Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How America Has Changed: Thoughts Before the Sequester Part I


How America Has Changed: Thoughts Before the Sequester Part I

In the fall of 1947, Europe faced a massive food emergency.  In the wake of World War II, European agricultural production had been destroyed.  Having sacrificed throughout the decade in order to support the war effort, Americans could have turned their back on the plight of Europeans.  However, President Harry S. Truman enlisted former President Herbert C. Hoover to lead an effort to address the crisis.[1]

President Truman called upon Americans to sacrifice.  He asked American farmers to stop feeding their grain to livestock so it would be available for export.  He called on restaurants and citizens to limit their intake of grain products.[2] Can you imagine an American president asking us to sacrifice for the good of our own country, let alone a foreign cause?  The last President to make such a plea to the American people was Jimmy Carter, and three decades after his speech, many Americans still mock his effort.

President Truman needed someone who understood this massive undertaking and the machinery of government.  He turned to President Hoover.  President Hoover had led the post-war reconstruction effort after World War I.  He possessed the expertise.  However, President Hoover had been vilified for fifteen years as the author of the Great Depression.  President Roosevelt had shunned the ex-President, and President Hoover was an opponent of the New Deal.  Any yet, President Truman reached out to the Republican ex-President to lead the effort to bring adequate food supplies to Europe.  A year later he called upon Hoover again to lead a study to reorganize the federal government.  Despite massive opposition from New Deal Democrats, President Truman supported President Hoover’s efforts, and eventually most of Hoover’s recommendations were carried out.   It was a major overhaul and consolidation of the Executive branch.  This kind of non-partisanship seems inconceivable in our era.

In America today, our politicians are incapable of non-partisanship on our most vital issues.  Moreover, the American people are perfectly content to impose sacrifice on someone else, especially the poor, but are unwilling to sacrifice themselves. 


[1] The relationship between the two Presidents is chronicled in “The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity” by Nancy Gibbs, Michael Duffy and Bob Walter in chapters one and two.

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