Episode 41: Populism

PodcastWith the election of Donald Trump, the term populism has returned to the political lexicon. However, while many people may use the term, fewer people truly understand its meaning and history. On today’s episode, we try to unpack the idea of populism in the American context. John Fea discusses the history of his favorite populist, William Jennings Bryan. They are joined by the foremost historian on the subject, Michael Kazin (@mkazin).


Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).


Michael Kazin Reviews Jill Lepore’s New History of the United States

These TruthsI love seeing two prolific historians engage one another.  Over at The New Republic, Michael Kazin (Georgetown) reviews Jill Lepore’s (Harvard) new book These Truths: A History of the United States.

Here is a taste:

Lepore…in her new book, These Truths, declines the temptation either to condemn the national project or to celebrate it. For her, the United States has always been a nation wrestling with a paradox, caught between its sunny ideals and its darker realities. “Between reverence and worship, on the one side, and irreverence and contempt, on the other,” she writes, “lies an uneasy path.” The American Revolution was far more than a mere change of power from one group of well-to-do white men to another. “The United States,” writes Lepore, “rests on a dedication to equality.” Yet throughout her deftly crafted survey, she also makes clear how often citizens and their leaders failed to implement this ideal or actively betrayed it. She borrows her title from the Declaration of Independence, to signal both the standard of reason and equality that Americans profess and how their deeds have fallen short of it.

Read the entire review here.

Michael Kazin on the Fate of Presidents Who Didn’t Win a Majority of the Popular Vote

John_Quincy_Adams_-_copy_of_1843_Philip_Haas_Daguerreotype

John Quincy Adams

I have said it many times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home: historians cannot predict the future.

But they can provide much needed context.

That is what Michael Kazin of Georgetown University does in his recent Washington Post op-ed “No matter what he does, history says Trump will never be popular.”

Here is a taste:

…American history is clear: Presidents who’ve lost the popular vote don’t win popular support.

The four previous presidents who finished second in votes cast all struggled to convince Americans that they were doing a good job. Each battled the perception that his victory was undemocratic and illegitimate; each soon lost the confidence of his own partisans in Congress and led an administration that historians regard as a failure. Each faced an uphill struggle to keep his base happy and mobilized while also reaching out to the majority, which preferred policies his voters detested. Most, like Trump so far, did not even try to square that circle.

Only George W. Bush seemed to escape this fate, for a time. But his temporary success had more to do with the acclaim he received after the attacks of 9/11 than anything else he accomplished in office. And this crisis-induced honeymoon didn’t last: During most of his second term, Bush’s rating stalled far below the 48 percent of the vote he had won in 2000, when half a million more Americans preferred Al Gore.

The three other presidents who lost the popular vote all lived and governed in the 19th century. None managed to overcome his initial political deficit or to enact any of the major policies he desired. In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams drew just 31 percent of the popular vote. The conditions of that contest have never been repeated: Adams was one of four candidates, all of whom nominally belonged to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans. Because no man won an electoral-vote majority, the decision fell to the House of Representatives. Adams triumphed, largely because he agreed to appoint Henry Clay, one of his erstwhile rivals, as secretary of state. Andrew Jackson, whose popular-vote count had easily topped that of Adams, screamed that his rivals had made a “corrupt bargain”; if citizens accepted it, he charged, “they may bid farewell to their freedom.”

Read the entire piece here.

Using and Abusing History to Make a Political Point

81d67-zinnWhenever I read a writer who tries to marshal American history (or any history for that matter) to support a present day political position or agenda (it happens A LOT), I am reminded of Georgetown University history professor Michael Kazin’s review of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Kazin is an accomplished historian of populism and the editor of Dissent.  Zinn was an accomplished left-wing activist who used American history to advance a political agenda.

