• Barack Obama: a mirror of a century ago?

    The election of 1908
    by Jon Guthrie

    Pacific Grove had concerned itself intimately with politics and politicians since President William McKinley visited our oceanside, Victorian village just before the turn of the century. He was brought here from the Del Monte Hotel by means of a two-seater carriage that stopped in at the Pacific Grove Livery on Forest Avenue to water the horses and let the animals rest. McKinley dismounted and strolled the community, uttering a valise-full of positive platitudes, blissfully unaware of the crazed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, spitefully polishing plans to murder McKinley while the President attended the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo, New York.

    Teddy Roosevelt erred when he boldly invited Booker T. Washington, a well-known Negro educator, to a White House dinner. An outpouring of rage resulted. Being the sort of President that he was, Roosevelt refused to rescind the invitation, but it would be years before another person of color dined at the Presidential mansion.

    Vice President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt then assumed office. He was renowned as a cowboy, an anti-socialist, a reformist, and a military hero from the War with Spain. In the White House, Roosevelt cemented his popularity, taking care to invite large and homogeneous groups to White House fetes, including passels of children with whom the President often romped. Roosevelt became famous for his boundless energy, his staccato gesticulation, his wild gestures, and for an explosive outcry of “Bully!” which the President used to show that he had truly enjoyed something or another.
    Roosevelt erred, however, when he boldly invited Booker T. Washington, a well-known Negro educator, to a White House dinner. An outpouring of rage resulted. Being the sort of President that he was, Roosevelt refused to rescind the invitation, but it would be years before another person of color dined at the Presidential mansion.
    William Howard Taft, from Ohio, was far from the “bully boy” of Roosevelt reputation. His bent was the law, and he greatly admired both lawyers and judges. However, he and “Rough-rider” Roosevelt developed a close friendship. When it came time to select the 1908 candidate for President, robustly gregarious Roosevelt’s thoughts immediately turned to Taft, a soft-spoken and taciturn gentleman.
    Taft’s first job had been working as a court reporter, but he quickly rose to the position of prosecutor. Unlike Roosevelt, Taft was not a nimble public speaker, and he laden his prose with heavy baggage consisting of factual content, much of which was irrelevant. In 1887, Ohio Governor Joseph Foraker chose Taft to complete an unfinished term on the Ohio Supreme Court and Taft’s career course was set. Indeed, years later, after serving as President, Taft was named to the Supreme Court of the United States. Taft became Chief Justice, thus being the only man to serve both as Chief Justice and President.
    As a candidate for President, Taft proved something of an enigma. He disliked politics as much as Roosevelt adored then; but agreed to become President mostly to curb his wife’s nagging. When Taft took office, Progressives (Republicans) wanted to make the United States a better place to live. They believed that the government should play an important role in change. Taft, a procrastinator, was hesitant. He expected the Congress of the United States to take the lead, and he refused to extend executive powers without Congressional approval. Outraged, progressives felt they-and the country-had been betrayed.
    One hundred years later, Barrack H. Obama finds himself confronted by an array of similar problems. Will he fare better than Taft, who lasted only one term in office and departed with little done? Only time-and history will tell. One thing seems certain. In Obama’s White House, there will be little hesitancy about having blacks to dinner.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 23, 2009

    Topics: Uncategorized

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