Saturday, July 5, 2014

Who's the Smartest Guy in the Room?

     I'm going to take this post, just this one post, to brag about just how smart I am. (I know what you're thinking -- this is a humor piece!).

     Why now? Because I have just finished reading The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. All 750 pages. (I confess, I did not read the 100+ pages of footnotes.)

     So, here for your reading pleasure, are ten little known facts about, as the subtitle says: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism:

     1. I'll start with an easy one. Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican -- but the kind now disparaged among Republicans as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. Roosevelt believed in capitalism, free markets and the American Dream; but he also toured sweat shops, supported labor unions, believed that the government should intervene when businesses got so big that they could affect the welfare of the public. He famously called for "a square deal for every man, great or small, rich or poor." He would abide neither the excesses of "the selfish rich" nor the resentful outrage of the "lunatic fringe."

     2. William Howard Taft, also a Republican, was a judge in Ohio and made several decisions regarded as opposing unions. Yet he supported labor unions, at least in theory, and some of his rulings were later used to justify union activities.

     3. William Howard Taft was not always the big fat cat depicted in popular photographs. As a student at Yale he was athletic and considered quite the "swell." It was only later that he gained the weight -- he tipped the scales at 350 when he joined Roosevelt's cabinet in 1903 -- that made his profile so recognizable.

     4. The Teddy bear was named after Teddy Roosevelt, after he refused to shoot a small bear in Montana. Cartoonists couldn't leave the incident alone, and kept making the bear smaller and ever smaller in their drawings, until the bear was ... a Teddy bear.

     5. Roosevelt's pre-presidential experience makes Barack Obama look like a grizzled veteran. T.R. was a New York State Senator, an assistant secretary of the Navy, and governor of New York for just two years before the Republicans maneuvered to get rid of him by nominating him in 1900 for the emasculating position of vice president. They never dreamed that William McKinley would be assassinated in Buffalo only a few months after winning re-election -- making Theodore Roosevelt, at age 42, the youngest president in U. S. history. (Kennedy was 43; Clinton 46; and Obama a hoary 47.)

     See how smart I am? I was an English major in college. I recently saw a chart showing average I.Q. by college major. English majors came in way above sociology majors, education majors, business majors. They ranked just above biology majors . . . but way below physics, math, economics and engineering majors.

     6. Anyway, T.R. was known as a trust-buster, maneuvering to break up some of the biggest conglomerates of the time. His administration filed an anti-trust suit against Standard Oil which led to a break-up of the company. But what struck me more was his effort to regulate the railroads, the main link of communication for Americans at the time, which used all kinds of schemes and "cunning devices" to set rates that favored corporate allies and crushed competitors. That led me to ponder: Would Roosevelt be in favor of net neutrality today?

Taft at age 20
Taft at 350 lbs.
     7. Roosevelt and Taft were fellow Republicans and long-time friends. Taft wanted, more than anything, to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Roosevelt offered to appoint him on four separate occasions, but Taft kept turning down the opportunity, feeling that by taking the position he would be abandoning his responsibilities first as governor general of the Philippines and later as a member of Roosevelt's cabinet.

     8. Isn't it weird? In the first decade of the 20th century it was conservative Republicans who argued in favor of tariffs and protectionism, and liberals who claimed they simply served to increase corporate profits. Now in the beginning of the 21st century, it's progressives who decry free trade, saying it depresses American wages, while conservatives support globalization saying it brings better, cheaper goods to ordinary Americans.

     9. In 1910 President Taft threw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals baseball game, establishing a tradition that has continued into the 21st century.

     10. After ascending to the presidency upon McKinley's assassination, and winning in his own right in 1904, Roosevelt pledged that he would not run for re-election in 1908. He instead pushed to get Taft elected. But Roosevelt came to regret his pledge. And after a falling out, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination. Roosevelt lost. So he ran as a third party candidate under the Bull Moose label. Despite surviving an assassination attempt in Milwaukee -- the bullet was deflected by his glasses case and the notes for his speech -- he went the way of all third-party candidates (remember Anderson, Perot, Nader?) and lost again, splitting the Republican and independent vote between himself and Taft, and paving the way for Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency.

     So do you now know the answer to my question . . . who's the smartest guy in the room? Not me. Maybe it's Teddy Roosevelt? Or maybe it's Doris Kearns Goodwin who has brought history to life in her long but very readable book.

     Or . . . maybe it's William Taft. In 1921 he finally got his wish to be on the Supreme Court, appointed Chief Justice by Wilson's successor President Warren Harding.


DJan said...

Very interesting history lesson. Now I don't have to plow my way through that book, right? :-)

Olga Hebert said...

Very interesting. I, personally, feel smarter just for having read your post.

Stephen Hayes said...

I've always thought that TR was the man most suited to be president. It was a shame he made a pledge to not run again after he was elected because he certainly could have since no amendment was yet in place forbidding it and finishing McKinley's term wouldn't have counted as a term anyway.

Anonymous said...

Here's me thinking that Teddy shot the MaMa bear, Then ordered the baby sent to a zoo. I still dislike some of Teddy's cowboy behavior. The two things I admire him for are his efforts on behalf of the National Parks, and the Panama Canal.

I don't know what sources you read, but according to my sources, the moderate Republicans have done pretty well fencing off the more conservative Tea Party candidates this spring and summer. Looks like the pols will run toward the middle in the next election when Hillary goes up against Jeb Bush?

My daughter holds two Master's degrees, one of them in English, the other in Special Ed. Does this make her twice as smart? My degrees are in Sociology-sociology/anthropology- Demography and History. Four degrees in all. History was the most complex area of study. Congratulations on getting through DKG's tome.

Meryl Baer said...

Hmmm….Did you purposely neglect to mention the fact that Woodrow Wilson is the only President from New Jersey!?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history lesson! I think I'll pick up the book (would that be considered exercise due to its size?) and read it. I think politics was pretty nasty then too, but I can't imagine it was as bad as it is today.

Douglas said...

You could have saved yourself a lot of reading if you had caught the series "the Men Who Built America" on the History Channel. Fascinating... and in context... people and times.

Friko said...

Shhh, don’t mention that book to my recent guest. He’d definitely be the smartest guy in the room himself if he read it.

Anyway, what’s smart? Well-informed, maybe.

Dick Klade said...

Ouch. Omitted from TR's many achievements was his leadership in developing the natural resource conservation movement in the U.S. That included establishment of many National Forests in addition to support of the National Park Service.

Journalists are the smartest of degree holders because they are trained to know a little bit about everything. They also are accomplished editors, so they know how to delete "and not much about anything."