Rich Tucker

The engineer from Iowa should have known better.

In her excellent new history of the Great Depression, “The Forgotten Man,” Amity Shlaes describes Herbert Hoover’s tenure as Commerce Secretary. The future president wanted to build up his department’s role in our economy. For starters, Shlaes writes, “Hoover envisioned a giant new department building.” And he got it. During his presidency, Hoover saw the opening of a mammoth Commerce building, containing 35 acres of floor space.

Today’s outsized federal government grew out of the depression, and while much of the blame belongs to Franklin Roosevelt, Hoover bears his share as well. “Some of the projects [FDR pushed through] were mere extensions of Hoover’s efforts, no matter what Hoover said,” Shlaes writes.

But the real problem with putting up a giant federal building is that, if you build it, they will come. A big federal building quickly swells with tiny bureaucrats. They move paper, create regulations, hire new bureaucrats to work for them. Eventually, everyone in town forgets that the federal government was supposed to be small and unobtrusive. But the American people haven’t forgotten. All this provides the answer to a question The Washington Post asked recently: Why doesn’t talk radio get good ratings in Washington, D.C.? Experts offered several reasons why a format that works everywhere else doesn’t work in the nation’s capital. “Political talk radio just hasn’t gotten the same traction here,” opined Jim Farley, programmer for an all-news station. Or maybe it’s because “people in D.C. are smarter” than listeners elsewhere, as the president of WMAL put it. “In Boston, Chicago, even L.A., it’s more emotional,” Chris Berry explained. “In D.C., people really do know the issues.”

Good tries, but not quite correct. The reason talk radio struggles here is the same reason Herbert Hoover shouldn’t have built a palatial Commerce building: This is a company town, and the business is government.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for