POLITICS: What today’s Republicans need – A good strong dose of Theodore Roosevelt

TR prepares to face a yet-unpicked Democratic opponent in 1904, drawn by Joseph Keppler for Puck.

Are you like me?  Do you feel distinctly annoyed and disheartened watching the final stages of this year’s pathetic contest for the Republican presidential nomination?   Then remember this:  2012 is not the first time the Party was this stupid!!  Exactly 100 years ago, in 1912, this same Republican Party rejected Theodore Roosevelt as its nominee, despite Roosevelt’s having won most of that year’s Republican primaries and having the support of most of the party’s own members across the country.  

Instead, meeting in Chicago, a small circle of “stand pat” Bosses and insiders insisted on giving the nod to incumbent President William Howard Taft, forcing Roosevelt to bolt and run as a third party candidate.  Roosevelt ran for President in 1912 as a Progressives or Bull Moose-er.  He easily beat Taft in the 1912 popular vote, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson took advantage of the split and won the White House that year.  Click here for full results.     

If Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, would Republicans in 2012 reject him again?   I have no doubt.  TR believed in the party of Lincoln, a party of ideas and progress and equality.

Just for nostalgia, here are a few favorite cartoons, just to remember how good a Republican president used to be able to be.   Enjoy.

Roosevelt seen conquering New York State Republicans at their 1910 convention in Saratoga, winning the convention chairmanship over the party’s own sitting Vice President, James S. Sherman.  Drawn by W.A. Carson of the Utica Post. 

Another Puck cartoon show TR as president in his bid to drive corruption from the US post office.

Lions, tigers, zebras and all the other African animals run for the lives on hearing the TR  plans to visit for a hunting trip after leaving office in 1909.

Presidents Day warm-up 3: TR and the Panama Canal, 1906.

“The President in Panama,” by Clifford Berryman for the Washington Star, 1906.

Just five more days till Presidents Day !!

A good president should enjoy the job, and make sure people see him enjoying it.  Here is Washington Star cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s 1906 vision of Theodore Roosevelt relishing the sight of his presidential handiwork, the digging of the Panama Canal.  His one word reaction:  “Dee-Lighted!”  (Click on it to see it full size.)

I’m dee-lighted too.  What a great cartoon!

Faces: Theodore Roosevelt takes the national stage

Here is one of my favorite cartoons of Theodore Roosevelt, a full-page image from Judge magazine drawn by the prolific political satirist Victor Gillam in June 1900.    By then, Roosevelt, just 41 years old, had already overcome youthful bad health, the death of his first wife, and exile as a cowboy on the Dakota Territory.  He had then gone on to build political fame as State Assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, member of the federal Civil Service Commission, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, military hero of the Spanish-American War,  and, most recently, as Governor of New York State.

As Republicans gathered in Philadelphia that month for their national convention, rank-and-filers enthusiastically talked up the popular young hero-reformer for high office.   The anything-but-reform party bosses detested Roosevelt as an unpredictable hothead maverick, but he was just too well liked to ignore.  And so the cartoon asks: “Republicans!  What are you going to do?”

Click on the image to enlarge it and enjoy the rich detail.  Gillam shows Roosevelt larger than life in full military regalia, calmly looking down on the spectacle, the roomful of frightened politicos, taking the podium as he had taken San Juan Hill during the war.  In fact, by the time the convention finished that week, those Republican bosses — led by New Yorker Thomas C. Platt who particularly hated TR — had concocted what seemed a brilliant idea to get Roosevelt out of the way: Make him Vice President, traditionally the most meaningless, invisible, dead-end job in the country.

Ans so it happened that Roosevelt found himself nominated as running mate to President William McKinley and, together that November, he and McKinley easily defeated Democrats William Jennings Bryan and Adlai E. Stevenson.  Click here for the detailed poll results.

Then fate took its turn.  Within ten months of the election, a mentally-unstable anarchist named Leon Czolgosz would shoot McKinley as he was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  When McKinley died six days later, the Republican Bosses found themselves facing by their worst nightmare: “Now that damn cowboy is President,” moaned Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, who had earlier called Roosevelt a “that madman.”

Click here for a few more Victor Gillam cartoons.

“Uncle Joe” Cannon, Speaker of the House

These days, watching Nancy Pelosi and her bloodied, defeated Democrats in the US Congress prepare to surrender power to presumptive Speaker John Boehner and his new Republican majority, I can’t help but think of Joseph G. Cannon.

Joe Cannon (R-Illinois) — everyone called him “Uncle Joe” — presided as Speaker from 1903 to 1911, the height of Theodore Roosevelt’s era. When he left Congress in March 1923, he had served almost fifty years and been elected twenty-two times, a record back then. Time Magazine that month put his face on the cover of its first-ever edition. Tall, lanky, and outgoing, always a cigar in his teeth, quick with an off-color joke, a back-slapping poker player, Cannon received 58 votes for president of the United States at the 1908 Republican Convention and had his picture on two different brands of chewing tobacco. Above is a newspaper sketch of him from his glory days.

