Herbert Hoover and the Presidential Campaign of 1932: The Failure of Apologia.
The election of 1932 also had a significant effect on the concept of the rhetorical presidency.(1) The campaign gave the nation a very clear choice: a traditional administrative president or a modern rhetorical one. Overwhelmingly, the electorate chose the latter. The success of Roosevelt's fireside chats and emotional leadership, compared with Hoover's quiet behind-the-scenes workmanship, solidified the rhetorical presidency as the norm for every president thereafter.
The 1932 election was also a turning point in the field of political campaign communications. Hoover was the first incumbent president to go "out on the stump" and campaign actively for the presidency, "paving the way" for the presidents that followed him.(2) Hoover's stumping efforts helped make the campaign of 1932 one in which the amount of public speaking far exceeded the norm for the era: Roosevelt gave "some 113 prepared speeches and Hoover almost as many."(3) Radio, which had been used to a smaller extent in previous campaigns but was now a major aspect of national campaigns, was present in more than 12 million homes by 1932.(4) Thus, the common practice of candidates giving the same speech with slight variations at each campaign stop had to be changed due to a nationwide audience that was now able to listen to every word of every major speech.(5) Finally, Roosevelt ran "the first truly modem, well-organized presidential campaign,"(6) which included a then unprecedented, but now standard, personal appearance at the national convention to accept his party's nomination.
The study of presidential oratory has traditionally focused on a handful of presidents whose rhetoric has been analyzed and critiqued throughout the years.(7) Unlike his opponent in the election, the study of Hoover's rhetoric is severely limited: not a single journal article deals specifically with the presidential rhetoric of Herbert Hoover.(8) This seems particularly unfortunate considering Hoover failed as a rhetorical president during a national crisis, the Great Depression--a unique situation that seems to warrant study. In addition, Hoover's presidency continues to be "reassessed" and the notion that perhaps he was not as apathetic and inept as popularly believed is gaining support.(9)
Thus, the election of 1932, and specifically the role of Hoover's communication during the campaign, certainly justifies examination. This article is a study of the nine major radio addresses Hoover gave during the 1932 campaign. I argue that Hoover waged his entire campaign not to win, for he knew he had no chance to win, but rather to defend his administration, his character, and his view of government. The genre of self-defense, what classical rhetoricians termed apologia, will be applied not only to reveal the motives and strategies that Hoover incorporated into his campaign speeches but also to explain how his misuse of apologia contributed to his failure.
Hoover's Presidential Years, 1928-32
Hoover won the presidency in 1928 after many years of service to his country. He followed two Republican presidents, Harding and Coolidge, who had collectively steered the country through the prosperous 1920s. Hoover was considered the best candidate to "symbolize the tranquillity, prosperity, and purity"(10) of the times. The Republican's optimism was exemplified by the infamous "a chicken in every pot" campaign slogan. Politically, Hoover was a novice in 1928, having risen through the ranks of the Grand Old Party (GOP) through appointments, not elections.(11) He was first and foremost an engineer and seemed ideally suited to manage the smoothly running government "machine" efficiently.(12) Because of the prosperity of the time and the Republican's firm hold of the country's favor in 1928, Hoover was not required to do much in his first campaign. With high expectations, the nation elected Hoover in a landslide. A few months later, the stock market crashed, and suddenly the Republican strategy of claiming responsibility for the boom backfired as prosperity turned to disparity,
Hoover reacted to the depression exactly as his conservative philosophy dictated. He stuck to his firm belief that government "should do no more than provide encouragement to business."(13) Nicholas Cripe provides an excellent synopsis of Hoover's policy toward the Great Depression:
He [Hoover] insisted on volunteer committees, local effort, and no direct aid
from the Federal Government until absolutely necessary. Hoover believed in
using Federal funds and credit to combat the depression, but he thought that
the proper place for most of the money to be expended was in strengthening
banks, railroads, and other corporations. By so doing, lie reasoned, small
depositors and investors would be protected, employment would be maintained
and expanded, and economic recovery would be set in motion. He opposed the
direct expenditure of Federal funds to relieve either the unemployed or the
farmers.... Hoover held that such relief would create a burdensome
bureaucracy and destroy the initiative and self-reliance of the
Hoover refused to use all the powers of the national government to fight the depression because he feared that any form of "dole" would weaken the spirit of the country and cause irreparable harm in the long run. His uncompromising philosophy of limited government, with its reliance on voluntarism and individualism, was a major contributor to his rhetorical failures.
When his smoothly running "machine" broke down, Hoover, ever the engineer, could not rise to meet the nation's rhetorical needs. Instead of "feeling our pain," Hoover reacted by reducing his speaking schedule, canceling press conferences, and building a "wall of silence" for what he thought was the public good.(15) Hoover felt that a detailed discussion of economic problems would not be properly understood and would only cause more panic.(16) When he did speak to the public, he did so with a confidence that many found disenchanting. "Prosperity is just around the corner" became the watchword of his administration.(17) Eschewing the role of leader of the people--a role central to a rhetorical presidency(18)-- Hoover concentrated on the traditional presidential role as the administrative head of government.
