Monday, September 8, 2014
A History Buff
I love history, I am a firm believer that to study history you prepare for the future. With the Ken Burns series “The Roosevelts” beginning on PBS this week I thought I would look over Doris Kearns Goodwin wonderful work on “The Bully Pulpit”.
Eight years ago Doris Kearns Goodwin set out to mine one of the richest veins in American history, the progressive movement and its bully-pulpit spokesman, Theodore Roosevelt. But as she examined the period she came to realize that there were two other strands, indispensable but not inevitable, to the story.
One was William Howard Taft, often regarded as a historical afterthought or worse, a discordant coda to the TR era. The other was the muckraking press, celebrated in journalism schools but often relegated to a few respectful asides in general histories. Goodwin put all three at the center of her new history, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” and has created a thoroughly engaging work.
Journalists played a role in Roosevelt’s life that has no analogue in American history, accompanying him to Cuba and creating the Rough Rider myth and mystique; fueling his progressive impulses; and performing the role of Greek chorus when he was president and, just as important, ex-president. In inclination, temperament, and habits, he was one of them, and vice versa.
Taft was Roosevelt’s boon companion, in spirit if not in style. An ardent progressive and reformer he was, unlike Roosevelt, introspective, restrained, a man of thought rather than action, all befitting his career — no, more than that, his identity — as lawyer and judge. He trod carefully, but he also trod on the Roosevelt legacy, and the combination shattered the great progressive coalition and ended perhaps the greatest presidential friendship in history.
It was telling, Goodwin says, that at the very time TR was being celebrated in the press upon his return from his post-White House trip to Africa that Taft was being “hammered’’ by the press. But Taft lacked the zip of his predecessor, and his openness to conservative Republicans unnerved the progressives and their own boon companions in the press.
The muckrakers committed no such betrayal. An important figure in this period, and in “The Bully Pulpit,’’ is Samuel S. McClure, editor, entrepreneur, and, above all, visionary prophet of progressivism. He introduced America to Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle — and to a new kind of journalism, one that investigated as well as illuminated, which was where (and how) Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Allen White came into the story, and into history. “Their disclosures of the corrupt linkages between business, labor, and government educated and aroused the public,’’ Goodwin writes, “spearheading the Progressive movement that would define the early years of the twentieth century.’’
Though Goodwin artfully establishes the influence the muckrakers had on Roosevelt and the influence he had on them, the effort to make this connection the thread that holds together a 910-page book sometimes seems forced. That said, “The Bully Pulpit’’ is, like so many of her books, carefully researched, amiably written, and appealingly presented. The result is an engaging tour of an important passage in American life.
It is true that several of these journalists’ pieces prompted meetings with Roosevelt: Baker on immigration and corruption; Steffens on what he called the “Shame of the Cities’’; and Upton Sinclair on the meatpacking and stockyard disgraces he detailed in “The Jungle.’’
Eventually McClure was summoned to the White House also, and the two men talked until midnight. Later, TR would ask Baker to review his annual message on American corporations; the writer would offer a frank critique: “It was too general, there was too much of the President’s favorite balancing of good and evil.’’
These muckrakers were creatures without precedent in America, and as a result of their work, as Baker argued, “men were questioning the fundamentals of democracy, inquiring whether we truly had self-government in America, or whether it had been corrupted by selfish interests.’’
This was a critique completely congruent with Roosevelt, and yet it was the president, alluding to John Bunyan, who first made the term muckraker a pejorative, saying that the bearers of the muck rake were comparable to “the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness on that which is vile and debasing.’’
That was one TR misstep. Another came in 1904, when he prematurely and unnecessarily renounced a 1908 re-election campaign. And, from his point of view, he erred, too, in having wanted a Taft presidency more than did Taft, and his later disillusion with Taft propelled Woodrow Wilson into the White House in the fabled four-way contest of 1912.
Roosevelt didn’t understand that a conservative tide was rising, possibly because of fatigue with progressivism and TR himself, possibly because the eclipse of the muckrakers that Roosevelt had himself set in motion. That partially explains the administration of Taft, who had the progressive roots of Roosevelt but not his predecessor’s instincts or turn of mind. “Taft had long considered himself a moderate progressive, aligned almost perfectly with the sentiments and policies of his old friend,’’ Goodwin writes. “In the throes of the brutal campaign, however, he had withdrawn increasingly from more progressive ideas.’’
But that is after their grand split. Beforehand, they were an incomparable pair in American politics. This book reminds us, as Goodwin puts it, that “there was a time, at the height of their careers, when Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft stood shoulder to shoulder as they charted a different role for the U.S. government that would fundamentally enlarge the bounds of economic opportunity and social justice.’’ It is a story worth telling, and one well told.
THE SUMMER in one sentence: Islamic State terrorists seized Mosul and massacred Shiite soldiers in open pits, Russian separatists shot down a civilian jetliner, ... Bashar Assad's forces in Syria came close to encircling Aleppo with the aim of starving the city into submission, a brave American journalist had his throat slit on YouTube by a British jihadist, Russian troops openly invaded Ukraine, and Chinese jets harassed U.S. surveillance planes over international waters.
--And that doesn't include ... Gaza, Ferguson, Afghan elections or U.S. to Iraq.
RINK RATS AT THE MOVIES - The movie industry suffered its worst May-to-Labor Day season since 1997, after adjusting for inflation. U.S. ticket sales dropped 15% compared with last summer. It was a disappointment for an industry that had hoped movies with giant robots, mutants and talking apes would follow up last year's stellar season with another blockbuster summer.