Here is a taste of Kazin’s review:

His message has certainly been heard. A People’s History may well be the most popular work of history an American leftist has ever written. First published in 1980, it has gone through five editions and multiple printings, been assigned in thousands of college courses, sold more than a million copies, and made the author something of a celebrity-although one who appears to lack the egomaniacal trappings of the breed. Matt Damon, playing a working-class wunderkind in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, quoted from Zinn’s book to show up an arrogant Harvard boy (and impress a Harvard girl). Damon and his buddy Ben Affleck then signed with Fox to produce a ten-hour miniseries based on the book, before Rupert Murdoch’s minions backed out of the deal.

But Zinn’s big book is quite unworthy of such fame and influence. A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?

His failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s Web site than to a work of scholarship. According to Zinn, “99 percent” of Americans share a “commonality” that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers. And knowledge of that awesome fact is “exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent.”

History for Zinn is thus a painful narrative about ordinary folks who keep struggling to achieve equality, democracy, and a tolerant society, yet somehow are always defeated by a tiny band of rulers whose wiles match their greed. He describes the American Revolution as a clever device to defeat “potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.” His Civil War was another elaborate confidence game. Soldiers who fought to preserve the Union got duped by “an aura of moral crusade” against slavery that “worked effectively to dim class resentments against the rich and powerful, and turn much of the anger against ‘the enemy.’”

Read the entire review here.

Should Howard Zinn Be Banned in Public Schools?

689e7-zinnKim Hendren, an Arkansas state legislator, wants to ban Howard Zinn‘s books from Arkansas public schools.  Here is a taste of a news story from “Common Dreams” website:

A Republican Arkansas lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban the works of the late historian, activist, and writer Howard Zinn from publicly funded schools.

The bill from Rep. Kim Hendren, just noted by the Arkansas Times, was introduced on Thursday and referred to the House Committee on Education.

It states (pdf) that any “public school district or an open-enrollment public charter school shall not include in its curriculum or course materials for a class or program of study any book or other material” authored by Zinn from 1959 until 2010, the year in which he died

The Zinn Education Project, which aims to “to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula,” noted Thursday that educators in the state may have a very different take from Hendren: “To date, there are more than 250 teachers in Arkansas who have signed up to access people’s history lessons from the Zinn Education Project website.”

The project is also offering a free copy of Zinn’s seminal A People’s History of the United States to any Arkansas teacher who requests it.

Read the entire post here.

Should Zinn be banned from classrooms in Arkansas?

“Banned” is a strong word.  I don’t know the motivation behind Hendren’s bill, but I imagine it has something to do with the left-wing leanings of Zinn’s work, especially his  A People’s History of the United States.   

So should Zinn’s works be used in school classrooms in Arkansas or anywhere else?  No and yes.

I have argued here in the past that Zinn’s book is bad history.  On this point I find myself in agreement with both leftist Georgetown historian Michael Kazin (who also serves as editor of Dissent) and Stanford history education scholar Sam Wineburg.  I would not assign it as the sole textbook in a history class.  It should be viewed as political text that uses the past to advance its agenda.

I would, however, consider using Zinn in the way that my friend Lendol Calder has used it in his United States history survey course.  Calder assigns Zinn alongside a conservative-leaning textbook such as Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People  (Larry Schweikart’s A Patriot’s History of the United States might be another conservative option) in order to show his students that history is “an argument without end.”  He calls Zinn and Johnson “untextbooks.”  I imagine that Calder assigns these two texts because their ideological bent is so overt and obvious.

Should Zinn be banned in Arkansas schools?  No.  But it should be used in very strategic ways that teach students how to think like historians and not like politicians.

The 20th-Century Ethnic White Working Class and Immigration Restriction

It is hard to imagine that Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination and be elected President of the United States, but Michael Kazin, the Georgetown University historian, wants to give it a shot.

Kazin reminds us of what happened to the Republican Party in the wake of its last attempt to restrict immigration–the Johnson Reed Act, also known as the 1924 Immigration Act.  From 1930 to 1960 the number of people migrating to the United States was reduced by more than 75%.  Sadly, the decision to reduce the number of immigrants was based almost entirely on race–an attempt to preserve Anglo-Saxon culture in America.