Hoover's retreat into relative silence allowed his critics "free reign to reinforce the public doubts about the wisdom of his policies."(19) In another unprecedented move, the Democrats had left open their 1928 National Headquarters for use as a publicity vehicle to profit from "the mistakes and failures of the opposition." Charles Michelson was appointed director of publicity for the national committee and he "trained his guns on the Hoover administration and never ceased firing until the Republicans evacuated Washington." The result was that "no president has ever had his every mistake so thoroughly advertised as Hoover."(20) In addition, a series of smear books were published from 1930 to 1932 that attacked Hoover and his administration.(21)
Throughout his term, Hoover refused to respond, believing any response was undignified for a president and would only justify the false accusations. As a result, the following images of Hoover became commonplace: cold, machine-like, humorless, hard-hearted, incompetent, sullen, hard-boiled, heartless, and reactionary.(22) He was excused of being "mentally frozen in the past, unable to grasp the problems of his age, and determinedly sacrificing human welfare on the altar of an outmoded antistatism."(23)
One final disadvantage for Hoover was his speaking style. Hoover's personal characteristics greatly affected his speeches. Hoover was a shy and reserved man with a fear of public speaking.(24) Theodore Joslin, Hoover's press secretary, believed that Hoover wrote like an engineer, building "his public utterances as he would a drive shaft or construct a bridge."(25) Again rejecting the rhetorical presidency, Hoover did not conceive of oratory as a tool to sway public opinion or pressure Congress but "as the means by which he as the steward of the American people could report to them the facts concerning the problems and policies of their government."(26)
Hoover's personal characteristics manifested themselves in a weak delivery. He delivered his speeches in a "monotonous and almost inaudible manner," reading manuscripts to audiences rather than performing them extemporaneously.(27) This method resulted in "weak eye contact, a fast rate, and little vocal variety or animation" that could fairly be described as "Insipid and uninspiring."(28) Carl Burgchardt notes that Hoover
habitually framed his wordy, awkward prose in the passive voice. As a
consequence, he cluttered his discourse with unnecessary articles,
prepositions, and conjunctions. Moreover, his long, complex sentences often
contained erudite vocabulary or technical data not well suited for ordinary
audiences. His addresses featured few metaphors or rhythmic devices,
although he occasionally penned a serviceable epigram. Hoover's engineering
mentality, along with his austere, Quaker background, did not cultivate the
proper temperament for soaring figures and stirring cadences. Indeed,
Hoover disdained eloquence for its own sake, believing that plain language
would speak for itself He assumed that the nation wanted dispassionate
analysis, not inspiration.(29)
Therefore, Hoover faced a campaign in 1932 in which he was (1) blamed by many for the worst depression in history; (2) vilified by most of the country as incompetent, uncaring, and reactionary; and (3) overmatched in rhetorical skills. To put it frankly, Hoover had no chance of winning, and he knew it. Hoover later wrote in his memoirs that he had "little hope of re-election"(30)--a view shared by most. A quick scan of the various comments by authors leaves no doubt as to Hoover's chances: "Nobody could have been elected on the Republican ticket this year"; "Hoover had no real hope of winning"; and "political soothsayers had long forecast the defeat of the President."(31) Once the campaign started, Hoover had to simply pick up a copy of the prestigious Literary Digest poll, the "Great and Sure Barometer,"(32) to gauge how insurmountable Roosevelt's lead was.(33)
Thus, the question remains: Why? Why would a man who avoided publicity, "gave speeches out of duty or necessity, not because he enjoyed it"(34) and was hopelessly doomed to failure, not only subject himself to the drudgery and embarrassment of another election but do so by breaking precedent and campaigning across the country as no sitting president had done before? Whereas Hoover's pride explains why he stayed in the race, it does not explain why he campaigned so vigorously.
Hoover originally planned to do only three or four policy speeches, leaving most of the campaigning to his cabinet and Republican stalwarts. Joslin, his press secretary, noted that Hoover's intention when renominated was to take "almost no part in the campaign. He would devote himself to the duties of his office with a very minimum of political diversions. Circumstances, however, forced him to the other extreme as time "went on."(35) Those "circumstances" included Republicans urging him to campaign, the "hideous misrepresentations" by the Democrats concerning his administration, and his belief that the election was "the last stand of the `old-fashioned' liberalism which Hoover had championed all his life.(36) Throughout his term, Hoover had avoided discussing the charges against him and his economic policies because he thought the negative consequences would be greater than any benefits. But in 1932, the thought of an unchallenged Democratic victory finally convinced Hoover to break his silence and make an earnest presidential response.
Thus, Hoover, knowing that he had no chance of winning, embarked on his unprecedented campaign tour to defend himself, his administration, and his philosophy of government from the charges of his accusers. In other words, Hoover's entire campaign was an example of the rhetorical genre of apologia.
The Genre of Apologia
Apologia his received considerable attention from scholars in the past thirty years. Ware and Linkugel's 1973 article provided a basis that others have used to further define the genre. Ware and Linkugel describe apologia as a speech of "self-defense," stating that
In life, an attack upon a person's character, upon his worth as a human
being, does seem to demand a direct response. The questioning of a man's
moral nature, motives, or reputation is qualitatively different from
the challenging of his policies.(37)
Although the criticism of Hoover was based loosely on the policies of his administration, the attack waged by the Democrats in general and Roosevelt in particular was aimed very much at Hoover's moral nature, motives, and reputation. Roosevelt's strategy in the campaign was to attack, rather than defend, and to leave Hoover "saddled with the Depression."(38) As Lyons notes,
They [Roosevelt and John Garner] painted a President devoid of compassion,
indifferent to the agony of his countrymen. This accusation was implicit
every time they alluded to the "Hoover depression" or "Hoovervilles." It
was explicit in the claim--the heart and substance of the Democratic
case--that Hoover was "responsible" for the depression, "did nothing" to
allay its tragedy, and squandered billions on this "nothing."(39)
In his campaign speeches, Hoover refuted the charges levied against him. The first two of the three charges, that Hoover was (1) responsible for the depression and (2) that he did nothing, are the two major accusations that instigated Hoover's apologetic rhetoric. The third charge, squandering millions, was addressed implicitly in his defense of the second.
