Category Archives: Politics

TR in ’12

Rallying the Bull Moose vote in Morrisville, Vt.

William Howard Taft, Culture Warrior

Taft 2012: A Novel
Jason Heller
Quirk Books, 320 pp, $14.95

Imagine the ghost of William Howard Taft hijacked to serve as a spokesman for the snarky secular Left. That’s what seems to be happening in the social-media campaign accompanying the new novel Taft 2012, a satire in which Taft gets caught in a time warp and emerges in the present day as a most unlikely presidential candidate.

The jolly, avuncular, corpulent Taft is the Rodney Dangerfield of presidents. If he is remembered today it is for his size — he weighed more than 300 pounds — and for coming in a resounding third as the incumbent in a three-man presidential race in 1912. (His 1908 campaign song: “Get on a Raft with Taft.”) “Big Bill” Taft, governor-general of the Philippines and secretary of war under Theodore Roosevelt, didn’t really want the presidency as much as his wife Nellie wanted it for him, but he was bitterly hurt when his friend and patron TR turned on him and became his rival, sealing his re-election defeat, to Woodrow Wilson. Taft’s true desire — happily later realized — was to be chief justice of the Supreme Court: he remarked in the 1920s, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.” He did invent the seventh-inning stretch and throwing out the first ball on Opening Day, and was part of a remarkable five-generation Ohio family political legacy that included his son, “Mister Conservative,” Senator Robert Taft. But he tends to be remembered today for being the only president ever to get stuck in the bathtub, which is why some of us maintain a soft spot for the old boy, joining Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl in the toast, “God Bless President Taft” — and welcoming the recent release of the novel Taft in 2012.

In the new book by pop-culture journalist Jason Heller, the 27th president is preparing for the inauguration of his successor, Woodrow Wilson, in 1913 when he is caught in a time warp and transported, Rip van Winkle-like, to the present day. He awakens flabbergasted — and hungry: “I will gladly grant a Cabinet position, of your choice, to the first upright citizen who brings me pudding cake and a nice Lobster Thermidor,” he declares. Taft discovers Twinkies and Wii Golf, meets his great-granddaughter, a congresswoman from Ohio, and her biracial family, becomes a media sensation, and after he is made sick by processed food manufactured by a sinister conglomerate, becomes immersed in a new campaign for the presidency, inveighing against the “foisting of unwholesome foods on the American public.”

Part Confederacy of Dunces, part Meet John Doe, this satire on today’s political and media culture is a fanciful if cartoony diversion. His grassroots supporters project their causes onto Taft, seeing him as an empty vessel to be filled with their hopes and aspirations.

In their social-media campaign to promote Taft 2012 the book’s publishers appear to be doing the same thing.

From website and Twitter and Facebook, candidate “William” holds forth on issues of the day. In his guise as blogger and tweeter, the champion of the GOP Old Guard of 1912 has become the Daily Show’s — dare we say the Daily Kos’ — idea of a common-sense independent; a Progressive, no longer a Republican; Lincoln Chafee as walrus. Determinedly non-partisan (after a decidedly liberal Democratic fashion) he tweaks Rick Santorum for wielding “the word ‘theology’ the way a thug wields a club” and “Two Bit Mitt” for not paying his fair share in taxes, and allows that this Barack Obama seems a fine fellow. He is dismayed at what has become of his old Republican Party. “My heart has been cleft in twain by this sad, bedraggled tatterdemalion that once was my beloved GOP,” he writes. He expresses the wish that the party, in his day, “a beacon of Progress,” would evolve into “a GOP that will not view the lawful Separation of Church and State to be a war on religion” (i.e., Tippecanoe and the HHS mandate, too); that will “not fear the vital and essential enlightenment of Science” (i.e., there’ll be a hot time for embryonic stem cell research tonight); and that “will not sanctimoniously preach fiscal restraint while allowing corporations and the wealthy to evade their fair responsibilities” (i.e., never mind your Lobster Thermidor; eat the rich).

Of course he ardently champions a “woman’s reproductive choice” — it not having taken long for him to embrace the sanitized euphemism favored in NARAL talking points. “The attacks on reproductive choice—both contraception and abortion—have been fervent of late,” he declares. “Granted, I have been asleep for a century, so my knowledge of the current situation had to come from books, colleagues, and the Internet. But it seems to be that this issue was decided by the Supreme Court, definitively, forty years ago.