So what happened to the GOP after the Johnson-Reed Act?  Here is a taste of Kazin’s piece at Politico:

But the political backlash from that dramatic shift in demographics was fierce. Immigrants from places like Poland, Italy, and Russia who already lived in the U.S. and their American-born children deeply resented quotas that barred them from bringing over their relatives and friends. Most also despised the prohibition of alcohol, which they viewed as an attack by evangelical Protestants on their cultures and their right to imbibe any beverage they chose….

At the time, big-city Democrats warned that nativists would regret their decision to bar non-“Anglo-Saxons” from the land…

Instead of leaving, white ethnics took out their bitterness at the polling booth. In 1928, many voted for the first time, swelling the total for Al Smith, the Catholic Democrat from New York. Amid the prosperity of that decade, Smith lost to Herbert Hoover. But in 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, their votes swung nearly every big state to Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR didn’t have enough support in Congress to get rid of the quotas (most Southern Democrats favored them). But his party did repeal prohibition and enact programs like the Works Progress Administration and the National Labor Relations Act that helped millions of ethnics find jobs and form unions.

In the decade since the restrictive quotas had been passed, young workers from the kind of ethnic groups that Republicans derided had become increasingly “Americanized.” English was their first language; they had been educated in the U.S., flocked to the same Hollywood movies and danced to the same swing tunes as did other Americans—and they were registered to vote. Despite the Great Depression, they also felt secure enough to question the authority of their employers – most of whom were loyal Republicans, the party in charge when Wall Street crashed and the jobless rate soared to twenty-five percent.

All this made white ethnic workers natural recruits for the new unions established, through sit-down strikes and other forms of pressure, in the steel, auto, longshore, aircraft, and electrical industries during the 1930s and 40s. “Go to hell! You’ve had me long enough. I’m going to be a man on my own now!” an official of the United Electrical Workers told his members. First and second-generation immigrants welcomed the ethnic pluralism of the new labor movement, as did blacks and Mexican-Americans, and claimed American traditions for themselves. In one New England textile town, union organizers compared their bosses to King George III and urged workers to emulate the Pilgrims and the “wise, hardy, and staunch” pioneers in covered wagons who risked everything to attain prosperity for their families. Between 1933 and 1945, unions added nine million new members to their ranks. As it surged, organized labor had become a rainbow coalition—and a mainstay of the Democratic Party.

In four straight elections, FDR crushed his Republican opponents in big cities and factory towns filled with white ethnics and African-Americans. Their votes also turned states like Pennsylvania and Illinois, which had traditionally voted Republican, into Democratic strongholds. The party nominated scores of Jews, Polish Catholics, and Italians to local and state offices. During the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower and other moderate Republicans won back some of these voters. But in 1960, John Kennedy – running as a Catholic, pro-labor liberal – reassembled much of FDR’s old coalition. He was the first president to owe his victory to a alliance of religious, ethnic, and racial minorities.

Thus, by closing the borders to all but a trickle of newcomers they disliked, Republicans ensured that they would provoke the lasting hostility of millions of immigrants and, just as importantly, their children, all of whom had already crossed those borders. During the 1930s and 40s, Democrats won every single presidential election, even as the foreign-born population decreased from 11.6 percent to just over half that number.

Read the rest here.

Kazin’s argument makes sense and should serve as a warning to those GOP contenders like Trump who want to restrict immigration.  I imagine that critics of the piece will say that Kazin’s early 20th century immigrants were legal immigrants while many Mexicans come into the country illegally. Nevertheless, his piece is worth considering.

I realize that this is an op-ed, but Kazin puts a lot of interpretive weight on the idea that white ethnics joined unions and supported the Democratic Party because they were angry about immigration restriction.  

I am the grandson of these ethnic immigrants.  I am half Italian and half Slovakian.  My grandparents and great-grandparents all came over between 1880 and 1920.  My paternal grandfather (Italian)
died last year at the age of 103.  He loved to talk politics.  He was a lifelong Democrat who spent his working life driving trucks for several Newark, NJ breweries.  He would also say that he was a Democrat because it was the party of the “working man.”  