In most history books, Cannon is cast usually as villain, the arch-conservative on Capitol Hill who routinely blocked TR’s progressive ideas, “the vulgar old man who rules the National house” by one Chicago newspaper.

But Joe Cannon, the most autocratic leader ever to assume a chokehold over the National Legislature, also has the distinction of being the only House Speaker ever to be overthrown by his own members in open revolt, to his face, in public session. It was a rare public rebuke, and a signature victory for the then-rising Progressive Movement. Their anti-Cannon revolt, launched in March 1910 and led by young Nebraska congressman and future senator George W. Norris, played out in full public view, an unprecedented spectacle on the floor of Congress, a three-day parliamentary seige during which Cannon had to filibuster from the Speaker’s chair just to be heard. In the end, Norris and his Progressives succeeded in bringing down not just Cannon but also Republican President Willam Howard Taft and a generation of Washington oligarchs. (The snapshot below shows Cannon and Taft, in top hat, shortly before their respective defeats.)

The lesson for Nancy Pelosi and company, however, is not in Cannon’s defeat, but in his comeback. Joe Cannon was 74 years old at the time he was outsted from the Speaker’s chair in 1910. But rather then stewing in bitterness or self-doubt, he jumped right back into action. Cannon’s Illinois neighbors voted him back into Congress in 1914 where Cannon quickly rebuilt his friendships and reputation. He reinvented himself as elder statesman. And when time came for Congress to put names on its three House Office Buildings in Washington, D.C., they picked Cannon’s immediately.

So don’t fret, Democrats. Yes, there are second acts in American life, thanks in part to Uncle Joe. The pendulum will swing back. There will be another day.

Click here for a few more cartoons and images of Uncle Joe. 

A different view of FDR

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To cap off President’s Week, I thought you might enjoy this rare photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, taken from the July 1920 Literary Digest.
Just 38 years old, two years before contracting polio, FDR is still the dashing young socialite, gracing Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet. We see him standing in front of one of his favorite cars, a Stutz roadster, holding a hunting rifle trying to mimick is famous Bull Moose Uncle Theodore.
Roosevelt that summer had used his celebrity name to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Vice President on the ticket headed by Ohio Governor James Cox. They would lose in a landslide to Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coollidge.
There is an appealing innocence to this photo. Polio, the Depression, the strains in his marriage, the trials of returning to politics, restoring national confidence in tough times, facing Nazism and Facism in World War II — these things all were in the unknown future.

For now, we just see an easy-going young man on a sunny afternoon. Life was good.

Louis Brandeis on “Too Big to Fail”

A quick thought this morning on reading the latest plea from Detroit for a $20 billion taxpayer handout to keep General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy:

Before joining the Supreme Court in 1916, Louis Brandeis, one of the true great minds of Twentieth Century America, wrote a wonderful rant against the big money powers of his time called Other People’s Money: And How the Bankers Use It. In it, Brandeis described what he called the “Curse of Bigness,” which was his way of describing the big monopolistic banks, railroads, and steel companies that threw their muscle around back then to intimidate Washington, Main Street, and the public. “Size, we are told, is not a crime,” Brandeis wrote. “But size may, at least, become noxious by reason of the means through which it is attained or the uses to which it is put.”

Brandeis’s book became a big seller in 1913. It earned him the lasting hatred of Wall Street tycoons like J. P. Morgan, but it also helped create public demand for a Federal Reserve System. Brandeis’s political hero was Theodore Roosevelt, who as President happily used the new Antitrust Laws to fight “bigness” by busting trusts when he saw fit.

Today, in our modern fiscal collapse, Brandeis’s “curse of bigness” has come back to haunt us under the guise of a new doctrine: Too Big to Fail. We now see a dizzying, growing list of malefactors hiding behind its skirts:

Wall Street banks are too big to fail;
Main Street banks are too big to fail;
Detroit automakers are too big to fail;
The $700 billion bailout package was too big to fail;
The drug-taking third baseman for the Yankees is too big to fail.

Who’s next? What’s next? What kind of monster have we created?

Louis Brandeis got it right back in 1913. Bigness can be a curse, and we are paying for it now. What ever happened to the Antitrust laws? They made perfect sense to Theodore Roosevelt. Maybe it’s time to bring them back.

Repeal TARP !!

1. Repeal TARP I !!! **

2. Take back all the money we gave to the ungrateful banks !!!

3. Then pass a tough, tough, tough new TARP 2 that makes them shape up and eat crow !!!

Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s dig up Teddy Roosevelt and start Busting Trusts again !!!

Read Ken’s program to save the American economy. Boot Camp for Wall Street!

Coming soon, only in Guerrilla History.
** The Troubled Asset R elief Program, better know as the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout.