User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Unlikely Fact, Republicans Put 1st Minortiy Man In Vice-Presidency

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Unlikely Fact, Republicans Put 1st Minortiy Man In Vice-Presidency

Charles Curtis was Herbert Hoover's vice president.  He held office from 1928 to 1932.  As a Kaw Indian, he was the first non-white to hold the nation's number 2 political office.

No, this fact did not come from The Onion. It is a dead serious fact.  Charles Curtis,who was 3/4 American Indian and 1/4 white, was America's first racial minority in the Blair House.  He served as Herbert Hoover's vice president.  Here is Mr .Curtis's Wiki article:

His running mate, Herbert Hoover was also not all he is believed to be in modern folklore.  He was born to a poor Quaker family in West Branch, Iowa.  His father was a blacksmith .  He lived in a 2-room house.  Both his parents were dead by the time he reached the age of 9 and he went to live with relatives in Oregon.  He went to Stanford in California and got a degree in geology, but could not get work as a professional in his field when he graduated, so he took a job as a laborer in a California gold mine.

He met his future wife at Stanford, and she also graduated from the college's first class along with Mr. Hoover.  She had a degree in engineering. As you can imagine, a female engineering graduate from the late 19th century would be a ball of fire.  And she was.  Go the Hoover Library in West Branch and you can see the pistol she carried around New York City when she lived with her husband in the Waldorf.  A pistol-packing 1st Lady.  A true earlier-day Sarah Palin,

While working as a laborer in the gold mine, Hoover saved his money and bought a good suit.  He got a job interview with a British mining company and said he was the manager of the mine where he worked and secured a job as a manager of a gold mine in Australia.  On this job, he became a millionaire.  This story of resume fraud was told by the tour guide when I visited West Branch in August, 2000. (which a good part of it is now a restored site that looks like it did in Hoover's childhood, the Hoover Library as well as Hoover's grave, with an Eternal Flame, like Kennedy's.  The grave, fittingly is located next to a restored prairie adjacent to Interstate 80.)  As a child, Hoover would have played on that prairie, and in many ways his mind never left West Branch and its prairie during his whole life.

Who says resume fraud never pays?  I believe there was a line in the Shogun novel where one of the Japanese officials was talking to the Portuguese sea captain who was the subject of the book.  They were discussing the history of the  captain's homeland and the captain's life story.  The captain said his people, the Portuguese, fought the Spanish and secured their nation's independence.  The Japanese said it is wrong to go to war against your own emperor, but all is fine so long as you succeed. "So long as you succeed."  That is key.  And Hoover succeeded magnificently.  He had enough money by the time he retired that he was able to live in an apartment in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

So Herbert Hoover wasn't as honest as George Washington in the cherry tree story?  And Richard Nixon was also a paragon of virtue.  Running a government is a lot like running a Mafia family.  And presidents share some of the personality traits of dons as Nixon came to show.  Hoover showed us that Presidents can also be as underhanded as the most deceitful of 19th century robber barons.  He was a self-made millionaire and was not above cheating a little to get the upper hand. (Here is the best account I can find of Hoover's early life.  It glosses over the resume fraud, but does back up my claim that he worked as a day laborer in a gold mine after he finished college.

Nothing new here you say.  Hoover was a rich man.  It didn't matter whether he was self-made or not, fact is , he presided over the nation during the Great Depression and sat in the White House eating fillet Mignon while the working class starved.  A modern day Nero, you think.

What if I was to show you that the man was a noted philanthropist, even before he entered politics.  What if I was to show you that he cared a lot more about civil rights for minorities back at a time when many Democratic officials were members of the Klan.  More than a little surprising, you say.

As a young swashbuckling ex-patriot, he lived in the foreign colony in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.  He served as a guide for the US Marines and helped them rescue the civilians who lived there against the anti-royalist and anti-foreigner Chinese rebels who attacked the compound where the westerners lived during the rebellion against the Chinese emperor.  (More of a real war hero than let's say George W Bush - who served in the National Guard to get out of Vietnam - or Bill Clinton - who also avoided Vietnam - or Barrack Obama - who also never served under fire.)

During the First World War after Mr. Hoover already made his bones (and millions) in business, he went to Europe and headed up the Commission for Relief in Belgium and helped with the effort to feed refugees along the Western Front.  After the war, he went to eastern Europe and headed up the Salvation Army's relief effort there.  When I was a kid, my uncle Frank, who lived in Lithuania during WW I, told me that it was the Salvation Army, not the Red Cross, that kept him and his sister and mother alive when they got trapped in Europe from 1914 to 1923.  He said the crap about the Red Cross in our high school history book was just a bunch of propaganda put there by middle class American writers that didn't want any credit going to a bunch of holy rollers.  He said the Salvation Army's assistance was invaluable, even if he didn't agree with their religious views.  For more about Hoover's role in feeding Eastern European refugees in in the post World War I period, see
  I forget the significance of the imagry, but at West Branch, there is a statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis, with a veiled face, in honor of Hoover's European relief efforts.

So Herbert Hoover saved my father's mother's life so I can be here to write this.  Thank God for Mr. Hoover!

