Because of their positions in the government and their resulting influential abilities, presidents are either praised for advancing the nation, criticized for not doing anything to help the country, or even making the country’s situation worse. Their success as president is dependent on the success of the country. People don’t take into consideration the attempts presidents make, but only those things that help or hurt the country. This leaves room for there to be a good president who may not accomplish much and a bad president who may accomplish a lot.
President Herbert Hoover took office shortly before the Great Depression began, in a time in which the country was doing well. Once the Depression struck, however, the country needed help desperately. In attempt to pull the country out of the Depression, Hoover followed his beliefs in trickle-down economics and passed laws that followed this philosophy, laws the gave money to large corporations, in hopes that they would be able to hire more workers, who would get paid and who would go out and buy products, which would increase the demand for products, which would increase revenues of businesses, which could start the entire circle all over again. In theory, Hoover’s plan would have worked, however, the country was in such trouble that nothing much at that time would help it. The Depression first had to run its course for a while, before anything could be done. During the Depression, it took time for people, especially presidents of large corporations, to humble themselves to a point where they would accept aid from the government. Often, they remained the greedy people they were and didn’t use the government’s funds for the good of everyone, but for the good of themselves. Because Hoover’s plan didn’t work – he didn’t foresee the fact that many Americans, especially businessmen, were greedy – but he made an attempt to fix things, I give him a B. In theory, if everyone were truly looking out for the good of others – if no one were selfish – Hoover’s plan would have worked and brought the country out of the Depression.
In 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, the citizens of the United States had possessed sufficient time to realize that they could no longer be proud, but they must take anything they could get. Therefore, the programs set up by FDR’s New Deal program were perfect for the country at the time. These programs helped the people directly, providing relief, recovery, and reform. FDR based his plans on the philosophy of Keynesian economics, where the government spends money to make money. The government gave money and jobs to those in need, who in turn, had money to spend in the marketplace. The demand for products increased, and businesses were able to hire more workers and produce more products, as well as pay more money in taxes. FDR’s plans worked because they gave money not to those who would take advantage of the government, but to those who would use it in the way the government intended it to be used. During FDR’s first term in office alone, the unemployment rate dropped 4%. Because of FDR’s success in bringing the country out of the Depression, I give him an A.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued the ideals of the New Deal by continuing to support and create laws dealing with the issues with which the New Deal dealt. Johnson’s New Society continued the New Deal’s push for reforms and an end to the Great Depression. Since the Depression was over once Johnson was president, his reforms and relief programs had slightly different intentions. Rather than attempting to bring an end to the Depression, these reform and relief programs pushed for an end to (or great reduction in) poverty. The New Society called for reforms of the entire economic system, not just those parts on which the New Deal focused, to end the Depression. Laws such as the Economic Opportunity Act, which provided money for youth programs, took measures against poverty, gave small business loans, and provided job training, were passed while Johnson was president. Also during his presidency, the unemployment rate was low, around 4.5%, as was the inflation rate, which was around 1.6%. For continuing to help increase the standard of living in the United States, as well as continuing to pass laws that would help end the social and economic programs of the nation, I give President Johnson an A.
Many people criticize President Ronald Reagan because while he was in office, the national debt jumped from around $830 billion to $4 trillion. One of the biggest changes Reagan made was a large increase in military spending and a decrease in spending for programs created by Johnson and Roosevelt. After World War II, the hunger for power and control of both the United States and the USSR resulted in the Cold War. Because of the Cold War, people were concerned for the safety of the country. Naturally, not only did many Americans desire a stronger military, but one was also needed to ensure the safety of the nation. Reagan, as part of his economic policy, budgeted lots more money for military and defense to protect the nation. The increased spending in the military caused a huge increase in the national debt, but ensured the safety of the country. Though many people criticize the large amounts of money spent on the military every year, a strong military is essential in a time like today. Though the attack of
September 11 was not stopped by our military, countless other planned attacks have been prevented. We, average citizens, don’t know how many terrorists the FBI and military intelligence organizations are stopping daily. With a strong military, we are able to find out what most of our enemies are doing and stop them from harming our country before they do. Many people look at Reagan and say he was a bad president. Though the inflation rate was not as low during Reagan’s presidency as it was during Johnson’s presidency, it had an overall drop from 10.4% to 4.8%. During the same time, the unemployment rate had an overall drop from 7.6% to 5.3%. In 1989, the unemployment rate was not much more than it was in 1965. Although Reagan reduced funding to programs set up by the New Deal and the New Society, he had good reasons for doing so, reasons that have had an impact on us today. For this, I give Reagan an A.
