Address to the Gridiron Club.
Members and guests of the Gridiron Club:
I am sure you have joined with me this evening in gratitude for the hospitality we have received and in admiration of the wisdom and cleverness of those whose occupation is solely to observe and report upon the conduct of government. Some parts of the program remind me of a rhyme current in my early youth wherein it was said:
"If the good were as wise as the clever,
Or the clever as kind as the good,
The world would be better than ever
We dreamed that it possibly could.
But alas, it is seldom, if ever,
That matters work out as they should,
For the good are so harsh to the clever,
And the clever so rude to the good."
In each of nearly a score of years that I have enjoyed the hospitality of the Gridiron Club, I have endeavored to envisage what sort of government we would have, if our government was conducted so as to give full expression and weight to the matters which seem of interest on these Gridiron occasions. Assuredly, government under this program would be a joyous enterprise. Our official life would no doubt be confined to those things that furnish the raw material for news or entertainment, humor, satire, exposure, wit, eccentricities, combats, attacks, or fights and failures in government or politics. Nothing could be more logical than that. I feel ofttimes that we are not doing our duty to the Gridiron Club and its constituents in not producing more of these raw materials. If we were to assume that the Gridiron Club should organize a party to impose its views, they would, of course, need to adopt a national platform which would contain certain positive and fearless declarations.
One of the first of these would be a vigorous declaration that government must be dominated by excitement, since the honest, plodding public official, intent upon building up safety and welfare of the people, is neither news nor material for Gridiron entertainment.
The national platform of the Gridiron Club would no doubt resolve that all those Senators, Congressmen, and administration officials who start something by way of attack and combat, should be supported by front page, column one. This declaration of faith would possibly grant that opportunity should be given for denial on the inside page provided the denial is peppy enough to maintain the combat. Such a platform would perhaps continue with the demand that at least two fights must be developed daily, one for the afternoon papers and one for the morning, and that these, if possible, should be made on a strict schedule, with advance release.
The Gridiron Club platform would also contain constructive planks-for instance, it would insist that there must be more humor, more satire, more within government. It would express the hope that every public official should cultivate either clothes or speech or habits or humor or some eccentricity that could be automatically added to the daily description of him, for the greater ease of headline writers and cartoonists.
And the Gridiron platform would probably end with a stirring peroration compounded from the leading Western orator and the late Houston convention that: "We, the people, demand entertainment and sensation from our Government. The good do not stimulate our curiosity or our emotions, our happiness or our jokes; and upon this firm foundation of reform, 'To your tents, O, Israel, and sweep the polls from the sodden slums of the Hell Gate on the Atlantic to the glorious sunsets of the Golden Gate upon the Pacific.'"
Fellow guests, I beg of you not to think that these gentlemen, our hosts, believe anything of the kind, despite the color that this annual occasion would convey to you. They are Americans whose solicitude for the welfare of our country has stood a thousand tests--who, amid the sordidness and gossip which oozes through the intellectual swamps of a great political Capital, have preserved an honest solicitude for good government even though it is not news or entertainment. Moreover, their serious daily work is the most fundamental of protections to probity and intelligence in government.
I have been interested in the high distinction paid to Democratic Party publicity by your recitals tonight. I would not myself be so partisan as to have referred to it as a great factory of synthetic myth and legend. It was, however, manifest that the Democratic leaders, failing to find in the Republican administration that array of defects which normally feed the fires of their campaigns, were put to the necessity and large expense of supermen on this occasion. The Democratic Party has a history of notable accomplishments in campaign strategy and gangster tactics of this sort, and it would appear from a long-view study of the results that it is an admirable method of retaining their position in opposition.
Another of your references this evening was to the problematical extra session of Congress. It is an extraordinary thing in the history of the United States that the whole Nation should shudder with apprehension and fear at the possibility of an extra session of its great legislative body. Such a possibility seems to have brought forth not only the satire of the Gridiron Club but the protest of practically the entire press, the representatives of organized labor, organized agriculture, and organized business. I take it that the community must now be fearful of its handiwork in the supposed Democratic victory in this election.
