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Hillary Clinton and the Herbert Hoover card

March 26, 2008 |  3:24 pm

In the very first words she uttered reacting to John McCain's speech on the housing market crisis Tuesday, Hillary Clinton evinced part of her appeal to older voters: her frame of reference is theirs.

"It sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover," Clinton said of McCain's assertion that he is not inclined -- and probably never will be -- to embrace aggressive, sweeping government efforts to confront the problem of rising home foreclosures.

Specifically, McCain opined that "it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers."

By mentioning Hoover, whose tepid response to the Great Depression helped keep the White House in Democratic hands for 20 straight years after he was bounced from office in the 1932 election, Clinton invoked what once was a can't-miss applause line among Democrats. Into the 1960s, speeches at major party gatherings were sure to include denunciations of "Hooverism."

But while Clinton's remark took us back, it also underscored the generational split that is a key dynamic in her fight with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Among younger voters -- who in most states have proved a loyal Obama bloc -- references to the Hoover administration aren't likely to have much (if any) resonance.

As Obama returned to the campaign trail today ....

after his short break in the U.S. Virgin Islands, his response to McCain's speech focused on what has become the default position for Democrats criticizing the presumed Republican nominee on the No. 1 domestic issue.

"John McCain has admitted that he doesn't understand the economy as well as he should," Obama said at a town-hall meeting in Greensboro, N.C. "And yesterday, he proved it in a speech he gave on the housing crisis."

And when Obama called forth his version of a GOP bogeyman, it wasn't Hoover but the current occupant of the White House.

"We’ve been down this road before," he said of McCain's hands-off policy. "It’s the road that George Bush has taken for the last eight years."   

-- Don Frederick

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