Looking back at the way FDR and Johnson dealt with the problems before them in their presidencies, we see many similarities between the two presidents, specifically their beliefs and their actions. First, both FDR and Johnson were believers in the philosophy of Keynesian economics – they both desired to help the people directly. This desire was shown in the programs created by the New Deal and the New Society. The New Deal created programs such as the Social Security Administration, which provided insurance for the retired and unemployment compensation; the National Youth Association, which provided jobs for young people; and the Farmer’s Credit Association, which guaranteed low interest loans to farmers. Although the New Deal dealt more with the problems associated with the Great Depression, its legacy can be seen in Johnson’s New Society programs. The New Society was comprised of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which was an expansion of the New Deal’s Social Security Administration; the Water Quality Act of 1965, which continued many of the environmental programs set up by the New Deal; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which built low-rent housing for the poor.
Another similarity between FDR and Johnson was the focus on the poor in their programs. The whole purpose of the New Deal focused on recovery from the Depression and relief to those hurt by it. As a result of the Depression, there were many poor people and the New Deal worked to better their lives. Programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Public Works Administration, the National Youth Association, and the Civilian Conservation Corps helped the country by building roads, cleaning up and/or preserving the environment, among others. Because people were needed to build the roads and clean up the environment, these programs created jobs for many unemployed Americans. Similarly, Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act focused on providing money for youth programs, which were generally for youth living in poverty, and his Department of Housing and Urban Development created low-cost housing for the poor.
Not only were there similarities between FDR’s and Johnson’s policies and beliefs, but also between those of Hoover and Reagan. Both Hoover and Reagan were supporters of supply-side economics. In supply-side economics, tax breaks are given to the people of a nation in hopes that the money people save on taxes will be used to purchase more goods and services, thus increasing the cash flow and the amount paid to the government. There is the potential for new jobs to be created, which would also increase the amount of money going into the government because when people work, they pay taxes, even if the rates are low. The tax breaks, though, are more helpful to the rich than the poor, as we saw with Reagan’s tax breaks in the 1980s. During that decade, about 85% of all Americans earned less than $50,000 per year. Their total earnings increased an average of 2% per year during the decade, while the total earnings of all millionaires increased an average of 243% per year. Hoover followed a policy of trickle-down economics, which is really the same thing as supply-side economics, but a bit broader. According to trickle-down economics, if the government wants to stimulate the economy, it should help big businesses. This is what Reagan was actually doing when he gave the aforementioned tax cuts.
Hoover had a belief in rugged individualism, a belief that was related to Reagan’s economic policy termed Reaganomics. Rugged individualism is the belief that Americans are self-reliant and that charity should come from local communities. According to this philosophy, if the federal government gave aid to people, it would be insulting to their rugged individualism. Reagan’s policy of Reaganomics is based on rugged individualism. According to Reaganomics, since people are strong enough to help themselves, the government doesn’t need to help people as individuals; it only needs to help businesses, because they are the dominant force in the economy.
Every president has his own way of dealing with the problems he faces. Some succeed by saving the country from its problems, while others fail by digging the country deeper in its hole. What is important, though, is that they do their best. Not all will succeed since there are some cases in which the country is helpless and must wallow in its problems for a short while.