October 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 5
Overrated “A chicken in every pot; a car in every garage .” This well-known slogan, widely attributed to Herbert Hoover, originates with Henry IV of France, who wished for (but wisely did not promise) a chicken in every pot. Why is it overrated? First, there’s the fact that Hoover never said it. Hoover, a politician not known for his sparkling personality, left slogan writing to his supporters. The slogan appeared in an ad paid for by “Republican Business Men, Inc.” that ran in the New York World under the headline A CHICKEN FOR EVERY POT. The Business Men were careful to adapt the crib for modern times by adding “and a car in every backyard, to boot.”
Then there is the fact that the phrase didn’t so much help Hoover as hurt him. In the 1932 election, the Democrats mocked Hoover’s “promise” for chickens and cars in the midst of lengthening bread lines, rising unemployment, and massive inflation, leading Hoover to vehemently deny ever having said it.
That year, Hoover supporters passed out coins stamped “Good for four more years of prosperity” and the Democrats scoffed at that as well. The coins might as well have been stamped “Good for a new President,” as the voters made Hoover history.
Underrated “Are you better off now than you were four years ago? [Ronald Reagan, 1980 presidential debate].” Incumbency is overrated. Lately it’s been the economy, stupid, that inspires us to turn the rascals out. In the 1976 Illinois gubernatorial race, “Big” Jim Thompson, the incumbent, won in a landslide by asking voters, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?,” a phrase coined by his assistant, Paul Simmons. Ronald Reagan dropped this same hot potato into Jimmy Carter’s lap four years later, and suddenly incumbency never looked so bad. That is, until William Jefferson Clinton rode a variation of the quip up the slippery slope to re-election in 1996. It cuts both ways, a slogan for all seasons if there ever was one.