In thirty or more years of political conversations, and several hours of oral history interviews, my grandfather never mentioned that he or his family were Democrats because of the memory 
of immigration restriction in the 1920s (and we got into a lot stuff about Italian-American identity, the Democratic Party, and his life as Teamster). He often mentioned the racial and ethnic slurs he endured as an Italian working in German-run breweries, but most of these slurs came from Anglo-Saxon co-workers who were also Democrats.  My grandfather’s identity as a member of the Democratic Party was probably rooted more in working-class solidarity and the Catholic Church.  

I am not a scholar of this area, but personal experience tells me that the ethnic white-working class probably became Democrats for reasons other than Johnson-Reed.  On the other hand, Kazin’s piece has made me think about what may have been some of my grandfather’s unspoken assumptions. 

Being A Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public

Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

On Saturday afternoon I attended a session at AHA 2015 entitled “Being a Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public.”  There were some high-powered historians on this panel, including Peniel Joseph, Claire Potter, Julian Zelizer, Eric Foner, and Michael Kazin.  The place was packed–standing room only.

I live tweeted the session @johnfea1 and Storified the session here.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session–even found it inspiring.

In the end, the members of the panel seemed to have differing views on what the role and responsibilities of a “public intellectual.”  Peniel Joseph and Claire Potter were clearly historian-activists.  Zelizer called himself more of a “commentator” than an “activist.” (Joseph insisted that we can do both–comment and act). Foner approached his role as a public intellectual from a more traditional historical perspective. He believed that good scholarship could lead to social change.  Kazin seemed to be somewhere between Joseph/Potter and Foner.

Check out the tweets for more.

Kazin on Libertarianism: It Has No Chance

Michael Kazin of Dissent and the Georgetown University History Department is an astute observer of the American political scene.  I like his stuff because he often brings historical reasoning and evidence to bear on his punditry. Here is a taste of his recent take, published at The New Republic, on the rise of libertarianism in American political culture:

Libertarianism may be on the rise, but it has no real chance of taking over the Republican Party, much less the nation. A daunting set of obstacles lies in the path of true believers who would shrink the government down to Gilded Age dimensions.
The most obvious hurdle is that Americans may dislike “big government,” but they cherish their federal benefits. The libertarian charge, made most recently by Paul Ryan, that entitlement programs harm the people they are supposed to help speaks to few recipients of Social Security or Medicare (even elderly Tea Partiers), much less to anyone cashing an unemployment check or being cared for at a VA hospital. And even most Republican businessmen would resist stripping away tax credits for homeowners and subsidies for energy and agriculturejust to name some of the biggest examples of “corporate welfare.”
Second, it’s one thing to rile against an agency that monitors your phone calls but quite another to advocate, as authentic libertarians do, the demolition of the “national security” state first established during World War II and expanded after the attacks of September 11. If Rand Paul bases his presidential hopes, in part, on scaling back the powers of intelligence agencies and bringing the U.S. military back home, GOP heavies like McCain, Graham, and Rubiobacked up by millions of servicemen and women, past and presentwill be glad to dash them.
Third, any Republican who promotes a coherent libertarian agenda will have to do battle with Christian conservativesstill the party’s largest and most faithful constituency and one whose definition of “freedom” excludes abortion rights and gay marriage.  Paul understands this, of course; he is careful to declare he is “100 percent pro-life,” and he opposed the recent decision by a federal judge who ordered Kentucky to recognize same-sex unions from other states. But if he emphasized such views, he would destroy his image as an apostle of untrammeled liberty, particularly among the young people who rallied to his father’s candidacy. So, in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, Paul will have to straddle the social issues or avoid them. Most Republican voters who seek a fierce defender of “family values” will probably look elsewhere.
Fourth, libertarians have a weakness for conspiracy-mongering and foolish statements. They tend to believe with Ron Paul that “the Federal Reserve is the main cause of the boom-and-bust economy, as well as the leading facilitator of big government and crony capitalism” and long to return to the gold standard. Almost 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, Rand Paul still thought it was wrong to require the owner of a private business to serve customers of all racesalthough he now denies he said that. An unswerving devotion to individual liberty can attract a devoted corps of activists. But most who stand outside that self-reverential band would agree with Emerson’s famous observation that “a foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds.”
Ideological zealots fascinate journalists and scholars, but they have never dominated American politics. New Deal liberals triumphed far more because they met mass demands for jobs, security, and civil rights than because they bashed the corporate rich or preached about the Four Freedoms. Ronald Reagan and his fellow conservatives rose to power by indicting the shortcomings of federal programs and Jimmy Carter’s failed foreign policy, not because they made a strong case against “big government.” 
In fact, if not political rhetoric, the United States has never been a libertarian nation. Even during the Gilded Age, the federal government financed, through loans, the building of the transcontinental railroads and subsidized American industry through high tariffs (taxes, by another name). Many individual states, using the “police power,” also banned the liquor traffic and segregated the races. Libertarianism is a grand aspiration of Americans who wish they could live in a society in which the only government that mattered would be the government of oneself. Like all utopian wishes, it will never be granted.

