- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

WEST BRANCH (AP) — Democrats say it repeatedly: George W. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs on his watch.

When they hear that or related claims about the Depression-era president, the folks in West Branch wince.

“They’ve dug up poor Mr. Hoover again and tried to turn him into the boogeyman of the campaign,” said Tim Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Both are within sight of Hoover’s birthplace and the hill on which the 31st president is buried.

“It’s really irrelevant to what’s happening, and people can’t get over it,” said West Branch Mayor Mike Quinlan, a Democrat. “Hoover would have shown more class and never would have bashed a Democrat — but it’s easy to do that.”

Admirers defend the Hoover administration and point out that the former president became one of the great humanitarians of the 20th century with his efforts to stop world hunger.

Democrats have evoked the image of Hoover off and on since his defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, the political victim of a stock-market crash and the Great Depression. But Mr. Walch said there hasn’t been such a coordinated, partywide effort to link Hoover with a Republican candidate since Harry S. Truman’s desperate campaign in 1948.

The blows may not be effective. Most Americans can’t identify Hoover as the Depression-era president, according to a poll conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey.

To call attention to the number of jobs lost during the Bush administration, 51 unemployed persons are taking a “Show Us Your Jobs” bus tour to battleground states on behalf of the AFL-CIO.

When the bus reached West Branch last week, they scrambled to take pictures at the Hoover museum.

That statistic came up Friday when Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts announced his economic plan in Detroit: “America cannot afford four more years of a president who is the first president to lose jobs since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression.”

“Every time I hear it, I think to myself, ‘What is this guy trying to accomplish?’” the late president’s grandson, Herbert Hoover III, 76, said in a telephone interview from his home in San Marino, Calif. “It’s a sound bite to create an image that really doesn’t stand much questioning.”

The basic charge is true: Mr. Bush, who has seen 2.2 million jobs disappear during his term, will be the first president since Hoover to end his first four years with fewer jobs than when he took office.

The comparison, however, exaggerates the size of the current hiring downturn. Today’s unemployment rate is 5.6 percent, but at the height of the Depression about 30 percent of the nation’s workers were idle — a contrast that might help Mr. Bush but also shows the depth of the problems Hoover couldn’t solve.

But West Branch residents proudly note that Hoover saved millions of lives as U.S. food administrator, feeding starving people throughout Europe during and after World War I. He performed a similar duty after World War II. Many in his hometown say he was just the president at the wrong time.

“They don’t give President Hoover the admiration he should have for feeding the poor,” 80-year-old Marge Pedersen said. “He was a good man, a very sincere man.”

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