The Democratic leader of the Senate has spoken of cooperation in such remedy as the Government can offer in this, our most difficult national situation, and I can assure him of the deepest desire on our side to coordinate our efforts with him and his colleagues. I recognize the difficulty of any leader controlling either the measures advocated by his colleagues or the intense partisanship in which they are delivered. He and the country will, I am sure, expect me, in the performance of my obligations, to resist, with vigor, visionary schemes which would expend billions, result in increased taxes, and which, in the meantime, fill the country with fear and apprehension that daily intensifies this depression. These programs of billions, if enacted, would destroy the stability of the Federal Government. I am sure these measures and these attacks have no sympathy from the Democratic leader. The Senator and I and my colleagues are deeply interested in practical measures of helpfulness, and I am sure we agree upon the broad principles involved. I have no doubt of the ability of sincere men to find a common ground.
Indeed these are times of great apprehensions and unrest in the world at large. Superficially these are partially the cause and at the same time partially the effect of our present economic depression. In the larger sense, however, this unrest is the repercussion of the social and political forces which were loosened by the World War and which have been heightened by the extraordinary advance in the application of science to productive industry.
The World War was as much a war of civilian activities as of soldiers. Central governments took over a vast amount of functions of local governments and of actual business, and bent them all to one primary purpose. It was a period of centralization of power never hitherto known. Under the impulse of patriotism, government succeeded in larger measure in the conduct of these measures than would have been dreamed possible or would be possible in peace.
After the war all the great governments found themselves involved in a great dislocation in agriculture, industry and labor, with great business activities on their hands which could not be instantly dissolved. In the dual necessity to tide millions of people over these dislocations and to deal with the businesses on hand, the governments everywhere were plunged into a continuation of this centralization of activities. They found themselves in the presence of disappearing altruism and rising self-interest. Their abilities at successful administration were correspondingly greatly diminished.
From the apparent success of governments in war in dealing with great emergencies there has grown up among our people the idea that the Government is a separate entity, endowed with all power, all money, and all resources; that it can be called upon at any hour to settle any difficulty. As a result, there is constant pressure in the face of every problem for the increase of functions of the central government. Steadily, despite our efforts to free ourselves from these influences, the Government is being loaded with responsibilities and becoming centralized beyond the ability of men to administer.
We have a vivid manifestation of these problems during the past year. Not an hour has gone by during this last year of depression when there has not been some demand, backed by some important influence, that we should take over more and more responsibilities and more and more functions from the citizens, the States, and municipalities in the hope of remedy to our immediate difficulties. I have considered that it is vital for the future of the American people that each community itself should be roused to the utmost in remedy of its own difficulties and that the Government should be brought into action only where remedy was beyond local strength. To sustain the spirit of responsibility of States, of municipalities, of industry and the community at large, is the one safeguard against overwhelming centralization and degeneration of that independence and initiative which are the very foundations of democracy.
The Federal Government can cooperate in assistance in disaster with community and industrial action and the organization of local responsibility. The country has reason to be proud of the magnificent response of the past year to this stimulation. The Nation is being rapidly organized today and, except for some special difficulties where the Government must yet act, the people promise to carry their burden. Our people must not go hungry or cold. But no conceivable amount of appropriations from the Federal Treasury for public works can be any but a small percent of the employment that is afforded by the courageous organization of construction in industry itself and by our local governments. No doles of the Federal Government can equal, in even a minor percent, the benefits to the wage earner and the people at large by the organized maintenance of wage scales and spreading part-time employment in place of the usual reductions in times of depression that we have witnessed during the last year. No proposal of charity by the Government can equal a small part of the sums attained by the thousand earnest local committees now engaged in relief of distress in our counties and towns. I do not believe they will fail and I believe that we shall again demonstrate the strength and devotion of our people to the fundamentals of our democracy.
Thus our problem is not only a question of prevention of hunger and cold, it is also a question of method by which we maintain local, individual responsibility in the American people to meet their own obligations at their own door and to abolish the illusion that the Federal Government is a remedy for everything. It is for these high purposes that we must guide our policies so as to stimulate the forces of self-sufficiency of local independence in which lies the hope of our Republic.
Note: The President spoke at the Club's semiannual dinner meeting at the Willard Hotel. Gridiron Club addresses are traditionally off-the-record, but the above text was later made public.
Herbert Hoover, Address to the Gridiron Club. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210991