Sadly, the record of Hoover on civil rights was somewhat mixed.  On the positive side, he actually believed in the Quaker belief that all men were created equal regardless of race and believed that the black man and the Indian could pull themselves up by self reliance and hard work.  He picked Kansas senator Charles Curtis, a Kaw Indian as his running mate for the 1928 presidential election.  Mr Curtis became the first non-white elected vice president, a fact that has been largely forgotten today.  He was a strong supporter of Booker T Washington, the man who helped found trade schools for blacks across the country such as the Bordentown Manual and Training School (Later Johnstone and now the Medium Security Juvenile Facility) in Bordentown, NJ.  I hope you can see the irony in an institution originally created to train blacks to succeed now being used to warehouse black juvenile prisoners.  For more on the Bordentown Manual School see

On the negative side, it was Hoover's opportunism and duplicity that caused southern blacks to break from the GOP.  He's why Martin Luther King and all the other civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were Democrats.  The story goes like this.  Under President Coolidge, Hover was Secretary of Commerce. (He and Howard Taft were the only two American Presidents who served as cabinet members prior to running for President. )  There was no FEMA back in those days and the Commerce Department was responsible for distributing government assistance after natural disasters.  In 1927, the Mississippi River flooded vast tracts in the South and Hoover was tasked with distributing the aid.  Hoover was aware that the money would go to the white landowners and never be used to help rebuild the homes of black sharecroppers who were wiped out by the floods.  Hoover made a deal with Booker T. and with the NAACP to keep quiet about the misappropriation of aid in exchange for increased participation in the government once Hoover took office as President.  Washington and the NAACP took the bait and the sharecroppers, as usual got screwed out of their government money.

Hoover then executed his "Southern Strategy" during the 1928 election and openly courted white voters in the South.  He carried several southern states, the first Republican to do so since Reconstruction.  The whites backed him because they didn't want Al Smith, a Catholic and northern liberal to make it into office.  Hoover agreed with white leaders to allow the "old south" status quo to remain in place if he was elected.

By screwing over the black leadership, Hoover forever caused the blacks to break from the GOP, which they have consistently supported from the Civil War up until 1928.  He's why most blacks are still Democrats today.

Hoover was a revolutionary.  He was the nation's first modern Republican president.  Besides inventing the Southern Strategy as a way to get southern whites to vote for the GOP, Hoover also helped pioneer open cooperation between government and business.  As Secretary of Commerce, he believed that the Commerce Department should help businesses become more profitable and believed in giving government money to businesses to help them out.  He was the father of "Corporate Welfare", a policy that is a hallmark of Governor Christie's administration today.

To be fair to Hoover, it is important to note he did not sit by idly and let the nation suffer during the Great Depression.  As a man who believed in hard work and self-help he saw noting wrong with using public works projects to create jobs for unemployed workers.  He was responsible for starting work on the Hoover Dam, outside of Las Vegas.  Originally the dam was called Boulder Dam, but it was eventually changed to Hoover, in honor of the man who commissioned it.  There would have been more public works projects, but Hoover, who was considered a liberal within the Republican Party at the time, was unable to get congress to go along with the idea of deficit spending to create infrastructure.  (Today that's standard policy during a depression).

Like him or not, it is important to know Hoover to understand modern Republican politicians.  He believed:

No direct handouts to individuals.  People should be encouraged to help themselves.  Setting up educational and training programs is fine.  Providing relief during times of war or natural disasters is fine, but otherwise direct assistance should never be given.  (Read this:  No Social Security, Medicare, Medicare, Heating Assistance, Section 8, etc.)

The government should become the partner of business.  Financial aid and tax breaks to businesses are essential to make American industry more efficient and competitive.  (Reads:  Corporate Welfare, such as Christie's $110-million tax break to Panasonic for a new corporate headquarters and $220-million break to the Revel Casino in Atlantic City are just the ticket for success.)

Blacks and other minorities are OK.  (Reads:  We don't believe in biological racial superiority such as the whites did in the Old South or the Nazis did in Germany.  However, if they can't pull themselves up on their own, then the deserve to rot in the gutter.  No affirmative action needed or allowed.)

I always had an interest in Hoover.  He was Iowa's only president and I spent several years living in that state.  They like Hoover there.  You can count the number of Democratic governors elected in Iowa since the Civil War on one hand.  They name buildings after Herbert Hoover there, that's how popular he is there.

I don't think he was a bad man.  He was a paradox.  He helped feed millions as a philanthropist.  He put the first non-white person into our nation's second-highest office.  However, his rural background meant he never really understood the realities of life for the urban  poor.  According to his own experience, a little hard work and brazenness was all poor people needed to rise to the top of the world.

Fact is, Hoover would never had succeeded if his relatives in Oregon never took him in and if Stanford was not tuition-free.  He got the benefit of having relatives who were successful businesspeople taking him and also benefited from the California tradition of free college to all comers.

Today, most poor people don't have benevolent relatives who will train their kids to be successful businesspeople.  Most poor people can't just run off to the state university on a free ride and get a 4-year degree either.  Also, we have gotten better on verifying things, so Hoover's adventure into resume fraud wouldn't work today either.

If we get rid of assistance to individuals and give all our tax money to corporations, we will create a very cruel world.

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