Ware and Linkugel lay out four "factors" of apologia based on Robert Abelson's modes of resolution of belief dilemmas: denial, bolstering, differentiation, and transcendence.(40)
Denial is simply the denial of facts, sentiments, objects, or relationships. Denial of intent is particularly effective, because "people respond differently to the actions of others when they perceive those actions to be intended than when they perceive them to be merely a part of the sequence of events. "Abelson describes denial as a "direct attack upon one or both of the cognitive elements or the relation between them." Gold explains how denial can essentially mean giving more information, the "full story, essentially a denial that the available information is sufficient."(41)
Bolstering is "any rhetorical strategy that reinforces the existence of a fact, sentiment, object, or relationship." When speakers bolster, they attempt to "identify with something viewed favorably by the audience." Abelson describes bolstering as a "mechanism for not eliminating the imbalance entirely but ... drowning it out" by relating the concept with several other valued objects, thus minimizing the relative effect of the original fault. Bolstering can also be seen as "reminding the audience of previous occasions in which the accused was viewed in a favorable light; the inference is that such a drastic change in behavior is unlikely."(42)
Differentiation serves the purpose of "separating some fact, sentiment, object, or relationship from some larger context within which the audience presently views that attribute." It is successful only to the extent that the new meaning and the old "lend themselves to radically different interpretations by the audience." The rhetor tries to create a new perspective by splitting the element into parts and disassociating with the offensive part. Differentiation can include an emphasis on "extenuating circumstances."(43)
Transcendence, the obverse of differentiation, is a "strategy that cognitively joins some fact, sentiment, object, or relationship with some larger context within which the audience does not presently view that attribute." It serves to
psychologically move the audience away from the particulars of the charge
at hand in a direction toward a more abstract, general view of his
character. Such strategies are useful to the extent that the manipulated
attribute proves to be congruent with the new context in the minds of the
Hoover's 1932 Campaign Radio Speeches
Hoover gave nine major radio addresses during the 1932 campaign.(45) Each of the speeches was broadcast nationally by Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio, and, with the exception of the election-eve address, were given in front of partisan crowds of at least 15,000 loyal Republican supporters. These nine speeches were examined as a set, and several consistent themes emerged that can each be linked to a factor of apologia. Table 1 is a quantitative summary of Hoover's use of each theme in the addresses.
TABLE 1 Themes in Hoover's 1932 Radio Campaign Speeches Nomin- Des Cleve- India- ation Moines land Detroit napolis 8/11 10/4 10/15 10/22 10/28 Blame Europe/war 1 2 1 1 1 Optimism "We're winning the war" 2 1 Only temporary 2 1 Getting better 1 1 2 2 Metaphors Storm 5 3 3 3 Earthquake 2 2 1 War 2 4 4 1 1 American principles 3 3 1 1 1 Republican record 1(*) 1(*) 1(*) 3(*) 1(*) Republican platform 1(*) 1(*) 1(*) Democratic record 1 2 3(*) 1 Democratic platform 1(*) New St. St. Elko, York Louis Paul Nevada Total 10/31 11/4 11/5 11/7 Use Blame Europe/war 1 1 8 Optimism "We're winning the war" 3 Only temporary 2 1 6 Getting better 1 3 2 1 13 Metaphors Storm 1 15 Earthquake 1 6 War 1 3 1 17 American principles 8 3 20 Republican record 2 3(*) 1(*) 1 14 (7(*)) Republican platform 3 (3(*)) Democratic record 2 1(*) 10 (2(*)) Democratic platform 1(*) 3 (2(*))
Note: The figures signify the number of times Hoover used that theme in that particular speech. The asterisks were added to provide some form of measurement of the amount of time Hoover used to develop that theme. Each asterisk signifies an extended use of the theme in that speech, such as when Hoover discussed the fourteen major points of the Republican platform in his acceptance speech.
I will briefly describe each theme; discuss how each applies to apologia's four factors of denial, bolstering, differentiation, or transcendence; and explain why the strategy was not effective. These themes and connections must be viewed in the context that Hoover was defending himself from two charges made by Roosevelt and the Democratic Party: (1) Hoover caused the depression and (2) did nothing about it. In sum, the themes that Hoover used to answer the charges from the Democrats will be identified as factors of apologia.
Hoover's Use of Denial
Hoover discussed the Republican record in all nine speeches in the set. This presentation of his record served two apologetic factors: denial and bolstering. When Hoover specifically discussed his record as it was related to the depression--issues such as the economy, employment, and the tariff--he was denying the charge that he did nothing. The problem with Hoover's denial was the manner in which he carried it out. Hoover used long lists, with as many as twelve, eighteen, and twenty-one points, to outline his record.(46) These detailed, fact-heavy lists went on for pages and pages in his speech texts, but the American people were simply not in the mood to analyze his past actions rationally or in detail. An article in Collier's Magazine during the election illustrates this point:
Psychologically he was unsound ... Mr. Hoover, a poor salesman, chose to
depend upon the intelligent divination of the public to see the wisdom of
his course. That's usually bad tactics, particularly when men and women
are in no mood for thinking.(47)
Hoover's refutation campaign "sought to appeal to the rational side of human nature at a time when economic crisis prompted an irrational search for scapegoats."(48) In addition, Hoover's defense, which retraced his administration's every step from the 1929 crash, was long after the fact and merely served to open old wounds.
Hoover's Use of Bolstering
When Hoover discussed issues in the Republican record not directly related to the depression--issues such as national defense, railway transportation laws, and prohibition--he was using bolstering by "reminding the audience of previous occasions in which the accused was viewed in a favorable light."(49) In the context of Abelson's original view of bolstering, Hoover was trying to "drown out" thought of the depression by discussing all the other things he had accomplished during his administration.
In much the same way, Hoover's discussions of the Republican and Democratic platforms were also examples of bolstering. He was trying to "reinforce" the idea that what his administration was planning, especially in comparison to what the Democrats were planning, was going to be effective, while distracting them from the issues of his past administration. Once again, he was drowning out the current situation by focusing on views that were favorable to his audience.
Hoover's use of bolstering was also flawed. To gain identification, essential in bolstering, the apologist must, "appear worthy of `family' status."(50) In light of the image Hoover had during his administration, not too many American families would welcome Hoover. Bolstering requires the orator to be able to drown out the negative connections by emphasizing the positive, but Hoover simply had too many negative relationships to overcome. In addition, Roosevelt had a distinct advantage in the election: he was a rhetorically superior challenger with a large lead. Roosevelt could afford to spout flowery rhetoric, make unfounded accusations, and change his positions from speech to speech,(51) whereas Hoover was saddled with the impossible task of trying to respond to the many accusations while debating a moving target. Inherently, Hoover's bolstering faced an uphill battle.
