Category Archive '1912 Election'

05 Dec 2011

Obama Finds a New Reelection Model

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President Roosevelt with lion

President Obama’s hopes for reelection next November look pretty dim, as the latest poll shows hypothetical Republican nominee Newt Gingrich winning 45% to 43% over the incumbent months before the campaign has actually started.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Barack Obama had been planning to emulate Harry S. Truman and run a populist campaign, coming from behind by running against a “do nothing Congress.” But the Truman strategy has not been working. Democrat advisors are urging the president to adopt a different predecessor as his model.


The White House: “On Tuesday, … President Obama will travel to Osawatomie, Kansas where he will deliver remarks on the economy. The President will talk about how he sees this as a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those working to join it. He’ll lay out the choice we face between a country in which too few do well while too many struggle to get by, and one where we’re all in it together – where everyone engages in fair play, everyone does their fair share, and everyone gets a fair shot. Just over one hundred years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt came to Osawatomie, Kansas and called for a New Nationalism, where everyone gets a fair chance, a square deal, and an equal opportunity to succeed.”

BACKSTORY FROM ALEX BURNS: “Last Sunday on ‘Meet the Press,’ historian Doris Kearns Goodwin urged President Obama to emulate Teddy Roosevelt in organizing his campaign around the theme of ‘a square deal, fundamental fairness” in America.

Apart from the spectacular incongruity of the wimp Obama trying to channel the Rough Riding, rifle-toting, lion-shooting presidential champion of the vigorous life, all this fantasy overlooks the fact that when Teddy finally slipped a cog and went all Progressive and Bolshie on us, he was rejected by his own party and wound up playing only the destructive role of Third Party candidate and spoiler, delivering the election of 1912 to his own enemy, Woodrow Wilson.

“The New Nationalism” went down to defeat a century ago, just as its recrudescence is going to be defeated come next November.

The real mystery is why reactionaries clinging to 19th century visions of collectivist statism and welfare state utopias built upon the rule of scientific experts are allowed in the 21st Century to refer to themselves as “Progressives.” They are about as progressive as the contraptions described in the novels of Jules Verne. Their political philosophy is as advanced as gas domestic lighting, horse-drawn cabs, and parlor pump organs.

And everything they advocate has been tried already, in Soviet Russia and in Hitler’s Germany, in Fascist Italy and Peronist Argentina, in post-war Britain (where food rationing continued until 1954), and by a succession of socialist governments in Britain and on the Continent. Socialism, centralized planning, the corporate state, cradle-to-the-grave welfare safety nets have all been tried and they have always failed.

The real question ought to be: when will “progressives” catch up intellectually to the liberal political ideas of the US framers?

05 Oct 2008

The Warrior and the Priest

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The election of 2008 reminds Fred Barnes of the election of 1912.

John McCain, restless and emotional, couldn’t resist the temptation to join the battle to rescue our financial markets and save the economy. It was the biggest and most important fight around, bigger and more important than his campaign scrap with Barack Obama. Being engaged in the action–in the arena–is where McCain always wants to be. So he cast his presidential campaign aside, temporarily, and headed back to Washington. The campaign could wait. It might even benefit.

Obama, placid and professorial, had a different reaction to the fight over the bailout. Even before McCain’s maneuver he’d rejected the idea of putting his campaign on hold and joining the legislative battle. He’d be available if needed. An abrupt change in plans, a sudden shift, is not his style. His campaign would go on. He returned to Washington reluctantly. If he hadn’t, his campaign might have suffered.

The contrast here is not only dramatic. It’s unusually revealing about the two candidates and how they might act as president.

There’s an analogy that captures the difference: the warrior and the priest. McCain the warrior, Obama the priest. (If “priest” seems confusing, substitute “professor.”)

McCain has been a player in every major fight, in war and in Washington, for more than four decades. As far back as 1962, he waited in Florida as a Navy pilot for the order to attack during the Cuban missile crisis. (The order never came.) As a senator, he’s never stayed on the sidelines. As a candidate, he likes the rough-and-tumble and unpredictable turns of town hall meetings.

Obama prefers set speeches delivered with the aid of a teleprompter, a reflection of his more aloof and less engaged approach to politics and policy. In Democratic primary debates, he tended to be passive. Where McCain is an activist, Obama is more a visionary. As a senator, he’s involved himself only on the fringes of big issues.

Long before the McCain-Obama race, the warrior and the priest comparison was applied to Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in a book by John Milton Cooper Jr., a history professor at the University of Wisconsin. The Warrior and the Priest was published in 1983 and was not widely acclaimed, but it’s become a cult classic.

Cooper described Roosevelt, the warrior, as “exuberant and expansive,” a man who “epitomized the enjoyment of power.” He gained fame “through well-cultivated press coverage of his exploits as a reformer, rancher, hunter, police commissioner, war hero, and engaging personality.” And TR was “associated conspicuously and consistently with one issue above all others–war.” Sounds like McCain.

Wilson, the priest, was “disciplined and controlled,” Cooper wrote. “He seemingly embodied a less joyful exercise of power.” Until he ran for office, Wilson was “a spectator and a bystander.” Roosevelt was a “tireless evangelist for international activism,” but Wilson had “a more pacific vision.” His entry into politics at the highest level was created by his reputation as “a widely regarded public speaker.” Obama isn’t Wilson personified, but he comes close. …

In 1912, Roosevelt and Wilson met in the presidential race. The priest won the election. But there was a complication that hampered TR. There was another candidate, Republican president William Howard Taft, who finished third. Absent Taft’s presence, the warrior would have won. McCain ought to keep this in mind.

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