Sunday, July 17, 2016

The election of 1912 was very similar to today a century later

I finally finished reading "The Bully Pulpit" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It has been an amazing read since conditions a century ago were very similar to now. Only the political parties seemed more honest.  

It was mainly focused around the election of 1912, in which all 4 candidates agreed that corporate abuses were the #1 issue. All 4 candidates were in the Progressive spectrum.

Republican William Howard Taft was formerly Roosevelt's sidekick in the Progressive Republican agenda to regulate corporations, break up the Trusts, promote labor rights, and conserve land from the greedy hands of mining corporations and preserve them for the People. They favored a post office bank, child labor laws, 8-hr workdays, Workman's Comp insurance, European style social insurance, direct election of Senators, prohibition of corporate campaign donations, and a progressive income tax. Taft wanted to break up all the trusts. During his first term beginning 1908, he made a lot of compromises. By 1912, he was considered the "Conservative" of all the Progressives running.

Not being chosen by the Republican convention, former President Teddy Roosevelt felt Taft had abandoned the Progressive agenda by compromising with the corporations on some things, so he started a new party called the Progressive Party. But since everyone associated it with Roosevelt, people liked to call it the Bull Moose Party. They were also advocating women's suffrage, and the rights of referendum on 5-4 split SCOTUS decisions. His platform was that all power belongs to the People and money is to serve the People, not be master.  People are more important than property. 

On the way to Roosevelt's first speech as the Progressive candidate for President, an assassin shot Roosevelt at point blank range. The bullet was slowed by the 50-page speech he had written and folded in half to fit into his breast pocket. The bullet lodged in his rib, and he went on to give the entire speech anyway before spending the remainder of his campaign convalescing. He still beat Taft 27% to 24%. He never regained his robust health and died 6 years later of a cardiac embolus.

Calvinist intellectual Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey, was the Progressive Democrat. He was chosen at the Democratic Convention on the 48th vote. Can you imagine if there were 48 votes at the upcoming Democratic Convention in Philadelphia? If so, I'm sure Bernie would be the winner! Wilson had almost the same agenda as Roosevelt and Taft. Only, Wilson was a southerner, and so firmly believed in segregation. He institutionalized segregation in many government services. He also initiated the Federal Reserve in order to control the money supply. But as a candidate, he was an anti-corporate Progressive. He won with less than 42% of the vote.

And Eugene Debbs ran as the Socialist candidate for the 4th time. No, the campaign was not conducted from prison this time; that would be 1920, when he was convicted for Sedition for speaking against the war. He was not just anti-corporate; he believed that the whole Capitalist system was wrong and was impossible to regulate. He promoted common ownership of the means of production, co-op prisons, a national bureau of health, abolition of both the Senate and the presidential veto. 
All of these Progressives envisioned an expanded role for the government beyond just national defense.  They all felt to one degree or another that the role of the government was the welfare of the People.   Unlike today, when only the Green Party expresses values like the Progressives of 1912.  Both our current Democrat and Republican Parties kowtow to Wall Street and corporate interests, just like the corrupt legislatures that the 1912 Progressive candidates were striving to fight. 

The things I liked most about this book are these:
1. Every time they described the boundless energy of Teddy Roosevelt, I thought of Aric Cordell.
2. It really put into perspective the current 2016 election when we are facing mostly the exact same issues.
3. The incredible Muckraking journalists, Ida Tarbell, Jay Baker, Lincoln Phillips, Sam McClure, etc., thought that when they exposed the corruption to the American People, that justice would prevail. They all became disillusioned understanding that the general public doesn't care a whit.
4. It contrasted the campaign styles of Roosevelt and Taft. Taft was straightforward, trustworthy, logical and linear, and wanted to be loved. Roosevelt wanted to win. He rode the public sentiment like a surfer, and learned how to manipulate the legislature in order to get what he wanted. It teaches me how much of getting political justice has to do with manipulation.

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