Hoover's Use of Differentiation
Hoover used differentiation in several ways: by blaming the depression on Europe, by attacking the Democrats, by using metaphors, and by employing optimistic rhetoric. Hoover blamed Europe, or more specifically the effect the World War had on Europe, in several of his speeches (see Table 1). In Des Moines, Hoover claimed "this earthquake started in Europe,"(52) in Indianapolis he referred to "the crisis which swept upon us from Europe,"(53) and in St. Paul he referenced "the cataclysm which has swept over the world as the result of the aftermath of the World War."(54) Blaming Europe for the depression was a use of differentiation to answer both charges levied against him. By placing the responsibility for starting the depression on Europe, Hoover was attempting to disassociate his administration from that charge. Also, by placing the locus of control outside of the United States, Hoover was implicitly explaining why domestic measures had not been--or, perhaps more important, would not have been--successful.
Hoover also used differentiation in his discussions of the Democratic Party. In attacking the Democratic record, he derided the "paralysis" caused by their "destructive legislation" that hindered his fight against the depression.(55) In Detroit and St. Paul, Hoover embarked on two extended discussions of the Democratic record that were aimed toward the House of Representatives that the Democrats had won control of in 1930 amid promises of solving the nation's economic woes. He attacked their promises, arguing that instead they merely "passed a number of bills ... designed to appeal to discontent and sectional cupidity and indeed of the type that would have destroyed the very foundation of our American system."(56) In these cases, Hoover was using differentiation to answer the accusation that he did nothing. He again separates the Republicans from the Democrats, focuses the blame on the Democrats, and disassociates himself from them. He was essentially describing an extenuating circumstance of his administration: an uncooperative Democratic Congress.
In addition, Hoover used differentiation to blame the Democrats for the start of the depression. In St. Louis, Hoover presented quotations from President Wilson, Secretary McAdoo, and Senator Glass in which they boasted that the creation of the Federal Reserve System would prevent economic "booms, slumps, and panics." Hoover charged that the "confidence" from those statements "contributed to the building up of the boom which led to the crash." Hoover tried to make the connection clear by adding, "now the blame is to be transferred to the Republican party for having failed to do the job which they promised would be done by the panacea of their own institution."(57) Hoover, assuming that his audience blamed the government for the depression, split the government into two parts, Republican and Democratic, and disassociated himself and his policies from the offensive part: the Democrats.
Ware and Linkugel wrote that differentiation is only successful to the extent that the new meaning and old meaning "lend themselves to radically different interpretations by the audience."(58) Hoover's use of differentiation to assail the Democratic Congress was probably ineffective because the people could not "radically" grasp the concept that the Democrats were so different than the Republicans, especially in a campaign year in which they were hearing the opposite argument from the Democrats.
Hoover also used metaphors as a tool of differentiation. Three metaphoric clusters were used throughout the campaign to describe the depression: storms, earthquakes, and war. Many of the metaphors were used in connection with other themes, such as the use of all three metaphors in blaming Europe for the start of the Great Depression. Beyond that use and their basic aesthetic value, the metaphors also worked to create certain mind-sets for Hoover's audience.
Two of these metaphors--storms and earthquakes(59)--were employed as tactics of differentiation. Both of these metaphoric clusters shared a common cognitive advantage for Hoover: they were natural disasters. Humans have no control over when or where a storm or earthquake might hit. Furthermore, they are "one shot" disasters: they occur, cause extensive damage, and then move on (storms) or stop (earthquakes). After the low point when the disaster hit, the progress is continuously upward. By using these metaphors, Hoover was implying that the depression was not his administration's fault (it was merely the nature of economic cycles), while simultaneously declaring the panic over and the recovery begun (the natural cycle having run its course).
The use of these two metaphors, therefore, was an attempt at differentiation. Similar to blaming Europe, Hoover was focusing the blame for the start of the depression on a "natural disaster," thereby disassociating himself The tactic failed for several reasons. First, the fact that Hoover used three metaphors interchangeably decreased the effectiveness of each. Hoover simply had too many explanations of the origins and continuing sources of the depression--Europe, Congress, natural disasters--that it created an impression that he was simply grasping for anything that would alleviate him of blame. Second, Hoover started his explanation too late. Again, Hoover, afraid to cause further panic, had been relatively quiet most of his presidency, while the Democratic publicity machine kept itself busy attacking him. Then, in his reelection addresses, which, other than the acceptance speech in August, were all delivered in October or later (see Table 1), he suddenly had several explanations. He was neither able to present enough evidence nor make a convincing enough argument to overcome his late start.
Finally, Hoover used optimistic rhetoric in three different ways during the campaign: by claiming that the war was being won ("the gigantic forces of depression are in retreat"), by implying that the depression was only temporary (referring to "momentary despair" and "temporary dislocation" to describe the national state), and that the depression was getting better ("the turn is toward recovery").(60) Hoover used statistics extensively to demonstrate the last point, that the depression was getting better. He cited better national health, expansion of credit, improving employment, and increases in foreign investments.(61) His claim that a million men have gone back to work and that 500,000 more were returning every month was made in New York, St. Louis, St. Paul, and Elko, his last four speeches. Hoover was again using differentiation: by dividing the depression into past (hard times) and present (getting better), he was trying to separate the depression into two "radically different interpretations." By trying to disassociate himself from the past horrors of the depression, Hoover could focus on the current improvements and future possibilities.
