A hundred years ago the American people in the election of 1912 enjoyed the prospect of four candidates running for president of their nation. Over sixty percent of people voted in the election in numbers far surpassing the percent that votes today. The four candidates were:
William Howard Taft, of the Republican Party
Theodore Roosevelt, former Republican president of the USA, running on the Progressive ticket.
Woodrow Wilson of the Democratic Party
Eugene Debs, running as candidate of the Socialist Party
All four candidates attacked big business for its power and attempt to control the nation. Taft argued for trust busting, Theodore Roosevelt, who earlier had been a trust buster, argued it was impossible to break up trusts so the Federal government had to assume the role of strictly controlling big business. Wilson argued both views in his New Freedom program and Eugene Debs argued the Socialist view that several large industries such as coal, railroads, steel and communication should be owned by government while the remainder of the nation remained under free enterprise.
During the 1912 campaign there were no discussions about birth certificates, no attempts to smear opponents as being un-American because these men discussed issues that confronted the nation. I find it amazing that at a time when only about 15% of Americans were high school graduates and less than 5% of people had gone to college the nation discussed important topics related to the future of the country. This raises the question as to what has happened to America over the past hundred years that allows loud mouth crazies like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs to assume so much importance?
During the election, Theodore Roosevelt urged juvenile courts for children, strict factory inspection laws, the right of workers to organize, women suffrage and serious efforts to assist immigrants become integral participants in the nation. He urged the right of Negroes to vote and supported their right to education and to work. Wilson was more bigoted due to his Southern heritage and while not a great supporter of immigrants he avoided insulting them. Debs fought for free speech, agreed with his opponents in direct election of Senators rather than having state legislatures select them and was for women suffrage. It probably will come as a shock to Republicans today, but it was Theodore Roosevelt who urged adoption of a Constitutional amendment to allow an income tax and he was specific in saying an income tax was necessary to curb the wealth of the powerful(did you know this Ron Paul supporters?) I might add he was the last president to have office hours for citizens who wanted to talk with him.
Few Republicans like Ron Paul understand their party was the one which supported Negro rights, which wanted to tax the wealthy, and which wanted government supervision of business. It was the Republicans who backed labor’s right to organize. Actually, it was at the nominating convention of the Progressive Party(a high proportion of whom were former Republicans) that for the first time in history had female delegates and Jane Addams was the first women to give a nominating speech.
Compare Republicans in 1912 with current members of the party. Today, every attack on Obama as being a “socialist” is because President Obama is echoing the words of old time Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and Bob LaFollette. What is more fascinating to me is the serious attitude of Americans in 1912 to political issues. Slander does not enter the political campaign, and, ironically, some Taft supporters accused Theodore Roosevelt of being a “socialist.”
Think about it– four candidates for president all of whom understood that wealthy men must be controlled and that taxation of those with wealth is necessary for the economic health of the nation. Think about it– four candidates for president who wanted an active federal government supervising business.
In the midst of the campaign while Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning in the midwest a man came up to him and fired a shot that hit him in the shoulder. TR’s first words were: “Don’t harm him. Bring him to me.” He chatted with the man for a moment and then sent him on his way. After a few minutes TR gave an hour long speech in which he spoke about his vision for America. Unlike the current conservative Obama administration, Theodore Roosevelt dreamed of a wondrous future, he even wanted the Federal government to take over the Washington D.C. school system and transform it into a model for America. Compare that vision with Obama’s desire to raise test scores and maintain the same curriculum!!
Once upon a time in America we had political campaigns which did not result in glorification of trivia and slander but focused on matters of import for the nation. The 1912 results were:
Wilson with about 35% of the vote, Theodore Roosevelt with about 30%, Taft with about 25% and Debs with about 10%.(rough figures).
I close with a statement by Eugene Debs which will never be spoken by the so-called “liberal” Barack Obama: “I do not wish to rise from the working class, I wish to rise with the working class.”
I voted for Barack Obama because he was the best candidate. I believed in his ideas, at least those he spoke about during the campaign. Today, after watching his waffle on human rights, after his inept handling of Afghanistan and Iraq, and of his refusal to support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to handle the Bush administration violation of human rights, I can only offer a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about Wilson whom he hated: “he has the backbone of a chocolate eclair.”
P.S. I admire Abraham Lincoln, but President Obama should be reading Theodore Roosevelt and the man’s vision for corporate America.