“Allow me to make my position clear: Should the American people grant me the honor of a second term as President this November, I will uphold Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, I will defend it passionately against all those who would seek to curtail it… [U]ltimately, our own conscience must dictate the course of our moral current. In that light, the issue becomes simple. A woman’s body is her own. I would not ask her to surrender that sovereignty any more than I would ask her to dial back the clock a hundred years and relinquish her right to vote.

“This stance may not make me popular among certain segments of my following. So be it. I have been chastised for my inclusive faith and progressive beliefs before. The cause of progress is larger than me, or any one of us. And it is certainly larger than those certain stunted souls who would forge fresh chains for the women of America.”

You know, I can’t help but think Old Bill is being ill-used here, dragooned by the folks in the publishing house’s marketing department as a soldier in the culture war, to proclaim — in the name of independent-minded common sense — the conventional wisdom of the Secular Left. This says more about their politics and assumptions than Taft’s.

Not that the real Taft’s record doesn’t provide some fodder for the Planned Parenthood-inclined. As a Supreme Court justice in the 1920s he did join with Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis in a majority opinion upholding compulsory sterilization of the “unfit.” Eugenics is not a pro-life virtue.

That said, being a cad about dispensing with unplanned pregnancies was frowned upon in those days. Theodore Roosevelt, paragon of the Progressive movement, described in his autobiography how as governor of New York he had refused pardons to men who had seduced girls and induced them to commit abortions. Such requests for leniency made him angry, he wrote; indeed, in one such case, he had responded to the petitioners that he “extremely regretted” it was not in his power to increase the sentence.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that Taft, like TR, would be aghast at the likes of Sandra Fluke. Nonetheless, on his blog, our good-hearted blimp of an ex-president who is scandalized by corporate malfeasance in the processing of food embraces as Progress an industry that takes the lives of more than a million unborn children a year in the United States.

While we cannot say with certainty how a person from a century ago would react to modern developments, I am willing to bet that William Howard Taft, awakening in our time, would find the abortion license shocking. How many generations does it take to become inured to the abhorrent? Can it happen overnight?

If Bill Taft’s time machine pointed him in the direction of 1857, and they had the Internet back then, would he be tweeting favorably on the Dred Scott decision as settled law — the disregard for another’s personhood in the name of one’s own liberty being at the heart of defenses of both slavery and “reproductive choice”?

As a fan of one our most overlooked and under-appreciated presidents, whose heart was as big as his avoirdupois, I would like to think that he would not. At least I would hope he would not. Am I projecting my own beliefs onto this imaginary Taft? Perhaps.

True conservatism celebrates human complexity and quirkiness, which our man Taft had in spades, and which thus makes him a conservative’s delight. Beware those who approach the making of government with a cookbook, the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott warned. That goes double for the social-media people who have given this latter-day incarnation of the gourmand Taft his recipe book.

Binturong in 2012


With possible running mate.

Strange but true: Binturongs smell like buttered popcorn.

Eminently hummable

The time has come, the fight is on,
We’ve picked the man to run
For President, Ohio sent
Her noble worthy son,
The man we need, the man to lead
Our strong and mighty craft
Through storm at sea to victory,
It’s William Howard Taft.

Oh, get on a raft with Taft, boys,
Get on the winning boat,
The man worthwhile with the friendly smile
Will get the honest vote.
He’ll save the country sure, boys,
From Bryan, Hearst, and graft,
So all join in, we’re sure to win,
Get on a raft with Taft.

Listen to it here.

Sargent Shriver, RIP

Shriver may have helped more people around the world than any twentieth century American who wasn’t a president, politician, or Martin Luther King. ~ Biographer Scott Stossel, The Atlantic

* * *

HE ALWAYS WANTED a “touch of class,” as well, by which he meant a quotation from a theologian, philosopher, or classic figure–particularly something with the aura of the Catholic tradition. In this, he reminded me a bit of Eugene McCarthy…Both McCarthy and Shriver were Catholics not only by birth but intellectually and knowledgeably, in the way that the Kennedy brothers never were, and both thought the Catholic tradition shed an intellectual light on American perplexities that nothing else rivaled.