Hoover's attempt at differentiation through optimism was perhaps his most serious miscalculation of the national psyche. His optimism was derided as "the false trumpeting of an imminent recovery." The overconfident rhetoric was especially ineffective because his audience "could not reconcile what Hoover was saying with what they were experiencing daily" Instead of being encouraged by Hoover's optimism, the American people wondered if their president "really knew how bad it was" and whether he "was really in touch with the little man." Each time Hoover bragged about how 1 million men have gone back to work, the country, other than perhaps those million men, seemed to collectively roll its eyes.(62)
Not only was Hoover's optimism incongruent with the extent to which the American people were suffering, it was the same story he had been giving since the stock market crashed in 1929. Throughout his presidency, Hoover maintained that the depression was not crippling the country. A review of his presidential papers reveals numerous examples of Hoover either arguing that the depression was merely temporary or getting better, yet this "temporary" depression had already lasted three years.(63) By the 1932 campaign, Hoover's explanations had become too much for the American people to accept. With each successive ineffectual statement, the "value of his words dropped, until ... they were hurled back at his head by a disenchanted press and people."(64) In other words, his "complicated explanations had been so often coupled with unfulfilled promises that people doubted both."(65)
Hoover's Use of Transcendence
Two of the themes in Hoover's speeches were examples of transcendence: his use of the war metaphor and his appeal to adhere to the principles of American government. Hoover's use of the war metaphor can be traced back to his first State of the Union address in 1929.(66) In the 1932 campaign, his use of the metaphor was extensive: he discussed defenses, counterattacks, attacks, strategies, tactics, retreats, trenches, captains, majors, generals, campaigns, fronts, fortresses, flanks, battles, battalions, regiments, armies, fighting, waging, plunging, and mobilizing.(67) By using this military language, Hoover was using a transcendent strategy that dealt with both charges leveled against him. He "cognitively joined" some fact (the depression) with some other context (war) to move the audience away from the specifics of the charge.
The war metaphor is employed frequently by American presidents, but Hoover's use of it was flawed. Suzanne Daughton demonstrated how Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, metaphorically named the depression a war and thereby "helped his listeners make sense of their pain and cast it as something temporary and addressable through combat."(68) Later, Daughton argues,
by visualizing this economic crisis as a war, Roosevelt paradoxically
focused on the positive aspects of the situation; rather than simply
telling his listeners that economic recovery was "just around the corner,"
as Hoover had done, or asking them to "endure" their suffering passively,
Roosevelt told them that they could, and indeed, must take an active role
in solving the crisis.(69)
Hoover's mistake was that unlike Roosevelt's call to action, Hoover did not use the metaphor to ask the American people to participate. They were left outside the action and were expected to have faith that the president, behind closed doors, was fighting the battles for them.
David Zarefsky, in his book on Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, concluded that although the war metaphor was effective to mobilize the country, once mobilized the momentum falters because it becomes difficult to keep the initial military fervor alive.(70) Hoover had been using the war metaphor for four years; by the 1932 campaign the troops were weary and mutiny was perhaps inevitable.
The next theme Hoover used in his effort to transcend the depression was to plead for adherence to the principles of American government, a topic that was very important to him. This theme was present in seven of the nine speeches and constituted the main thrust of his New York speech on October 31st. Hoover began that speech by saying,
This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a
contest between two parties. It is a contest between two philosophies of
government. It is not change that comes from normal development of national
life to which I object or you object, but the proposal to alter the whole
foundations of our national life which have been builded [sic] through
generations of testing and struggle, and of the principles upon which we
have made this Nation.(71)
Typically, Hoover would end his speeches with an appeal to the nation to be true to the "foundations of experience," "the principles and ideals which it has had from its very beginning," or "the whole foundations of our national life."(72) He made a direct comparison between his ideal and the Democrats' "waves of emotion," "innovations," and "so-called new deals."(73) Hoover's use of this theme was a clear attempt at transcendence. He was avoiding both accusations by elevating the discussion to one of philosophies of government. In the words of Ware and Linkugel, Hoover was "psychologically moving the audience away from the particulars of the charge at hand in the direction toward a more abstract, general view of his character."(74)
The futility of Hoover using his philosophy of government as a transcendent strategy is obvious once the public reaction to that philosophy during his presidential term is examined. First, Hoover's reliance on voluntarism instead of government intervention unintentionally damaged his image. Eugene Lyons wrote the following:
It [Hoover's system] could not sugarcoat or conceal unpleasant realities.
On the contrary, Hoover's repeated appeals to the nation's charitable
instincts kept the consciousness of privation always to the fore. Every new
fund drive naturally played up the grave sufferings and the danger of more
suffering.... His system left the unpleasant truth starkly exposed.(75)
Lyons goes on to cite several statistics showing that during Roosevelt's first term, the depression was actually worse than during Hoover's term, while the dominant public perception was the opposite.(76)
James Barber defined Hoover, along with Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson, as "active-negative" presidents who displayed "a high expenditure of energy on political tasks and a continual recurrent, negative emotional reaction to that work."(77) Barber used Wilson's League of Nations, Hoover's withholding of relief, and Johnson's Vietnam War as examples of active-negative presidents who each shared a common pattern:
a process of rigidification, a movement from political dexterity to narrow
insistence on a failing course of action despite abundant evidence of the
failure. Each of these three helped arrange his own defeat, and in the
course of doing that, left the nation worse off that it might have been.(78)
Hoover became a villain to the American people by rigidly following his concept of government to the letter and thus refusing to use all of the powers of the government to attack the depression. Therefore, considering that Hoover's adherence to his fundamental principles was quite possibly the most damaging piece of evidence against him, his attempt to transcend the election by focusing on his governmental philosophy was clearly counterproductive. He was trying to persuade the American people to support him by using one of his own worst faults as proof.
Throughout these nine speeches, Hoover employed each factor of apologia to each accusation (see Table 2). His use of bolstering and transcendence did not apply specifically to either of the charges--bolstering served to reinforce his overall image, while the use of transcendence avoided the accusations altogether. Normally, rhetors would combine two of the factors in an apologetic appeal,(79) but in this case, Hoover used all four to varying degrees. The extraordinary length of the speech set--combined, Hoover's nine speeches constituted over ten hours of rhetoric(80)--may explain why all the factors were present. Nonetheless, many of the strategies contradicted themselves in various ways. For example, by accusing everyone from the Democrats, to Europe, to unseen natural disasters for the depression, Hoover not only added paranoid and bitter to the roster of debilitating terms used to describe him but he also reduced the effectiveness of each individual excuse.
