Slate: Can Romney Break the Hoover Curse?

Read the full piece at Slate.

In 1925, a successful advertising executive wrote a wildly popular book that depicted Jesus Christ as the ideal American businessman. Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows imagined a strong courageous, Republican-leaning leader of men. He was handsome, resolute, and his “muscles were so strong that when He drove the moneychangers out, no one dared to oppose him!” The publication of The Man Nobody Knows is arguably when a prototype of Warner Sallman’s strong-jawed all-American visage of the Head of Christ took its place in American popular culture. Although Barton’s opus is long forgotten, his book had a political impact we can still see evidence of today. It helped install American businessmen into the pantheon of great American leaders.

Indeed, Barton’s vision came to life three years after his book’s publication. Herbert Hoover, who made his fortune in the mining business, was the first big test of Barton’s leadership model under the national spotlight. (Barton is said to have personally liked Hoover, and supported his candidacy.) In Hoover, here was a man, as American novelist Sherwood Anderson observed, who acted as if he has “never known failure.” Hoover was a successful food relief administrator in World War I, famous for relieving hunger in Belgium. He was internationally respected for his humanitarian work. In the lead-up to the 1928 election season, Hoover emerged as the most electable candidate, a progressive Republican set apart from the conservative fringe. He avoided the culture warmongering social issues of the mid-1920s (like the Scopes trial), preferring to focus on his reputation and experience in “offering solutions of various national problems.”

The comparison is now pretty obvious. Hoover was, in other words, a lot like Mitt Romney. Both men sought to leverage their business experience and competence as executives into the Oval Office. Hoover, like Romney, believed that the government existed to facilitate cooperation and trust with the private sector to solve problems.  He campaigned on the notion that a bureaucratic government in the business of direct federal assistance would only threaten America’s unique spirit of individualism, and stifle initiative. Romney talks a lot about his plan for his first day of office, when he will issue “a series of executive orders that gets the U.S. government out of the economy’s way.” While Hoover talked about his administration of food programs during the war, Romney leans heavily on his (admittedly less dramatic) management of the troubled Salt Lake City Olympics. Of course, Romney has one thing on Hoover: He looks the part. His strong jaw, large frame, and perfect hair are a lot closer to Barton’s imagined ideal.

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