When he ascended to the White House in 1929, many commentators expected that Hoover’s organizational acumen would make him a brilliant, practical leader. “We were in a mood for magic,” recalled one journalist about the start of his presidential term. “We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems for us; now we sat back comfortably and confidently to watch the problems being solved.”
But the onset of the Great Depression later that fall required the skills of a master politician, and Hoover, who had never run for office before, proved to be a less-than-mediocre one. A stiff and awkward speaker, he neither showed empathy for the jobless nor rallied Congress behind a credible plan to reverse the nation’s economic slide. Hoover’s stern belief in “rugged individualism” had helped win him riches and renown. But it prevented him from recognizing that Americans in trouble needed material relief instead of sermons about the evils of the dole and an unbalanced budget.
“The Great Humanitarian who had fed the starving Belgians in 1914, the Great Engineer so hopefully elevated to the presidency in 1928, now appeared as the Great Scrooge,” writes one historian. After a career spent commanding his own organizations, Hoover was unable to adjust to a job that required persuasion, adaptation, and compromise.”—Michael Kazin of Dissent Magazine pointing out that when it comes to CEO Presidents, we’ve seen this movie before.