Paul Jacob

There’s nothing so terrible as a bad idea who’s time has come.

In 1929, the idea was protectionism. Against the overwhelming advice of economists, Republicans in Congress, and the Republican in the White House, thought that a vastly higher protective tariff was a good idea. There was much wrangling to get it passed. It was touch and go there for a while. And then came the front-page New York Times headline:

LEADERS INSIST TARIFF WILL PASS; Smoot and Borah Contradict Reed, Who Told Philadelphians Bill Was Dead. LONG DELAY ADMITTED Pennsylvania Senator Asserted Farm Bloc Was Killing the Measure. Reed’s Attack on Corn Belt Bloc. LEADERS INSIST TARIFF WILL PASS

It was not the only tariff story on page one, either. And on page two, some nitty-gritty details of the bill were milled in public:

WOLL’S TARIFF DATA CALLED 89% WRONG; Merchants Challenge His List of American Products Made Abroad and Sold Here. WILL FIGHT BAN ON THEM Results of Nation-Wide Survey to Be Used in Campaign to Alter Senate Proviso. Will Distribute Findings. Find Labor Not Hurt. Retaliation Is Feared.

The next day, several more tariff-related stories hit the Times, my favorite being

WOMEN HERE URGED TO FIGHT TARIFF BILL; N.Y.U. Economist Tells Them It Is Stupid and Dishonest and Will Raise Living Costs.

The story on the first page, though, tells the big political picture pretty well:

SENATORS RENEW DEMAND ON HOOVER FOR TARIFF STAND; Johnson and Harrison Call for His Guidance as Chamber Clashes Over Bill’s Fate. CONFERENCE DEMISE SEEN Accusing Republicans of This Aim, Simmons Holds President Responsible With Party. SMOOT ISSUES CHALLENGE He Denies “Killing Plan” and Pleads for Passage — Robinson Pledges Democratic Aid in Speeding It. Hope for Reaching Conference. Johnson Asks Bill’s Chances. DEMAND ON HOOVER FOR TARIFF STAND

In the end, President Herbert Hoover came through. He signed the bill the next year.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.