Kazin: America Was Built on Extremism

William Lloyd Garrison.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ida Wells Barnett.  W.E.B. DuBois. Students for a Democratic Society.  Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Barry Goldwater.  William F. Buckley. Phyllis Schafly They were all extremists.  The names above associated with the Left brought much needed reform to American society.  The names above associated with the Right “seeded” the conservative movement that “grew to unprecedented heights” in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Here is the conclusion of Georgetown’s Michael Kazin‘s article “A Kind Word for Ted Cruz.”

Of course, compromise is called for whenever political opponents agree on the essential merits of a
program, like Social Security and Medicare today, yet disagree about how to keep it solvent. But
while conservatives are careful not to advocate tearing down such pillars of the limited welfare state, many also describe Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme”—which reveals their true intentions. When dedicated partisans treat every issue as an opportunity for moral combat, effective governance becomes all but impossible.

But to vaunt moderation over extremism just signals one’s good intentions without communicating anything meaningful about the issues at stake. If you think Bill de Blasio will bankrupt New York or Ted Cruz has no sympathy for the uninsured, then make that argument and drive it home with facts. Insisting that our biggest problems would be solved if everyone crowded into the middle of the road is a lazy attempt to avoid real debate about what divides us. It’s an extreme waste of time.

Robert Bellah’s Civil Religion

Robert Bellah, 1927-2013

As you may know by now, sociologist Robert Bellah passed away last week at the age of 86.  Many know Bellah as the lead author of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), a seminal study of the relationship between religion and the common good.  But most people don’t realize that Bellah also coined the term “civil religion” in a 1967 article in Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Over at The New Republic Georgetown University’s Michael Kazin reflects on Bellah’s use of the term “civil religion.”  Here is a small taste:

But liberals and leftists in the U.S. have frequently embraced the same tradition, usually to make the case that protesting the status quo can be as legitimate as, and more virtuous than, defending it. During the 1890s, leaders of the radical People’s Party, composed mostly of evangelical Protestant farmers, compared their determination “to restore the republic to the hands of the plain people with which class it originated” to the second coming of Christ. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. told an audience of bus boycotters in Montgomery, “we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.” Obama struck a similar chord early in his Second Inaugural Address when he referred to the Declaration’s “exceptional” view of “unalienable rights” and quickly added, “while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”

Michael Kazin: Barack Obama is No Liberal

After last month’s Inaugural Address and this month’s State of the Union Address, everyone is talking about Barack Obama as a champion of a revived liberalism.

Georgetown historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, is having none of it.  In an article at The New Republic, Kazin explains why Obama should not be seen as liberalism’s standard bearer. Here is a taste:

But to believe that Obama has truly revived the great tradition of egalitarian reform is to neglect the distinction between two species of modern liberalism: that which promotes the equality of rights and that which works toward a greater equality of opportunity and wealth. The latter, the social variety, emerged from the class tumult of the Gilded Age and inspired such key New Deal measures as Social Security, the WPA, and the National Labor Relations Act. The former harks back to the abolitionists and early feminists; it demands that the promise of individual liberty be extended to every American, regardless of their skin color, national origin, gender, or whom they happen to love.

