Herbert Hoover ill-deserves the reputation that history has bestowed upon him, and even the doyen of radical historians, William Appleman Williams, said that he "may be one of the few truly tragic figures in American history". Damned for inaction in the face of the Great Depression, Hoover was damned again by the towering reputation enjoyed by his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Yet this ignores the fact that FDR couldn't generate recovery from the Depression either; that it took WW2 to cement his reputation; and that Hoover declined to take the path trodden by FDR for reasons that proved prescient.

Nearly every programme that eventually became part of the New Deal was foreshadowed in the Hoover presidency; far from being a doctrinaire fiscal conservative, he ran up historically large deficits to try to combat the Depression (fiscal conservatism is like chastity: that one preaches it is not so relevant as whether one practices it), and a mainstay of FDR's election campaign in 1932 was an attack on this. As one economist said, "given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other's lines."

Hoover declined to involve corporations or organized labour in policy-making to the extent that FDR did because he feared the dominance of organized pressure groups over politics, and an over-powerful executive. And just these developments were some of the things that resulted from FDR's presidency. Yet the same people who disapprove of such developments - which include the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned of - tend to hold Hoover in contempt. It may be that FDR's policy was necessary, and we must accept the good with the bad; but it is a little rich to condemn Hoover in the same breath.