- Herbert Hoover, "Challenge to Liberty", October 30th, 1936
Hoover had some good things going for him and some less good things.
A lot of the "Challenge to Liberty" speech is about the constitutional abuses of the New Deal programs. On a lot of these, I think Hoover has a point. The New Deal is kind of an amorphous blob of a lot of different ideas and programs. There were some very good public investments. But there was also a lot of bad tinkering and price fixing. Much of that got struck down. Overall it wasn't particularly impressive as fiscal policy. The general sense of economists is that fiscal policy didn't really get much of a chance until WWII. Monetary policy made a difference earlier in the thirties. On the margin some spending helped people. There is an interesting literature on the impact that Roosevelt had on expectations. But little was done in the way of proper macroeconomic policy. As far as the tinkering goes, Hoover spoke out adamantly against it. That was probably a good thing.
Hoover was perfectly happy to make the public investments that Roosevelt continued and expanded upon, through the RFC for example. He suggested such things earlier in 1920-1921 (although his recommendations came a little too late - we were already on the upswing when they reached Harding's desk). This is a good side of Hoover too.
His philosophy of "associationalism" is nice too. It's an early version of action through what we now call "civil society".
But - in his own words - he "vetoed the idea of recovery through stupendous spending to prime the pump". In other words, Hoover was an austerity guy. He was fine with smart public investments, he was not fine with fiscal policy as a means to achieve full employment.
Aside from this sin of omission, he was also confused and counter-productive on a few things. The wage conferences are a great example (although research suggests it didn't do all that much), same with the tariff and the tax increases (there are doubts about how much damage the tariff really did too).
He was an austerity president. He was also a sympathetic president. He was not a libertarian. He was not a Keynesian. He was generally a fan of markets, liberalism, and the Constitution.
Ultimately, he just got dealt a really shitty hand. In another time I think he would have done well.