President Obama will return to Cooper Union in New York, where he gave a speech on financial reform as a candidate two years ago. We’re told that his advisors want him to “go big” in his speech, as he did when he addressed a joint session of Congress on health reform. But if he follows the same course he followed in health reform — “going big” on rhetoric and then “acting small” on policy — he’s not just courting political blowback: He’s running the risk of going down in history as this century’s Herbert Hoover.
Sound harsh? People often forget that Hoover was a fine man — intelligent, altruistic, and deeply bipartisan in his temperament. The structural problems that led to the Great Depression didn’t occur on his watch. But by failing to act boldly and decisively he endangered the economic foundation of the country. He was an eminently reasonable person, but there is enormous danger in having the right temperament at the wrong time. We’re living in unreasonable times.