Presidential Geek

No, it is not who you think! While it is evident our current president has certified geeks in his employ, he is really a poseur (“poser” for you millennial readers) when it comes to true presidential geeky-ness.

Before the word “geek” acquired its current meaning, the concept was most often applied to engineers. And in that context, the true presidential geek was Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer who proudly made his living in the profession. His defense of his work is classic:

“Engineering … it is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

“The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned….

“On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician will put his name on it. Or credit it to some promoter who used other people’s money … but the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professionals may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.”

Herbert Hoover

Although Hoover presided over the Great Depression, the causes were largely the responsibility of his predecessors. However, he was very ineffective in establishing a recovery, and vetoed recovery legislation, saying, “Prosperity cannot be restored by raids upon the public Treasury,” hence the “Hoovervilles” began to appear. When soundly defeated by Franklin Roosevelt, he was critical of the New Deal and repeatedly warned of the risk of giving too much power to the federal government.

History has considered him rather ineffectual, but it is interesting to note that eight years of the New Deal failed to impact the Great Depression, and only World War II initiated a recovery.

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