Address to the Gridiron Club.
Friends of the Gridiron Club:
Upon such an occasion as this it is only right that I should express the large obligation which I owe to the Gridiron Club. I have the immediate obligation for this most pleasant and instructive evening. I owe to them a larger obligation for the courtesy of these dinners for over 17 years. From them I have received much political education. As [p.68] skeptical as some may be of the result, yet no one will impeach the ability and earnestness of my instruction.
And I have found in all the representatives of the press at all times a desire to be helpful in most unexpected ways. For instance, they daily assist me beyond my greatest hopes by their suspicious research work in new implications for my most carefully formulated phrases. I discover by the time an idea of mine has filtered through the clear and crystal minds of 100 different correspondents, that particular idea throbs with a sense of courage and public service, that it has sinister implications, that it is impractical, that it spells malevolence, that it is weak and vacillating, that it is filled with personal bias, that it bristles with idealism, sanity, and progress. When I take refuge in silence, the gentlemen of the press again assist me by the workings of their own speculative minds to the extent of column 1, page 1. And, always helpful, they promptly extend to me the privilege of denial. I do not wish to seem ungrateful for this cooperation, but I decided some time ago that I ought not to destroy the confidence of managing editors in their correspondents nor to dull the spirit of imaginative writing.
I learn more each day as to the relations of Presidential statements to the press. It appears to expect me to perform two separate duties, which occasionally in some degree seem to conflict. One duty is to help the people of the United States to get along peacefully and prosperously without any undue commotion or trouble over their affairs--that is, not to start anything that will occasion conflict and dissension. The other duty, which is almost every day borne in powerfully upon me, is that I should provide the press with exciting news of something about to happen. These are duties difficult at times to perform simultaneously. The ideal solution, of course, would be to excite the press without exciting the country, but every day brings proof to me that the newspapers are designed to be read. I sometimes wonder how our country can earn its living so arduously and successfully and at the same time do all the reading that it seems to do, because my daily shower of letters and telegrams show at once the endless reactions, opinions, satisfactions, alarms, approbations, and even sentiment that arise in clouds from everything sent from Washington.
And this is as it should be. Ours is a government by opinion and the press is the most important part of that process. I have approached this very large side of government--that is, its relations with the press--in a desire to cooperate. I realize the importance for as much prompt, accurate, authoritative information as can be given to the public that it may have the foundation upon which to build opinions. I have, in cooperation with the correspondents, been engaged in an endeavor to develop these relations in such a way as to assist them, too, and at the same time, protect the Government by opening the book of the Government to the public to the largest degree. It is upon this matter of authority for news from the White House that the difficulty of relations between the President and the twice-weekly press conferences seems largely to revolve. Whether the news is exciting or soothing seems in part to depend upon the authority to which it is attributed. "Authority" for news seems to have some magic influence.
If the President will allow himself to be quoted as saying that there are 49,200,000 cows in the United States, that appears to be exciting news. If it can be attributed only to the White House as authority, it may be carried, but it will not disturb the public sleep. If, however, the President states that there are 49,200,000 cows in the United States and that no authority is to be given for the statement, it may be suspected as propaganda.
You have referred this evening to the gentle art of fishing. Even fishing becomes news when it is participated in by the Chief Executive. With that feeling of all misunderstood men, I wish to disclose to the press the real purpose of fishing; I wish, indeed to take them into my confidence. Fishing is the only labor or recreation open to a President in which both the press and the public are prepared to concede privacy. It is generally realized and accepted that prayer is the most personal of all relationships and that on such occasions as that men are entitled to be alone and undisturbed. Next to prayer, fishing is the most personal relationship of man.
Everyone concedes that fish will not bite in the presence of the representatives of the press. Fishing is thus the sole avenue now left to a public man that he may escape to his own thoughts, may live in his own [p.70] imaginings, may find relief from the pneumatic hammer of constant personal contacts, may find refreshment of soul in the babble of rippling water, with the satisfaction that the fish will not be influenced either by the headline or the text.