Table 2 Hoover's Use of Apologia Factor Hoover Caused Depression Hoover Did Nothing Denial Implicit in blaming Republican record Europe, storm and (policies dealing earthquake metaphors, with depression) and blaming Democrats) Bolstering Republican and Democratic platforms Republican record (policies not dealing with depression) Differentiation Blame Europe Blame Europe Storm and earthquake Democratic record metaphors Optimism Blame Democrats Transcendence War metaphor American principles
Furthermore, a review of the reasons for his failures shares a common theme: timing. He was relatively silent throughout his presidency and then did not begin his major campaign addresses until October 1932. By that time, the election had long been decided, and Hoover's desperate appeals only made matters worse. He was either giving the American people the same rhetoric they had heard for too long--false optimism, war metaphors, principles of traditional government, and so forth--or he was presenting new information that was long overdue--blaming Europe, Congress, explaining his record, and so forth.
My contention is not that with a better campaign strategy Hoover could have won the election, because the combination of a bad economy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a monumental obstacle for anyone to overcome. What I do argue is that Hoover's campaign was counterproductive to his other goals: defending himself, his administration, and his philosophy of government. Hoover would have been better served by (1) choosing a few strong defenses and developing them throughout, and (2) starting his campaign much earlier, as his preceding silence rendered his later rhetoric less effective. Unfortunately for Hoover, the unpredictability of the depression deterred him from presenting a unified approach in explaining the origin of the depression.(81)
In the end, Hoover should not be remembered as an incompetent and uncaring failure but as a president whose personal flaws happened to coincide with the nation's greatest needs at that point in time. If economic prosperity had continued, the engineer's strength in running the government as a machine could have been used and he most likely would be remembered as an able, efficient president. Instead, regardless of its cause, the depression exposed his weaknesses and destroyed his reputation.
The implications of the campaign of 1932 on the concept of the rhetorical presidency are significant. Without the failure of Hoover's unrhetorical presidency from 1928 through 1932, Roosevelt's rhetorical presidency would not have been as successful. The traditions and precedents that Roosevelt broke were more readily accepted by the American people because Hoover proved to them that silence and the status quo were not acceptable. Hoover even managed to decrease the conceptual gap between himself and Roosevelt with his actions at the end of the campaign. By breaking precedent and going out on the stump as an incumbent, Hoover was unknowingly aiding the transformation of the American presidency to something he would have disapproved.
In the 1932 presidential campaign, Hoover, despite his immense unpopularity and lack of skill in oratory, embarked on an ill-fated and unprecedented rhetorical crusade. Aware he had no chance of actually winning the election, Hoover instead delivered an extended "apologic" defense in an attempt to vindicate himself, his administration, and his philosophy of government from the accusations levied from Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. This article has demonstrated that Hoover's failure in achieving his goals for the presidential election of 1932 can be partly attributed to his rhetoric during that campaign. When viewed through the lens of "apologic" theory, Hoover's tactics were brutally flawed. His use of each of the four factors of apologia--denial, bolstering, differentiation, and transcendence--has been shown to be defective in persuading the American people of his innocence and character. In fact, his rhetoric was detrimental to the situation in many ways and contributed to his poor reputation.
The author thanks Professor Martin J. Medhurst for providing comments and suggestions concerning this article.
(1.) The "rhetorical presidency" is introduced and developed in James W. Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis, & Joseph M. Bessette, "The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency," Presidential Studies Quarterly 11, no. 2 (1981): 158-71; Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987); and Martin J. Medhurst, ed., Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996).
(2.) Nicholas Cripe, "A Critical Analysis and Comparison of Selected, 1932 Presidential Campaign Speeches of Herbert Clark Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt" (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1953), p. ii; Judith Trent and Robert Friedenberg, Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), 3d ed., p. 67. Theodore Roosevelt, running in 1912 four years after leaving the White House, did campaign actively with the Bull Moose party, but he was not an incumbent president at the time.
(3.) Cripe, "A Critical Analysis," p. ii.
(4.) Gil Troy, See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate (New York; Free Press, 1991), p. 277.
(5.) Theodore Joslin, Hoover Off the Record (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1934), p. 316.
(6.) Frank Freidel, "Election of 1932," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House, 1971), vol. 3, p. 2733.
(7.) Referring to Ronald J. Matlon (Ed.) and Sylvia P. Ortiz (Ass. Ed.), Index to Journals in Communication Studies: Through 1990, vol. 2 (Annandale, VA: Speech Communication Association, 1992), certain presidents receive rather extensive attention (Thomas Jefferson 9, John Quincy Adams 13, Abraham Lincoln 40, Andrew Johnson 5, Theodore Roosevelt 6, Woodrow Wilson 20, Frank] in Roosevelt 36, Harry Truman 26, Dwight Eisenhower 18,John F. Kennedy 38, Lyndon Johnson 35, Richard Nixon 61, Gerald Ford 20, Jimmy Carter 42, Ronald Reagan 63, George Bush 11), while the remaining twenty-five presidents share 30 total articles, including twelve presidents without a journal article to their credit (Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce,james Buchanan, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and William Taft). See also Davis Houck, "Presidential Rhetoric without Qualifiers: Beyond the Modern and Rhetorical Divide," Southern Communication Journal 62 (Spring 1997): 257-61.
(8.) The only example of a journal article devoted entirely to Hoover's rhetoric concerns his postpresidential rhetoric: Brant Short, "The Rhetoric of the Post-Presidency: Herbert Hoover's Campaign against the New Deal, 1934-1936," Presidential Studies Quarterly 21, no. 1 (1991): 33-50. Two other articles, neither of which can be considered a rhetorical criticism of his presidential speeches, are Howard W. Runkel, "A President Prepares to Speak," Western Journal of Communication 15, no. 4 (1951): 5-9; and C. M. Jansky Jr., "Contribution of Herbert Hoover to Broadcasting," Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 1, no. 3 (1957): 241-49. In contrast, besides Roosevelt's 36 communication articles, there are several books devoted to Roosevelt's rhetoric, including Halford R. Ryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Rhetorical Presidency (Westport, CT. Greenwood, 1988).
