— A Warning To America —
Restoring Honor In Government

Former President Herbert Hoover’s 1951 Speech

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | April 11, 2024                   

Pres. Herbert Hoover (Collier's cover, Aug. 11, 1951)

Corruption. Propaganda. Moral decay. Defamation. Traitorism. These are but some of the political ills that plagued American society in 1951.

Capital Journal (Oregon), December 29, 1951 Herbert Hoover, the sole living ex-President, diagnosed the problem in an August 1951 speech: “We thus have a cancerous growth of intellectual dishonesty in public life which is mostly beyond the law.” And in a separate speech on a radio forum in December, he warned the United States could “decline and fall like the great republics of the past.”

Hoover’s speech was a sign of the times, and the times they-are-not-changing. On Sept. 1, 2022, President Joe Biden delivered his urgent ‘Soul Of The Nation’ speech from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

The prime time TV speech was intended to guard the country from the perils of MAGA extremism which “threatens the very foundation of our republic.” The danger is such that it’s an open question whether the United States will remain a democracy or become an autocracy by the end of 2024.

United States media archive

Concerning Honor in Public Life

Nationwide Broadcast Address at the
Iowa Centennial Celebration, Des Moines, Iowa

August 30, 1951

I am indebted to the Governor, the Legislature, and the people of my native State for a most distinguished honor at this celebration of Iowa’s Centennial.

I have been about the world quite a bit since my boyhood in Iowa. I have rubbed against many persons and many races.

I have found the sons and daughters of Iowa scattered all over the earth managing (or mixing with) other people’s businesses or governments.

And it is for other people’s good. These men and women have received a great inheritance from this state. Here are 2,700,000 people who possess the highest average of intelligence, the highest average of education, and the highest average of human comfort of any patch of 56,000 square miles on the earth.

In view of our serious national situation I would like on this occasion to review a few things for you to think about. They are mainly related to honor in public life.

Let me say at once that honor is not the exclusive property of any political party.

I may start with the idea that all things in government which bear the prefix “new” are not necessarily new. They may not all of them even be good.

Truly every generation discovers the world all new again and knows it can improve it. It is a good thing that each generation does – or our race would shrink in vitality and grow senile.

Each generation also wants to find out for itself that the stove is hot. A renewal of that sort of information is valuable.

But we have overworked this word “new” in trying to get out of this age of misery from our thirty-seven years of hot and cold wars, with intervals of hot and cold peace.

In this period we have either been cured or made over “new” about fourteen times.

We have had the New Order, the New Freedom, the New Day, the New Era, the New Outlook, the New Epoch, the New Economy, the New Dawn, the New Deal, the New Religion, the New Liberalism, the New War, and several New Foreign Policies. None of these were really “new” discoveries

And the New Testament is too often omitted. After each “new” we have a relapse and take another pill, labeled “new.”

Some of these somethings “new” have value. Too many have been false signposts on the road of national progress. Some point to will-o’-wisps of security not to be had on this earth. Some lead the nation over the precipice of inflation and socialism. Some just lead to the land of make-believe. Certainly some of them are tainted with untruth and a diluted intellectual honesty.

The word “new” applies better to physical things than to human forces. Indeed when the sun rises in the morning we hail it as a new day. We cheer the passing of the night. But it is a false analogy in the march of civilization.

Most of our chores for the new day were assigned the night before. Our abilities to perform them were formed not only last year but over centuries or even geologic time. If the new day has no link with yesterday we would be without know-how and morals today. The loss of that link can bring chaos to the whole economic, the moral, and the spiritual world.

As an aside, I suggest at least we adjourn trying to make America over into some other shape until we get out of this cold or hot war. Our present crisis is dangerous enough to require one concentrated undeviating purpose in Washington.

Many of our so-called social and economic gains will go by the board, anyway, if this hot and cold war keeps up. After all, the great social gains of the last century were a mixture of liberty, compassion, unlimited meat, automobiles, and washing machines. These are at least getting scarcer.

There will be plenty of time to exercise our muscles on “new” experiments after these violent changes in international temperature are survived. And these programs of making America over add an especially destructive “new” – that is, New Taxes.

Think about it.

The practical thing we can do if we really want to make the world over again is to try out the word “old” for a while. There are some “old” things that made this country.

