Tracking Academic Bias Historically

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

Those of us who track academic bias have long been plagued by a nagging question: when did it start?

From the recently published memoirs of one-term president Herbert Hoover, we learn that it’s at least as old as Clint Eastwood. “One day at Stanford, after I left the White House, I asked Professor Roninson, Dean of the History Department, to send me a list of books of required reading by all students in a course on ‘Citizenship,’” Hoover wrote. “I found about one hundred books listed, of which some thirty were objective descriptives of the machinery of our civil government and over sixty devoted, directly or indirectly, to the favorable discussion at least in part of ideas embraced either by the Socialists, Fascists, and even Communists, accompanied by innuendo or direct attacks upon the American system of free men.”

“There was only one book that attempted to expound our American ideology.”  When Hoover lost his bid for reelection to FDR, he retired to Palo Alto, home of Stanford University where he himself had graduated.

That “one day” would have to have occurred shortly after Hoover left office in 1933 because he goes on to claim, “I determined to contribute a book on our American philosophy of government, and in 1934 I published The Challenge to Liberty.”

Hoover was frequently blamed for the Depression that began under his watch and compared unfavorably to his successor although the one-term president ramped up government spending considerably and, as he points out more than once in his memoirs, unemployment under Roosevelt was as high on the eve of World War II, at the end of FDR’s first two terms in office, as it was when the squire of Hyde Park entered the White House.

These Hooverian memoirs, entitled The Crusade Years 1933-1955, were found at the think tank the former president founded at Stanford, The Hoover Institution, by preeminent historian George Nash, who expertly and respectfully edited and annotated them.  Hoover himself was a bit like Nixon—more conservative out of office than he ever was in it.

Nevertheless, when the Iowa-born engineer made his political shift, he did so with the zeal of a convert. “The New Deal having corrupted the label of liberalism for collectivism, coercion [and] concentration of political power, it seems ‘Historic Liberalism’ must be conservatism in contrast,” Hoover himself stated.

“With these words of recognition, Hoover’s political odyssey was complete,” Nash notes. “The Bull Moose Progressive Republican of 1912, the Wilsonian food regulator of World War I and its aftermath, the self-described ‘independent progressive’ of early 1920, the assertive and reformist secretary of commerce whom Old Guard Republicans tried to block from the party’s presidential nomination in 1928: he, Herbert Hoover, had become a man of the Right.”

As it happens, Hoover shifted so far right that he supported Senator Robert Taft, R-Ohio, in all of his unsuccessful campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination. Indeed, Hoover observed that the three more liberal nominees that the GOP fielded against Roosevelt and his successor Harry Truman—Alf Landon, Wendall WIlkie and Thomas Dewey—ran behind the rest of the Republican ticket in their losing campaigns.

This is particularly noteworthy in Dewey’s last, and most famous campaign for president, in which he tried to distance himself from the Republican congressional majority which President Truman castigated as “the do-nothing Republican Congress.” Well, it turned out that congressional candidates fared better than Dewey that year.  It’s eerily similar to the 2012 election returns in which Mitt Romney failed to carry blue states presided over by conservative Republicans, most notably Wisconsin, which reelected Scott Walker in a recall vote earlier that year.

Another interesting tidbit from Hoover’s memoirs: First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, widely praised as a humanitarian, pointedly skipped an official visit to a farm run by Alan Hoover which provided extensive amenities to workers, merely because he was the son of Herbert.