(9.) See, for example, Herbert Hoover Reassessed, Senate Documents, vol. 9 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1981).
(10.) Lawrence Fuchs, "Election of 1928," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House, 1971), p. 2603.
(11.) Hoover served as the food administrator during World War I, directed the American Relief Administration in Europe after the war, and was secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge.
(12.) Carl R. Burgchardt, "President Hoover's Inaugural Address, 1929," in The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth Century Presidents, ed. Halford Ryan (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993), p. 82.
(13.) Freidel, "Election of 1932," p. 2709.
(14.) Cripe, "A Critical Analyis," p. 61.
(15.) Davis Houck, "Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression" (Ph.D. diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1996), p. 99; Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, vol. 1, The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 165 (Schlesinger wrote that Hoover hardly held more than one conference a month after the depression began); Joslin, Hoover Off the Record, p. 367.
(16.) See Richard E. Edwards, "Herbert Hoover and the Public Relations Approach to Economic Recovery, 1929-1932" (Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1976).
(17.) William Spragens and Linda J. Lear, "Herbert Hoover," in Popular Images of American Presidents, ed. William Spragens (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1988), p. 330.
(18.) Ceaser et al., "The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency," p. 23, discuss how President Carter "came to the conclusion that he had been mistaken in his understanding of the presidential office; he had fallen into the trap of being `head of government' rather than `leader of the people.'"
(19.) Edwards, "Herbert Hoover and the Public Relations Approach," p. 78.
(20.) Roy V. Peel and Thomas C. Donnelly, The 1932 Campaign: An Analysis (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1935), p. 112.
(21.) For an interesting review, see Rosanne Sizer, "Herbert Hoover and the Smear Books, 1930-1932," Annals of Iowa 47, no. 2 (1984): 343-61.
(22.) For examples, see Cripe, "A Critical Analysis," p. 91; Burgchardt, "President Hoover's Inaugural Address, 1929," p. 82; Peel and Donnelly, The 1932 Campaign, p. 51; Craig Lloyd, Aggressive Introvert: A Study of Herbert Hoover and Public Relations Management 1912-1932 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1973).
(23.) Ellis Hawley, "Herbert Hoover and Modern American History: Fifty Years Later," in Herbert Hoover Reassessed, p. 450.
(24.) Carl Burgchardt, "Herbert Clark Hoover," in U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook, ed. Halford Ryan (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995), p. 137.
(25.) Joslin, Hoover Off the Record, p. 45.
(26.) Runkel, "A President Prepares to Speak," p. 5.
(27.) Cripe, "A Critical Analysis," p. 629.
(28.) Burgchardt, "Herbert Clark Hoover," p. 137; Ryan, FDR's Rhetorical Presidency, p. 46.
(29.) Burgchardt, "Herbert Clark Hoover," p. 137.
(30.) Herbert Hoover, "The 1932 Campaign: Continuing My Work Those Years," Collier's 129, no. 21 (May 24, 1952): 26.
(31.) See, respectively, Vaugh Bornet, "An Uncommon President, in Herbert Hoover Reassessed, p. 85; Eugene Lyons, Herbert Hoover: A Biography (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), p. 291; E. Francis Brown, "Roosevelt's Victorious Campaign," Current History 37, no. 3 (1932): 257.
(32.) William Leuchtenburg, "Election of 1936," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel (New York: Chelsea House, 1971), vol. 3, p. 2809.
(33.) Literary Digest poll results: September 24: Hoover 28,193 to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) 27,654; October 8: FDR 404,992 to Hoover 325,845; October 15: FDR 1,062,087 to Hoover 781,431; October 22: FDR 1,473,446 to Hoover 973,367; October 29: FDR 1,648,237 to Hoover 1,095,274; November 3: FDR 1,715,789 to Hoover 1,150,398 (Roosevelt won 41 out of 48 states).
(34.) Burgchardt, "Herbert Clark Hoover," p. 136,
(35.) Joslin, Hoover Off the Record, p. 246.
(36.) See, respectively, Troy, See How They Ran, pp. 65, 165; Lyons, Herbert Hoover, p. 307.
(37.) B. L. Ware and Wil Linkugel, "They Spoke in Defense of Themselves: On the Generic Criticism of Apologia," Quarterly Journal of Speech (QJS) 59, no. 3 (1973): 274.
(38.) Halford Ryan, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882, 1945)," in U.S. Presidents as Orators, p. 147.
(39.) Lyons, Herbert Hoover, p. 297.
(40.) Robert Abelson, "Modes of Resolution of Belief Dilemmas," Journal of Conflict Resolution 3, no. 4 (1959): 343.
(41.) Ware and Linkugel, "They Spoke," p. 276; Abelson, "Modes of Resolution," p. 344; Ellen Gold, "Political Apologia: The Ritual of Self-Defense," Communication Monographs 45, no. 4 (1978): 308.
(42.) Ware and Linkugel, "They Spoke," p. 277; Abelson, "Modes of Resolution," p. 345; Gold, "Political Apologia," p. 308.
(43.) Ware and Linkugel, "They Spoke," pp. 278-79.
(44.) Ibid., p. 280.
(45.) All speech text was taken from Herbert Hoover, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Herbert Hoover January 1, 1932 to March 4, 1933 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1977). The following speeches were included: "The Address Accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination" (pp. 357-76); "Address at the Coliseum in Des Moines, Iowa" (pp. 459-323); "Address in Cleveland, Ohio" (pp. 51943); "Address in Detroit, Michigan" (pp. 568-93); "Address in Indianapolis, Indiana" (pp. 60933); "Address at Madison Square Garden in New York City" (pp. 656-81); "Address in St. Louis, Missouri" (pp. 716-36); "Address in St. Paul, Minnesota" (pp. 746-68); and "Radio Address to the Nation From Elko, Nevada" (pp. 795-99). All cites from these speeches will be noted using an abbreviated title of the speech citing the city.
(46.) Hoover had twelve points in "Cleveland," p. 527; eighteen in "Detroit," p. 580; and twenty-one in "St. Paul," p. 749.
