Canwest News Service
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
At a Halifax rally yesterday, Liberal MP Bob Rae referred to Stephen Harper as “Herbert Hoover in a blue sweater,” adding, “I think we can do better than that.”
Why that’s an insult: Within months of Mr. Hoover assuming the U.S. presidency in 1929, the stock market crashed and sparked the Great Depression. He was defeated in the 1932 election and became the scapegoat of that period of American history.
“What he was saying was that Herbert Hoover was kind of the master of disaster,” says Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University. “He was the face of the great failure of the Republican party to keep the great prosperity of the 1920s, and was blamed as the man who failed to lead the United States effectively during the Great Depression.”
On a personal level, Mr. Hoover was known as a “dour, uncharismatic engineer who once had a kind of boy-wonder reputation,” Mr. Troy says.
The recent context: Amid disastrous news from the U.S. stock market on Monday, Mr. Harper — who wears a blue sweater-vest in a series of Tory ads — maintained the Canadian economy is on solid footing.
The problem: No one under a certain age is likely to understand Mr. Rae’s would-be zinger, Mr. Troy says.
“In the 1940s, if a Canadian politician were saying that, we’d all give a knowing laugh,” he says.
The jab is “not something I’d want to be called,” Mr. Troy says, but it’s an ineffective comment that may say more about Mr. Rae than anyone else.
“I think what Bob Rae did with that comment is show that he’s a well-read man, he knows his history, but he might not quite know where the voters are at.