Oct. 20, 1987, the day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 22 percent of its value, President Ronald Reagan wasn't getting much love from opinion writers even though, despite deficits, it was still "morning in America" with inflation low, interest rates declining and employment rising.
The New York Times ended an editorial that day with this closing paragraph:
In a statement issued last night, the White House asserted that the "underlying economy remains sound." With the fire alarm wailing on Wall Street and the country anxious for leadership, it gets an astonishing rerun of Herbert Hoover. When will Mr. Reagan start fighting the fire?
Remember, most economic indicators were pointing up at this stage of the Reagan presidency. And yet the Times editorial board played the Hoover card.
On the same day, a reporter shouted a question to Reagan during an Oval Office photo op with Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi:
REPORTER. Mr. President, some on Wall Street say they want some leadership from the White House. They want some action on the budget deficit. They want to calm the fears about the Persian Gulf. What do you have to say to them? Is there going to be any action by this administration, or are you set to just let the market run its course at this point?
Small wonder, then, that at the present time, one which few would describe as "morning in America," a different president is getting hammered for his alleged failure to lead.
Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post, captures the mood.
That is the enduring mystery of Obama's presidency. He delivered his statement on the economy beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but that was as close as he came to forceful leadership. He looked grim and swallowed hard and frequently as he mixed fatalism ("markets will rise and fall") with vague, patriotic exhortations ("this is the United States of America").
"There will always be economic factors that we can't control," Obama said. Maybe. But it would be nice if the president gave it a try.
It was the Hoover card in everything but name.