Hoover’s middle career is one of the great little-known sagas of American history. Based in London at the outbreak of World War I, he set up relief efforts for starving Belgians and displayed a genius for organization. Celebrated for his achievements, he became the U.S.’s wartime “food czar,” prodding the citizenry to economize and dictating flour rations to bakers. He similarly helped war-stricken Austrians, Armenians, and sundry other European tribes—and later, even Bolshevik Russians.
By 1920, Hoover, 46, was an international hero, famed as “the great humanitarian.”
For most of the 1920s, Hoover served as commerce secretary, a backwater that he transformed into a pivotal federal bureau. Governing by fiat, he imposed his will on virtually every nook of American industry. He forced builders to adopt standard-size boards, and airports to install lights on landing strips. Without clear legal authority, he commanded firms to reduce their varieties of products from bedsprings to milk bottles. In 1927, when the Mississippi overran its banks and dislodged thousands of families, Hoover directed the rescue. The next year, he was elected president by a landslide.
Of course, the thrust of the article—and presumably the book—is the lesson to be drawn from both W and Hoover:
But the Hoover story does suggest a contemporary moral. Consistency in Washington is praiseworthy only when it yields a positive result; otherwise it devolves into rigidity and dogma. The tragedy of Hoover was not that he was wrong but that he refused to see it.