You have included in your hospitalities on this occasion the Ambassadors and Ministers from our Latin American neighbors. These countries have recently extended to me and to many members of the American press the hospitality of their countries. Theirs was a hospitality which breathed good will and a desire to demonstrate that fundamental friendship to our country which runs deep in the sense of all the people of the Western Hemisphere.
And I wish to take this occasion to express the deep appreciation which is due the American correspondents who accompanied me upon that visit for the effectiveness and devotion with which they, each of them, interpreted our countrymen to our neighbors. They carried in person the inner thought of our countrymen that it is not size, wealth, or potence of the Nation--that it is progress of and service of a nation in the upbuilding of the institutions of freedom; its contribution to the growth of liberty, the development of humane relations, the advancement of the individual man--which measures the soul and might of nations.
And in this connection of the relations of great and little nations may I mention one sinister notion, fear of which I detect in some sections of the press as to policies of the United States bearing basically upon our relationships with our Latin American neighbors. That is fear of an era of the mistakenly called dollar diplomacy. The implications that have been colored by that expression are not a part of my conception of international relations. I can say at once that it never has been and ought not to be the policy of the United States to intervene by force to secure or maintain contracts between our citizens and foreign states or their citizens. Confidence in that attitude is the only basis upon which the economic cooperation of our citizens can be welcomed abroad. It is the only basis that prevents cupidity encroaching upon the weakness of nations--but, far more than this, it is the true expression of the moral rectitude of the United States.
One of the primary difficulties of a new administration is the over expectation which is aroused in political combat. The hopes for immediate solution of long deferred problems of extraordinary difficulty are always raised to the anticipation that some magic or miracle is about to take place which will realign the whole social and economic system.
The mere process of election does not mean achievement. My profession of engineer does not deal with magic. Its miracle is only the constant and everlasting building of brick on brick, stone on stone, by which, in the end, great institutions are created. And the essence of accomplishment in government lies in that threadbare expression-cooperation. I wish sometimes our language afforded us a few more synonyms for that word, because we sometimes become so weary of repetition of phrases that we would defeat great purposes and abandon great ideas because of our annoyance with words. Our form of government can succeed only by cooperation--not only by cooperation within the administrative arm of the Government and cooperation with Congress, but also by cooperation with the press, cooperation with business, and the cooperation in social leadership.
I have no feeling that my position is as Mr. [Herndon Tudor] Morsell has just told me--"A king for a day." The gigantic forces of our country and our times could find no solution by kingship. It is just a job of bringing about such cooperation as I may between those who lead the forces which ebb and flow through a great people. One of the important problems of every President is the relationship between the Executive and Congress.
The mere fact that the founders of the Republic provided checks and balances in our governmental structure was never indicated as an invitation to those charged with different duties to constantly differ in their views or to endeavor to shirk responsibility on the shoulders of the others, and thus waste their own energies, time, and money in useless controversy.
I know of no more able and devoted legislative body in the world than our Congress. It is the right and duty of Congress to investigate and formulate legislation. Both the dignity of the two arms and the [p.72] efficiency of the whole Federal structure will be best served by mutual recognition of each other's rights and responsibilities, and real progress is made in both administrative and legislative arms by cooperation through frank discussion, and by the temperate exchange of views directly between the Executive and the leaders of Congress, out of which wise policies are evolved and prudent courses are pursued.
I am well aware of the difficulties of a program of close cooperation. It is much less heroic for the President to cooperate than to carry the banner of the people against the bastions of Congress. To the extent that each may be helpful to the other, it is our duty to render unselfish assistance.
The objects to be gained by cooperation within an administration between the administration and Congress, between the administration and the leaders of our economic and social forces, are not the pawns of politics; they are not the headlines of the newspapers. They are the prosperity, the contentedness, the moral and spiritual advancement of the American people. And more especially is all this true in a time when the forces which are moving amongst our people are more complex and more gigantic and more difficult to understand and more difficult of coordination than ever before in our history. Yet they are the forces of progress, the forces of ultimate growth.
Note: The President spoke at a dinner meeting held in the Willard Hotel.
The Gridiron Club is an organization of 50 Washington newspapermen who met semiannually for a dinner and satirical review of current political events. Remarks at the dinners are customarily off-the-record, but Mr. Hoover's remarks were later published.
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/209424