FALL MOVIES - Led by 'Unbroken' (Dec. 25), this year's fall is a battlefield of war stories, including Jolie's (new) husband Brad Pitt on the Western Front in 'Fury' (Oct. 17), a WWII drama about a tank of American soldiers. Clint Eastwood also returns for his second film this year with 'American Sniper' (Dec. 25), starring Bradley Cooper as an elite Navy SEAL marksman. ... In 'The Interview' (also Dec. 25) from Seth Rogen and his directing partner Evan Goldberg, Rogen and James Franco play journalists asked by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un. ... [Other films this fall include:] 'Rosewater,' Jon Stewart's adaptation of Maziar Bahari memoir about being imprisoned for 118 days for reporting for Newsweek on the 2009 Iranian elections. ... Reese Witherspoon drama 'Wild' (Dec. 5) ... 'Gone Girl' (Oct. 3), an adaptation of the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, starring Ben Affleck.
LOS ANGELES AIR WAVES – KFWB (980) switching to all-sports format as AM radio fights for survival, AM radio, the scratchy medium that long ago aired Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats, soap operas and the day's most popular music, is trying to avoid becoming static. Across the country, stations are vying to hold on to listeners as AM radio's audience slowly dwindles. ... Last year its share of the national radio audience was 11.5%.
COLLEGE CHRONICLES – We honor the five St. Lawrence University alumni who were lost in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers:
Robert J. ‘Bobby”Coll ‘88
Catherine Gorayeb ‘82
Christopher Morrison ‘89
Michel “Mike” Palletier ‘88
Richard H. “Richie” Stewart, Jr. ‘89
Outreach Education - 4,000 Starbucks employees apply for the company's plan with Arizona State University. The Arizona Republic: http://bit.ly/1lyDHPY
Harvard University's School of Public Health receives its largest donation ever. A $350 million gift pledged to Harvard University's School of Public Health is the largest single donation in the university's long history, officials said, and will help bolster research in several key areas including global pandemics. The donation, to be formally announced Monday, comes from a philanthropic foundation established by the family of T.H. Chan, a Hong Kong real estate developer who died in 1986.
In a rarity for Harvard, the school will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The only other school within the university to bear an individual's name is the Harvard Kennedy School, named for John F. Kennedy.
BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to: Jacqueline Bisset (70), Arnold Palmer (85), Joe Theismann (65).
WORDS OF THE MONTH –
svelte \SFELT\, adjective:
1. Slender, especially gracefully slender in figure.
2. Suave; blandly urbane.
“When I walk under one of the pathway lamps and look down you can indeed see the silhouette of my body which doesn’t look quite as svelte and hourglassy as I believe it did just an hour ago when I was admiring myself in the mirror”. -- Terry McMillan, How Stella Got Her Groove Back
rested, refreshed; restful, quiet
Descansado is the adjective derived from the verb descansar, to rest. As we’ve seen with words such as aburrido, its meaning changes according to whether you use it with ser or estar. In both cases there is a link with the idea of ‘rest’.
“La jornada ha sido de las más descansadas”. It’s been a very relaxing or restful day.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 9/13, 3:30 PM ET, Fox: #6 Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) visit #24 South Carolina Gamecocks (1-1). It is early in the season but this is a huge one for The Gamecocks, lose and their season is history; South Carolina 35 Georgia 32. Season to date (1-1)
SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 9/13, 7:00 PM ET, HGTV: Redlands Bulldogs (0-0) visit #2 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (1-1). A tough task for SCIAC power Redlands in Belton, Texas. The Crusaders roll 45 to 17. Season to date (1-0)
NFL PICK OF THE WEEK – Sunday 9/14, 1:00 PM, CBS: Miami Dolphins (1-0) at Buffalo Bills (1-0). Both surprise winners opening weekend, we like Miami over Buffalo, 24 – 17. Season to date (0-1)
THE SWAMI’S WEEK TOP PICKS –
(NCAA, Sept. 13) #12 UCLA Bruins (2-0) 40 at University of Texas Longhorns (1-1) 28
(NCAA, Sept. 13) University of La Verne Leopards (0-0) 28 at George Fox University (0-1) 21
(MLB, Sept. 13) Los Angeles Dodgers (81-62) 3 at San Francisco Giants (78-65) 6
(NFL, Sept, 14) Chicago Bears (0-1) 10 at San Francisco 49ers (1-0) 35
Season to date (44 - 39)
DRIVING THE WEEK - Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at 8:45 a.m. this morning "will deliver remarks at the Urban Institute on the state of the economy and the need for comprehensive business tax reform" ... Congress returns for a brief pre-election session. Don't look for much to get done. Best Congress will do is pass a CR to keep the lights on through the rest of the year. The rest will all be posturing for November. President Obama's decision to put unilateral immigration policy reform on hold means there will (almost certainly) be no shutdown ... Obama gives a big speech on Wednesday laying out his strategy to defeat ISIS ... Senate Banking Committee holds a big regulatory oversight hearing on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. ... House Financial Services has a hearing Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. on the credit reporting system ... Obama and Vice President Biden meet this afternoon with Lew in the Oval Office ... Consumer credit at 2:00 p.m. expected to expand by $20B up from $17.3B ... NFIB survey on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. expected to rise to 96.5 from 95.7 ... JOLTS report Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. expected to show job openings up to 4711K from 4671K ... Retail sales at 8:30 a.m. Friday expected to rise 0.5 percent, 0.2 percent ex-autos ... Univ. Michigan consumer sentiment at 8:30 a.m. Friday expected to rise to 83.5 from 82.5 ... Alibaba Group executives hit the road to see investors on their planned $21 billion IPO.
Next week: Dear Rink Rats and Finance 101.
Until Next Monday, Adios.
September 8, 2014