When one thinks of liberals and conservatives it tends to be a comparison of entirely different views concerning every issue. Conservative thinking is regularly associated with the Republican Party while liberal thinking is regularly associated with the Democratic Party. Two such figures that come to mind whose views tend to put them on opposite sides of the political spectrum are presidents Herbert C. Hoover and Harry S. Truman. For example, Hoover’s failure to intervene in the private sector of the economy during the infant stages of the Great Depression agrees with the conservative idea of a free market economy.
In contrast, Truman continued Roosevelt’s liberally supported reform measures.
One important factor that influences a political figure’s decision making is his/her morals and beliefs. Conservatives usually have great influence from traditional institutions such as church. As a child, Hoover was raised in a rural Quaker community with a strict belief in the church and the traditional family. This led to his conservative beliefs and actions.
During his presidency, Hoover promised to uphold the prohibition amendment, since drinking was seen as an evil in the Quakers (Encarta). Furthermore, he promised to enforce national laws. This went about with the conservative that that authority is needed to make man resistant to evil. Hoover became a millionaire by the time he was forty with great effort. His conservatism and respect for authority earned him that position. On the other hand, liberalism preached that belief that man has a natural ability to reason out right and wrong. Truman did not introduce any major crime legislation, nor did he believe that much authority was needed for man to reason out right and wrong (Bernstein 93).
Concerning the views on the nature of man, Truman and Hoover developed their views in their early years. Truman being a farmer at heart never let go the hardships of farm life. He was a self-taught man, he would read many novels, and American history books in his spare time instead of the usual childhood activities. He believed that man is basically good, and not being a wealthy man himself, he believed that wealth makes man corrupt. Hoover had a typical country childhood, and his Quaker beliefs taught him that man is basically evil (Smith 146). He believed greatly in the church to teach him what to strive for in life and what is right and wrong. These childhoods influenced Hoover and Truman in their conservative and liberal beliefs.
Liberals encourage social change such as civil rights. Truman was a great advocate of civil rights. Truman, as a senator, signed an unsuccessful petition to end a filibuster on an anti-poll tax measure, and agreed to investigations of racial discrimination on war contracts and in the armed services (Encarta). Civil rights leaders saw Truman’s Fair Deal legislation useful to African-Americans, it included a full employment act, increased unemployment compensation, and a higher minimum wage. In 1948, Truman asked Congress to enact laws prohibiting Jim Crow laws, and he instructed the Secretary of Defense to end discrimination in the armed services. These and many other measures Truman took to enforce his belief in a rapid social change. Walter White said in 1952 “No occupant of the White House since the nation was born has taken so frontal or constant a stand against racial discrimination as has Harry S. Truman.” His legacy paved way for the civil rights movements in later years. Hoover, being a conservative, believed in slow very moderate social change built around past traditional values and beliefs. Hoover did not ask congress to pass any new laws, nor did he take any measures concerning social change in the form of welfare and civil rights (Smith). His beliefs stood in the way of making any social change for the betterment of society.
Liberalism in the 20th century has been very active against inequality. The Truman administration started the battle continuing to later generations. Truman, being a southern man, saw the racial discrimination in the South and saw a need for social change. Truman felt that African-Americans wanted to end inequality, but not segregation. As stated above, Truman took many measures to ensure equality for the African-Americans. He also took measures to create the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). This would create equal opportunity in the workplace for everyone. Truman went by the liberal thought that equal opportunity should be guaranteed by law; therefore, he strived to create the most equal society possible at that time (Bernstein 78). Hoover, on the other hand, never took any measures to ensure equality. He was a self-made millionaire and believed that rights are earned, not given. Even during the Great Depression he believed that only loans should be given out, he didn’t believe in “pork barrel” bills, which would give out money to people in need without people paying money back (Encarta).
In regards to the views on the concept of democracy, Truman and Hoover were opposites themselves. Hoover was a well-educated engineer and a self-made millionaire. He agreed with the conservative belief that strong leaders and a strong central government are necessary. He believed only a few select individuals should rule the country. Hoover believed that government should be involved to keep order in the state. He used force to strike down the mob of illegal liquor that was circling the country. Hoover believed that force is necessary to keep domestic order. In 1932 he stimulated resentment by ordering out of Washington the “bonus army” which had come to demand immediate payment of the bonus (Encarta). He called out federal troops under Gen. Douglas MacArthur to burn their camp and restore order. Truman, however, was the only president in history not to have a college education. Although he was a very smart and gifted individual, he was perceived to be a common “Joe.” He believed that every person is capable of participating in government. Truman also believed that the government should have a great role in correcting society’s problems. His Fair Deal legislation, and civil rights measures mentioned above are examples of how he tried to perfect society’s ills through government.
The economic philosophy of liberals and conservatives are total opposites. Hoover believed that the government should not control the economy. He preached a doctrine of voluntary cooperation by businesses to the needs of the economy suggested by the government. Hoover was an advocate of his “trickle-down” system. It would give loans to the heads of business, which would help the workers by creating jobs. The loans would be paid back after expansion, and the economy would be restored. In 1932, Hoover urged Congress to create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to lend money to banks, loan associations, insurance companies, and railroads (Smith). Hoover did not believe in regulation; as a result, the Great Depression went into a poorer state. Truman believed in the regulation of the economy to keep the economy stable in the post-war economy. His expansion of the New Deal legislation, with his Fair Deal, helped to stabilize the economy. He created intelligence agencies which created jobs, but grew made the government a big bureaucracy. In 1947 Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over Truman’s veto, it made some union practices, like the closed shop and secondary boycotts, illegal (Bernstein 117). It also authorized the president to obtain a court order blocking for up to eighty days any strike that imperiled the “national health or safety.” This bill gave more power to the businesses and took away power from the unions, which Truman did not believe in.
The philosophy of how to acquire and spend money has changed in many ways throughout the years in liberal and conservative minds. Liberals use tax money to finance social programs, and make sure the economy is going smoothly. Conservatives, however, believe that the economy will flourish if it is the government does not tax too heavily, and the revenues that would have gone to the government go back into the economy. This goes back to Hoover’s “trickle-down” system. Truman did finance great welfare programs, military expansion, and intelligence expansion. Conservatives believe mostly spending tax money on the expansion of the armed forces and law enforcement.
Keeping all these views in mind, it is concluded that liberals and conservatives tend to always disagree with each other. This, I believe, is vital to ensure that one party does not get an overwhelming amount of power. As long as there are opposite views on every subject, it is ensured that one faction cannot get too much power. Hoover and Truman had different opinions which each thought would better society. Each president was elected at a different time, proving that different views are needed for each individual situation.
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