(47.) Walter Davenport, "Hoover Loses the West," Collier's 90, no. 14 (October 1, 1932): 10.
(48.) Sizer, "Herbert Hoover and the Smear Books," p. 344.
(49.) Gold, "Political Apologia," p. 308.
(50.) Judith Hoover, "Big Boys Don't Cry: The Values Constraint in Apologia," Southern Communication Journal 54, no. 3 (1989): 235.
(51.) The author appreciates the comments of an anonymous Presidential Studies Quarterly (PSQ) reviewer for points concerning Roosevelt's strategy in the campaign.
(52.) "Des Moines," p. 465.
(53.) "Indianapolis," p. 613.
(54.) "St. Paul," p. 747.
(55.) "Detroit," p. 569.
(56.) "St. Louis," p. 716.
(57.) Ibid., p. 721.
(58.) Wake and Linkugel, "They Spoke," p. 278.
(59.) Examples of his use of these metaphors can be found, for earthquake: "Des Moines," p. 465; "Cleveland," p. 537; "New York," p. 664. For storm: "Nomination," p. 357; "Des Moines," p. 469; "Cleveland," p. 520. The war metaphor will be discussed under the transcendent strategies.
(60.) "Detroit," pp. 569, 591; "Des Moines," p. 471.
(61.) National health: Hoover, "Nomination," p. 366; "Address in Cleveland, Ohio," p. 528. Expansion of credit: "Des Moines," p. 471; "Cleveland," p. 538; "St. Paul," p. 755. Improving employment: "Des Moines," p. 471; "New York," p. 662; "St. Louis," pp. 717,724; "St. Paul," pp. 755, 759; "Elko," p. 796. Increases in foreign investments: "Detroit," p. 569.
(62.) Rexford Tugwell, "Roosevelt and the Bonus Marchers of 1932," Political Science Quarterly 87, no. 3 (1972): 366; Henry Graff, "Reassessing the Depression Chief," in Herbert Hoover Reassessed, p. 44; Edwards, "Herbert Hoover and the Public Relations Approach," p. 164; Hoover mentioned the million men going back to work in the following speeches: "New York," p. 662; "St. Louis," pp. 717, 724; "St. Paul," p. 755.
(63.) For example, Hoover made the following statements (all appeared in William Myers, ed., The State Papers and Other Public Writing of Herbert Hoover, vol. 2 [New York: Doubleday, 1934]): "Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the basic strength of business in the United States is foolish" (Hoover, Press Statement 11/5/1929, p. 133); "The finances of the Government are in sound condition" (Hoover, First Annual Message to Congress, 12/3/29, p. 140); "I am convinced we have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover" (Hoover, Address to Annual Dinner of the United States Chamber of Commerce, 5/1/30, p. 289); "We should remember that these occasions have been met many times before, that they are but temporary" (Hoover, Second Annual Message to Congress, 12/2/1930, p. 429); "just a passing event in our history" (Hoover, Address at San Juan, 3/24/31, p. 536); "If we lift our vision beyond these immediate emergencies we find fundamental national gains even amid depression" (Hoover, Third Annual Message to Congress, 12/8/1931, p. 41).
(64.) Carl N. Degler, "The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover," Yale Review 52, no. 4 (1963): 576.
(65.) James Barber, The Presidential Character. Predicting Performance in the White House (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972), p. 26.
(66.) Herbert Hoover, "Annual Address to Congress, 12/3/29," in The State Papers and Other Public Writing of Herbert Hoover, p. 145.
(67.) For one example of each, refer to defenses ("Nomination," p. 359), counterattacks ("Nomination," p. 359), attacks ("Des Moines," p. 484), strategies ("Nomination," p. 362), tactics ("Des Moines," p. 484), retreats ("Cleveland," p. 542), trenches ("Detroit," p. 591), captains ("New York," p. 662), majors ("New York," p. 662), generals ("New York," p. 662), campaigns ("Des Moines," p. 462), fronts ("Nomination," p. 362), fortresses ("Des Moines," p. 484), flanks ("Des Moines," p. 466), battles ("Indianapolis," p. 610), battalions ("Des Moines," p. 470), armies ("Des Moines," p. 470), armies ("Des Moines, p. 470), fought ("Des Moines," p. 462), waged ("Nomination," p. 362), plunged ("Des Moines," p. 464), and mobilized ("Des Moines, p. 462).
(68.) Suzanne Daughton, "Metaphorical Transcendence: Images of the Holy War in Franklin Roosevelt's First Inaugural," QJS 79, no. 4 (1993): 432.
(69.) Ibid., p. 433.
(70.) David Zarefsky, President Johnson's War on Poverty: Rhetoric and History (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1986).
(71.) "New York," p. 656.
(72.) "Nomination," p. 375; "Des Moines," p. 485; "New York," p. 656.
(73.) "Nomination," p. 375; "Indianapolis," p. 632; "New York," p. 657.
(74.) Wake and Linkugel, "They Spoke," p. 279.
(75.) Lyons, Herbert Hoover, p. 290.
(76.) For example, Lyons compares unemployment figures (6.2 million average during Hoover and 10 million average during FDR's first two terms) and deficits ($3.3 billion to $14 billion).
(77.) Barber, 77m Presidential Character, p. 95.
(78.) Ibid., p. 18.
(79.) Ware and Linkugel, "They Spoke," p. 283.
(80.) This information was taken from Hoover Presidential Library audio recording information.
(81.) In a way, Hoover's seemingly contradictory explanations of the origin of the depression reveal the true difficulty of the situation. The depression cannot be blamed solely on the market crash, because stock prices had regained their precrash levels by the summer of 1930. The crisis worsened due to international causes, principally the British abandonment of the gold standard and the enactment of the Smoot-Hawley tariff Therefore, Hoover could not focus on one cause for the depression and never truly had a point in time where he could begin his explanation. Hoover, truly optimistic that the depression was ending, was undone by the unpredictability of the worldwide economy. (The author thanks an anonymous PSQ reviewer for information concerning the various causes of the depression.)
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|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1998|
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