There is the Old Virtue of religious faith.

There are the Old Virtues of integrity and the whole truth.

There is the Old Virtue of incorruptible service and honor in public office.

There are the Old Virtues of economy in government, of self-reliance, thrift, and individual liberty.

There are the Old Virtues of patriotism, real love of country, and willingness to sacrifice for it.

These “old” ideas are very inexpensive. They even would help win hot and cold wars.

I realize that such suggestions will raise that cuss word “reactionary.” But some of these “old” things are slipping badly in American life. And if they slip too far, the lights will go out of America, even if we win these cold and hot wars.

Think about it.

We might explore some of the things that have happened to the “old” virtues of integrity, truth, and honor in public life. During the recent past we have had a flood of exposures by Congressional committees, by State Legislatures, by Grand Juries in scores of cities, and the press.

A few days more than one hundred seventy-five years ago, the 56 members of the Continental Congress of the United States unanimously declared a program of action and certain principles of American life. The concluding words of the Declaration are a pledge of “our sacred Honor.”

I sometimes wonder what the 56 Founding Fathers, from their invisible presence in our Congressional Halls, would say about the procession of men in responsible positions who have come before its committees of this day.

What would they have thought of the “sacred Honor” of the five percenters, coats, deep freezers, and free hotel bills? [Scandals of the Truman administration]

Or favoritism in Government loans and Government contracts?

Or failures to prosecute evildoers who spread cancerous rackets and gambling rings with their train of bribed officials?

But I am less concerned at stealing public money than with the far more destructive forms of dishonor.

What would the Founding Fathers have thought of those who coquette with traitorship?

Or of secret and disastrous commitments of our nation which were denied at the time?

Or high officials under oath contradicting each other as to facts?

Or the failure to keep promises to the people? Our civilization moves forward on promises that are kept.

We thus have a cancerous growth of intellectual dishonesty in public life which is mostly beyond the law.

One of its chief instruments is corrupt propaganda. There has been such propaganda by foreign governments and our own designed to get us into war. Then we have the propaganda to keep up our pep. Then the habit continues in peace time. And some pressure groups have learned this trick to get something they ought not to have.

The mildest form of corrupt propaganda is a process of persuasive part truths. At times it even rises to the high moral levels of selling snake oil.

But the malignant form of propaganda spreads deadly poisons. Its process is to create suspicion, hate, and fear. Its purpose is less to persuade than to conceal truth and to crush opposition.

The machinery of propaganda is made of standardized gadgets by which you can detect it.

One of these standard gadgets is slogans. They freeze the real process of thought.

If you will examine the two-score loud slogans created during this last third of a century, you will find most of them, like the apples of Sodom, have turned to bitter ashes in our national mouth. Most of them became ripe in a year or two, some lasted a little longer. Some very new ones are already turning moldy.

One of these gadgets is to create fear by describing the horrors of invasion of the United States by foreign armies. This one always arises to its maximum decibel when pressuring legislation and elections. While aircraft can come our way no armies on earth can land on our shores.

Another gadget is to give new meaning to old, simple, and well understood expressions until the integrity of our language is polluted.

The term “liberalism” has turned pink inside. The term “welfare” never before meant the “welfare state” with its red or pink colors.

The Chinese Communists were not “agrarian liberals.” From that perversion of truth alone, we suffered a gigantic defeat of free men in China.

You can test malignant propaganda from another of its gadgets. That is the smear. This gadget has wide potency.

When Mr. X presents an inconvenient fact or argument, the propagandists can simplify matters by pointing out that he was once a banker or was fined for speeding. With this gadget you can get your opponent either way in the international field by just suggesting he is an appeaser, or a warmonger, or an isolationist.

On the issue of government spending, he can be flattened out by calling him an inflationist or he is against the underdog. If he comments on either side of ideological matters, you can defeat him going or coming by calling him a Fascist, or a reactionary, or a fellow traveler, or just a red herring.

There is still another of these propaganda gadgets. That is to squelch debate by cries for “Unity!” “Unity!” The implication is that the citizen is disloyal to his country if he disagrees with the powers that be.

I suggest that these are not operations of rugged intellectual honesty. They are attempts to coerce men into the intellectual concentration camp named fear. These gadgets have been very handy tools for making America over into these fourteen new varieties and getting us into hot and cold wars.