Most contemporary liberals support both types. But since the 1950s, they have devoted more time and passion to fighting for individual rightsand American society has gradually warmed up to the idea as well. Liberal politicians, spurred by mass movements, did away with legal segregation and immigration quotas created by “Nordic” supremacists back in the 1920s, abolished the barrier between male occupations and female ones, won access for disabled Americans, and are moving ever closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. The scrapping of overt job discrimination did help boost the fortunes of non-whites and women of all races, of course.

Yet the goal of economic equity for the majority of working Americans now seems farther away than at any time since the Great Depression. Anyone who follows the news knows the basics: beginning in the late 1970s, productivity has shot far ahead of wages, the lion’s share of wealth growth has gone to the one percent while the wealth of the bottom sixty percent has declined, the real value of the minimum wage is lower than it was during the Carter administation, and the percentage of union members in the private sector is roughly where it was when William McKinley was president. The real unemployment rate is well above ten percent, while the poverty rate is sixteen percent, the highest it has been since LBJ declared a “war” on poverty almost half-a-century ago. Only federal entitlement programs keep it from rising much further.

What does Obama intend to say or do about these festering failures of politics and policy? Very little, it seems. 

Read the rest here.

Mitt Romney and Grover Cleveland

Georgetown political historian Michael Kazin asks which past U.S. president best exemplifies the ideology of today’s GOP and its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.  His answer: Grover Cleveland, a Democrat.  Here is a taste of Kazin’s piece at The New Republic:

But at the same time, if Grover Cleveland could read the 2012 Republican platform, he would find much to smile about. The GOP calls for an offensive against both private and public unions through such measures as so-called “right-to-work” laws and a repeal of the bill, enacted way back in 1931, which requires contractors to pay a prevailing wage on federal construction projects. The party also warns that any adoption of a national sales tax (common in much of “socialist” Europe) “must be tied to the simultaneous repeal” of the federal income tax. The delegates in Tampa even voted in favor of appointing a commission to study the feasibility of returning to the gold standard. (Which is not to say that Cleveland’s support would have been unanimous: The Democrats in Cleveland’s day, as now, were pro-immigration.)

If Mitt Romney manages to win election, he will surely disregard much of his own party’s platform. (In Grover Cleveland’s day, when parties were much stronger as institutions, voters demanded a certain allegiance to positions adopted on the convention floor). If Republicans actually governed according to their own strict “free-market” principles, they would quickly lose the support of the large majority of Americans who like much of what the government does for them. But by echoing a creed that failed the nation at the end of the nineteenth century, the conservatives who rule the GOP make it almost impossible to have a serious debate about how to solve our problems in the early twenty-first. As Cleveland himself once confessed,  “I am honest and sincere in my desire to do well, but the question is whether I know enough to accomplish what I desire.”

Kazin: "No Successful Businessman Has Ever Been A Successful President"

Michael Kazin of Georgetown explains why at The New Republic:

A taste:

This might seem odd, given Americans’ long romance with wealthy entrepreneurs and the enterprises they build. But a talent for developing private companies and making big profits seldom translates into wooing a majority of voters or governing a contentious republic. It may, in fact, blind one from recognizing critical differences between those equally difficult endeavors.

The most famous example of this disconnect was Herbert Hoover—a multi-millionaire who, like Romney, believed that America needed a shrewd capitalist at the helm of state. By the age of forty, the dour Quaker from rural Iowa had made a sizeable fortune as a metal engineer and developer of mines in several foreign countries. During World War I, Hoover employed his skills for a large, humanitarian purpose, arranging for food to be funneled to the millions of Europeans impoverished by the war. Then, in the 1920s, he became a high-profile Commerce Secretary, bringing industries together in trade associations where they could regulate themselves. Thus, Hoover had gained fame as an unelected public servant as well as one of the richest businessmen of his day—in contrast with William Randolph Hearst and Henry Ford, self-serving contemporaries who had earlier flirted with presidential runs.