Shriver always hired someone–Colman McCarthy, Mark Shields, a legion of others–to play the role I held: someone to talk to about Teilhard de Chardin and Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa and Thérèse of Lisieux and Peter Maurin and G.K. Chesterton and Danilo Dolci and the Worker Priests of France and Cardinal Suhard. Shriver loved the vein of Catholic thought that wanted to “reconstruct the social order,” “put the yeast of the gospel in the world,” “feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted.” He thought of the Catholic faith as a culture-changing force, a shaper of civilizations, an inspirer of great works, a builder of great institutions that bring help of all kinds to the needy in all dimensions of need. ~ Former Shriver speechwriter Michael Novak, The Weekly Standard

* * *

When he was 90, Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library organized a forum in Shriver’s honor. He was frail in the winter of 2005. Alzheimer’s was stealing his memory, and his hair had turned snow white. Using a cane to help him walk, he entered with his wife beside him. The audience burst into cheers.

Onstage, his old friend, Kennedy advisor Harris Wofford, had been talking about Shriver’s days in Chicago but abruptly changed course, declaring, “Here’s the man who should have been president.”

Shriver raised his arms as if to encircle the crowd of 500. “Hooray!” he shouted. ~ Los Angeles Times

* * *

A campaign-trail legend from 1972 places Sargent Shriver, the dashing Democratic candidate for the vice presidency and the former director of the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, in Youngstown, Ohio, chatting up voters in a working-class tavern. Shriver is his usual genial self, and seems to be connecting with the assembled steelworkers, who will form part of a vital voting bloc in the general election. As the merrymakers call for another round, people shout out the names of their favorite beers. Not to be outdone, Shriver eagerly joins the chorus: “Make mine a Courvoisier!” ~ Scott Stossel, Atlantic Unbound, April 2004

* * *

He and his wife founded the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics were important to Eunice, whose sister, Rosemary, was mentally handicapped. The Special Olympics has done much to educate Americans of the dignity that all persons have, regardless of any physical setback.

As the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1972, Sargent Shriver remains to this day the last pro-life candidate to run on the presidential ticket as a Democrat. Unlike other Kennedys, Shriver remained pro-life for the rest of his life. ~ Joshua Mercer,

* * *

About twelve years ago, I was at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C., on the feast of St. Therese. I remember there was a big painting of her on the side of the altar. After communion, an old man stood praying in front of it for a bit, long enough for me to take notice. At first, I didn’t know who it was; it was only later I realized it was Sargent Shriver. ~ Commenter Pat McNamara at The Deacon’s Bench

* * *

Stricken with Alzheimer’s, Shriver’s spirit of devotion endured even as his memory vanished. “At 93, my dad still goes to Mass every day,” Maria Shriver once said. “And believe it or not, he still remembers the Hail Mary. But he doesn’t remember me.”

Baptized by Gibbons, married by Spellman, his kids baptized by Cushing (and shown here in the Rose Garden with JFK), [Shriver will be buried tomorrow from] Holy Trinity in Georgetown — the same church where he joined the President-elect for early Mass on Inaugural Morning… fifty years ago today. ~ Whispers in the Loggia

* * *
Above: Sargent Shriver and his daughter, Maria, eight, at their Maryland home in May 1964. Life Archive

A song for Nancy Pelosi

Don’t let your big gavel hit you on the way out, Madam Speaker.

If politics were Japanese monster movies

Deval Patrick would be

Baby Minya, son of Godzilla

Election Day, New Orleans, 1952

From a Life gallery

A bit of Mencken

“What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embracing tolerance — in brief, what is commonly called good sportsmanship. Such a man is not to be mistaken for one who shirks the hard knocks of life. On the contrary, he is frequently an eager gladiator, vastly enjoying opposition. But when he fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest — and perhaps, after all, right. Such an attitude is palpably impossible to a democrat. His distinguishing mark is the fact that he always attacks his opponents, not only with all arms, but also with snorts and objurgations — that he is always filled with moral indignation — that he is incapable of imagining honor in an antagonist, and hence incapable of honor himself. Such fellows I do not like. I do not share their emotion. I can’t understand their indignation, their choler. In particular, I can’t fathom their envy. And so I am against them.”

~ “A Blind Spot,” the Smart Set, April 1920, quoted in The Vintage Mencken, by Alistair Cooke.

Monty Python: Election Night Special

For Primary Day