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy shares this lesson in evolution and adaptability.
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Born in Iowa, Herbert Hoover had lost both parents by the time he turned 9. He and his siblings were split up and raised by various aunts and uncles, and at age 11 the future U.S. president was sent to live with relatives in Oregon. He somehow managed a happy childhood anyway.
“I grew up on sandlot baseball, swimming holes, and fishing with worms,” he recalled much later. He was a bored student — book learning came too easily — who finished his studies and his farm chores so he could roam outdoors.
At Stanford, he met his future wife, Lou Henry, the first woman to earn a university degree in geology. She and “Bert,” as he was known, had much in common, including a shared passion for sports and the outdoors.
At Stanford, “I was for a short time on the baseball team as a shortstop where I was no good,” he later noted. This is not the type of humility Americans expect from politicians today, especially from the current occupant of the White House. Bert Hoover was truly being modest: Only a dislocated finger cut short his playing career. But he stayed active in Stanford’s program as an equipment manager.
(As president, Hoover threw out the ceremonial first pitch at all four Washington Senators home openers while he was in office. He also attended the first game of the 1930 World Series between the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. Although that game was played on Oct. 1, early in the calendar by today’s standards, it was a frigid day. It was so chilly that after the band played “Hail to the Chief,” Senators coach Nick Altrock quipped, “It didn’t hail, but it was cold enough to snow.”)
After graduating from Stanford in 1895 with a geology degree, Hoover became an engineer for a British hard-rock mining company, which sent him to the gold fields of Australia. He returned to California to marry Lou and then decamped, with his wife, to Asia as a mining consultant to the Chinese government.
The Hoovers’ adventures had only begun. In China, they narrowly avoided coming to harm during the Boxer Rebellion; they relocated to London, where two of their sons were born and Herbert formed his own mining company. Caught in Europe when World War I broke out in 1914, the Hoovers helped evacuate Americans from the continent. Herbert set up the Commission for Relief in Belgium, credited with saving millions of non-combatants there and in northern France from starvation. When America entered the war in 1917, Hoover was tasked by President Wilson with a job we would now call “food czar,” coordinating production and distribution of food supplies in the United States.
The end of the war did not mean the end of the danger, and in 1919 Hoover was put in charge of the American Relief Commission, which fed some 17 million at-risk civilians in 21 nations. He became secretary of the Department of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations and ran successfully for president as a Republican in 1928.
This great man is not regarded as a great president, or even a successful one. Although he would reprise his role as a food czar at the behest of another Democratic president, Harry Truman, after World War II, his tepid response to the Great Depression is still considered his primary presidential legacy, as it was by voters in his time.
Scientific polling barely existed in 1932, but Hoover’s reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t expected to be close, and it wasn’t. FDR’s advisers urged the Democratic nominee to conduct a risk-averse “front porch” campaign best summed up by running mate John Nance Garner of Texas. “All you have got to do,” Garner drawled, “is stay alive until Election Day.”
Roosevelt followed that advice: He survived until Nov. 8, 1932, and made it through every subsequent election through 1944. History sings FDR’s praises, and rightfully so, though one of the blemishes on his record was his shunning of Herbert Hoover during the presidential transition period after the 1932 election, when a joint front between the two political parties might have helped Americans facing the Great Depression.
As always, Herbert Hoover was willing to do his part. In the 21st century, we find presidential nominees won’t even agree to abide by the election returns. By way of contrast, I’ll leave you with the text of the gracious telegram President Hoover sent to President-elect Roosevelt the day after the 1932 election:
“I congratulate you on the great opportunity that has come to you to be of service to the country and I wish for you a most successful administration in the common purpose of all of us. I shall dedicate myself to every possible helpful effort.”
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics