Herbert Hoover photo

Address to the Gridiron Club

April 09, 1932

Gentlemen of the Gridiron Club and guests:

I am sure that my fellow guests would wish me to express their appreciation for your hospitality. You have given us one of those evenings which will linger in our memories. We are grateful.

It is perhaps my duty to sum up the results of this 4 hours' conference. One conclusion I reach is that humorists are obviously getting scarcer and scarcer. This conviction is perhaps induced by a full day's effort on my part to reduce Government expenses. This slump in humor may be part of the general slump, or due to the World War or bank failures, or the threatened reduction in Federal salaries, or the Congress, but whatever it is, I acknowledge at once that I am again to blame. But in the broader field than this meeting there is certainly a worldwide depression in good-natured wit, in happy facetiousness, in stimulating whimsicalities, and especially in downright kindly jokes. Vice President [Thomas R.] Marshall at a critical moment made the wise suggestion that what the world needed was a good 5-cent cigar.

I have little need to dilate upon the transcendent need of a few stimulating nationwide jokes in this crisis. It would lift the soul of man to a point where hoarders would bring back their money and perhaps bankers would even make a few loans to their old townsmen.

Obviously there is no shortage in the national supply of that stabbing satire, searing irony, crushing ridicule, or sardonic hyperbole which brings a momentary snicker at the discomfort of somebody. But that sort of laughter does not raise the spirit of man to the place he points with pride and then in sheer joyousness goes out and gives someone a job. What we want in the morning news is that, after reading lugubrious Washington dispatches on page 1, our people may find on page 3, column 6, a bubbling whimsicality that makes them feel good, sends them at the job with a resolve to bear up under adversity instead of a determination to beat up his neighbor.

I have given a great deal of consideration to the subject. I have thought of asking the Senate to investigate the bear raids on the national spirit of mirth. Such an investigation might perhaps infect the country with a dour note of sadness and certainly an atmosphere of despair. I have also examined the possibility of securing action by establishing, say, a citizens organization to make one or two jokes in a tentative way. But as I survey the civic groups who might be assembled to undertake the work of such organization I do not find much hope of creative work in constructive joy. It is only necessary to canvass the possible contributions from different national associations.

For instance, among the bankers any joke they would coin must contain a line on liquidity, and while it might raise a twitter I fear the Nation would find more pain than jubilance in contemplating the subject.

If we examine the possibilities of response from organized agriculture we would find their effort at whimsicality must embrace the humorous idea of still more overproduction combined with higher prices. That sanguine notion has indeed ceased to bring among the farmers themselves that radiant humor we are searching for.

I am sure if we asked for cooperation of the stockbrokers they would seek to disillusion the popular mind of its distaste for short selling by some merry quip as to the contribution of short sales to higher prices for stocks. The drollery of it would be lost in painful retrospection.

The mutual banter of either the Anti-Saloon League or the Association Against the Eighteenth Amendment lacks that whimsical effervescence and the sprightliness which heartens and expands the spirit of man. Nor does the Navy League nor the Society to Prevent War give us much hope. The jokes of big Navy people would become a sour jest when we recollect the taxes; the optimistic humor of the peace societies would ill fit the scareheads of the foreign dispatches which you would find on page 1, column 1.

I could not turn for help to the so-called intellectuals with their unbroken record of total abstinence from constructive joy over our whole national history. We would certainly find their high contribution of national waggishness to contain still another great reform which would arouse no exultant cheers just now.

And so it goes as we traverse every group. I hesitate to bring this note of dejection and gloom into a meeting conceived in itself as a mass production factory of national jokes. I do so only because of the sense of the importance of the invention that is needed.

But, after all, when I think of this 120 million people and their many inventions, I know they will find their own happy jokes, though all the forces of organized politics, organized business, and the organized press continue to fail them.

When you recollect the tragic days of the Great War, it was not the Gridiron Club, nor the Congress, nor the administration, nor the General Staff who formed flashes of kindly humor which stirred the courage and caused men to grin amid the sufferings of the moment. It was the men in the trenches themselves who fired the star shells of helpful jokes across the night of human despair.

You have referred tonight to the cooperation of the political parties in this national crisis. The incidents of its progress may give birth to satire, to ridicule, and irony. But there has been more in it than that.

A great program has been carried by cooperation. The program is not yet finished. We have yet to complete that meeting of increased taxes and decreased expenses upon which depends economic and social stability, both of the United States and of the world. Neither taxes nor economy come of their own will. In easy times the clamor of groups have overcome the vetoes of Presidents; the States have combined to raid the Federal Treasury for subsidies; methods and practices have grown up in the Government organization over 100 years which have become vested habits and vested interests. Every dollar of increased taxes and decreased expenses touches a sensitive spot somewhere--to some group-to somebody.

Every man in Congress knows that he will be tracked with demagoguery, yet the fine courage and character, the patriotism of the great majority, irrespective of party, steadily move the cumbersome machinery of democracy with high vision of national need.

Our people are at times discouraged by the apparent partisanship in time of national crisis. But we must again need remember that ours is a government builded upon political parties. Its vital stability depends upon organized expression of the will of the people through party organization. Other democracies in the despair of these 3 years have sought to build coalition government, but if you search their results you will find that they have weakened the national vitality by vacillation, or the impotence of positive action from internal friction, or have degenerated to dictatorships. Worse still, if there be no alternative party in time of great strain there may be no answer except violent revolution. Political parties having been elected to majorities whether in the executive or in the Houses of Congress have a positive responsibility to leadership and to patriotic action which overrides partisanship. Constructive opposition is essential to the spirit of democracy itself. The anvil of debate can alone shape the tools of government.

Some of you will recollect that at this dinner prior to the opening of Congress I stated that I was confident of the cooperation of the political parties in national emergency because I knew the high patriotism of the men of both parties.

Six months has elapsed of even more trying times in the Nation and the world than any man could have anticipated. That confidence has been broken by occasional diversion into politics and a morass of demagoguery which at times swept one House. But in the long run when we shall look at this period in retrospect it will shine in our history as again proof of that great thing which democracy has need to prove and prove again. That is that in time of national emergency the majority of our citizens and public men and of our political leaders will unite their intelligence and their patriotism swiftly enough to save the Nation from the precipice. That program which we initiated at the opening of the session has marched with steady and patriotic progress. We have interruptions due to. the anvil of debate, invasions of the demagogue, and at times a lack of a sense of humor, but it marches along.

A year ago I stated that if by the grace of God we have passed the worst of this storm the future will be easy; that if we shall be called upon to endure more, the Nation must gird itself to even greater effort. The year passed has required that effort to the full. Its courage and resolution is today under Divine Providence undiminished, and it is girded for still greater effort.

Note: The President spoke at a dinner meeting held in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Gridiron Club, an organization oœ Washington newsmen, met semiannually for a dinner and satirical review of current political events. Remarks at the dinners were off-the-record, but President Hoover's 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/207642

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