J. Edgar Hoover

In honor of the new movie
Public Enemies starring JohnnyDepp and based on the terrific book by Bryan Burrough, here is my favorite picture of that tough, gruff, civil-liberties-stomping autocratic crime-fighter J. Edgar Hoover.

The dark side: Hoover would grow up to be Director for Life of the FBI, holding the job for 48 years under nine presidents (Calvin Coolidge to Richard Nixon) from 1924 till his death in 1972. Hoover would use his secret FBI files to blackmail presidents, senators, and movie stars, and felt no scruples conducting sabotage, black bag jobs, or secret wiretaps against any person or group he considered “subversive.” By the 1960s, this included mostly civil rights leaders and anti-Viet Nam War dissenters.

Earlier, he aided Senator Joe McCarthy on his anti-Communist witch hunts. He remains one of the most-hated figures in American history.

On the good side, he used his organizational brilliance in the 1930s to build the then-disfunctional Bureau into a modern professional force with scientific methods, a national academy and lab, a Most Wanted List, finger print files, and a strict agent code of conduct. At his peak, he made the G-Man brand so popular that it was tougher to be accepted as a rookie FBI agent than it was to get into an Ivy League college.

How did he get this way? Here, we see young J. Edgar as a shockingly-normal boy playing with his bike. Hoover grew up in the Capitol Hill section of Washington, D.C., son of a lifelong government clerk, youngest of four siblings, spoiled, his mother’s favorite. He was smart, eager, sang in a church choir, carried groceries for old ladies, and was the star of his high school track, debate, and cadet teams. His classmates elected him their valedictorian. He worked his way through Law School and graduated in 1917 as America entered World War I.

What changed him from this normal, smart, eager child of the Jazz Age into the corrupt autocrat of later years was the question behind my own book Young J. Edgar, which tells the story of Hoover’s first big assignment in the 1919 Justice Depatment, running the notorious anti-Communist crackdown known as the Palmer Raids.

In between, though, he brought in John Dillinger, the bank robber– played by Johnny Depp in the new movie. Enjoy.

Gasp! Calvin Coolidge trying to give a speech.

Who was the worst ever President on on the stump?

With the now-not-so-new modern miracle of You-Tube rare old videos pop up all the time. As a result, we get to see just how bad some of the pre-TV Presidents were at trying to talk.

Take a listen to Calvin Coolidge chatting away on the White House lawn in 1924.

“Silent Cal” was not a terrible President. In the C-SPAN president’s poll this year, I ranked him solidly mediocre, as number 20 out of 43.
He presided over the Roaring Twenties and Coolidge Prosperity. He left town just before the bubble burst in the 1929 Stock Crash.

Coolidge was an “Accidental President.” Republicans nominated him to run for Vice President in 1920 after Coolidge, as Massachusetts Governor, took a strong stand in the 1919 Boston Police Strike. When President Warren G. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 at the height of the Teapot Dome Scandal, Coolidge took the top job.

Watching Coolidge talking from notes in his raspy voice makes you cringe. Could he ever be elected to anything today? We judge public figures today so much by the TV standard, how smooth they appear, how stylish they look, how well they speak. Is it all fluff?

Enjoy the time capsule. Here”s the link.
href=”Calvin’>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5puwTrLRhmw”>Calvin Coolidge 1924.

A different view of FDR

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To cap off President’s Week, I thought you might enjoy this rare photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, taken from the July 1920 Literary Digest.
Just 38 years old, two years before contracting polio, FDR is still the dashing young socialite, gracing Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet. We see him standing in front of one of his favorite cars, a Stutz roadster, holding a hunting rifle trying to mimick is famous Bull Moose Uncle Theodore.
Roosevelt that summer had used his celebrity name to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Vice President on the ticket headed by Ohio Governor James Cox. They would lose in a landslide to Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coollidge.
There is an appealing innocence to this photo. Polio, the Depression, the strains in his marriage, the trials of returning to politics, restoring national confidence in tough times, facing Nazism and Facism in World War II — these things all were in the unknown future.

For now, we just see an easy-going young man on a sunny afternoon. Life was good.