Think about it.

It is difficult enough to debate against the gadgets of propaganda. But there is something worse. That is the concealment of truth and commitments. I am not here discussing our foreign policies. But may I ask you a question?

Does anybody believe that the propaganda promoted foreign policies over the past dozen years have always been right? Or that there has always been a disclosure of the whole truth?

For example, certain secret commitments were entered into at Tehran and Yalta which sold the freedom of half a billion people down the river. They were not disclosed to the Congress or to the American people. Does anyone believe that, had they been submitted to the American people for debate and to the Congress for decision, they would ever have been approved? That is where we lost the peace and wandered into the land of hot and cold wars.

Debate founded on the full disclosure of the whole truth and free of these gadgets is the stuff that can save free men.

Think about it.

I would like to explore this “old” virtue of truth, integrity, and honor in public life a little further.

Congress can well widen the laws so as to clutch the “new” kinds of bribes and benefits they have discovered. But Congress cannot reach intellectual dishonors.

Part truth, concealment of public commitments, propaganda and its gadgets, and failure to enforce the laws are but part of them. And there are group pressures “to get theirs” which smell from both the decay of integrity and the rotting of patriotism. And some persons arrive at the morals with a divining rod that measures morals in terms of votes.

The Congress, from its own inquiries, is confronted with the fact that sacred Honor cannot always be tested by legality or enforced by law. In its frustration, the Congress is groping for some sort of code of ethics, which with a prefix “new” might protect the citizen from his own officials.

Might I suggest that there are already some old and tested codes of ethics? There are the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the rules of the game which we learned at our Mother’s knee.

Can a nation live if these are not the guides of public life?

Think it over.

The American people have a right to bitter complaint over these disclosures of dishonor in high places. The duty of public men in this Republic is to lead in standards of integrity – both in mind and money.

Dishonor in public life has a double poison. When people are dishonorable in private business, they injure only those with whom they deal or their own chances in the next world. But when there is a lack of honor in Government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned.

The drip of such poisons may have nothing to do with dishonor in some college athletics or the occasional policemen on the beat. But the rules of the game have been loosened somewhere.

Some folks seem to think these are necessary evils in a free government. Or that it is smart politics. Those are deadly sleeping pills.

No public man can be just a little crooked. There is no such thing as a no-man’s land between honesty and dishonesty. Our strength is not in politics, prices, production, or price controls.

Our strength lies in spiritual concepts. It lies in public sensitiveness to evil.

Much as the Congress has my good wishes, something stronger than a new code of ethics is needed by America. The issue is decency in public life against indecency.

Our greatest danger is not from invasion by foreign armies. Our dangers are that we may commit suicide from within by complaisance with evil.

Or by public tolerance of scandalous behavior.

Or by cynical acceptance of dishonor.

These evils have defeated nations many times in human history.

The redemption of mankind by America will depend upon our ability to cope with these evils right here at home.

Think about it.

But I do not wish to leave you, the neighbors of my childhood, with any implication of pessimism. I speak to you of some of our weaknesses, not because of frustration or despair, but to urge remedy.

The fact that we are vigorously washing our dirty linen in the open is a sign that moral stamina still survives.

Without bitterness in our hearts, we are raising our eyes to the Creator of man who assured us that in American soil we can find the moral and spiritual forces which make free men and women.

In His guidance, we shall find the fortitude to correct our errors, to straighten our courses, to resurrect the spirit that made our America so free and bountiful a nation.

For reassurance in the future I need only to turn my thoughts to my grandparents who came to this State in the covered wagon.

Here they and my parents toiled that their children might have greater opportunities than had been theirs.

Here they worshipped God. Here they lived out their lives in the faith and hope of Americans. They lie buried on an Iowa hillside.

Therefore, here in this State where I was nurtured, I cannot but feel a strength that comes up from the deep roots in the very soil on which we stand. That strength is in character and truth and decent living. And it will triumph.

It will triumph because I know America is turning its face away from the maudlin left “isms” and the spread of untruth of the past two decades. We sense the frauds on men’s minds and morals.

Moral indignation is on the march again.

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

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Related links:

U.S. Elections: the Rot Within | The Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 1951 Letters

A Challenge That Must Be Faced | Spokane Daily Chronicle (1952)

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