Transcripts

Remembering The Political Drama of 1912, A Century Later

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're talking about choices as we turn from one event in which we were forced to participate, we're looking at you, Sandy. Yeah, to another event in which Americans of all stripes will be choosing to participate next week, the 2012 election. In just a few minutes we'll head out on the campaign trail in Northern Virginia to learn about the role Latino voters are playing there.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:32
But first, let's go back in time to a rather exciting Presidential race that took place exactly 100 years ago. It's the race that featured democrat Woodrow Wilson, Republican William Howard Taft, Bull Moose Party nominee Teddy Roosevelt and Socialist Eugene Debs. Tara Boyle headed to the Woodrow Wilson house on S Street in Northwest D.C. to meet with author and historian, Paul Dickson, who explains why it's worth remembering 1912.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:01:00
It was an interesting year because a lot of other things were going on, the Titanic had sunk in April, there was two big movements in the country, in both parties. Both Republicans, democrats had sort of a reform, progressive arm and they had a more conservative status quo arm. So the big deal in that year -- and it was a year in also in which the last two states, Arizona and New Mexico had been admitted to the Union. So they had a full continuous 48 states for the first time in the election.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:01:29
And again, it was the first primaries. They had never had party primaries before. They were just starting. And the big story, of course, is when the democrats have their convention, a man named Champ Clark is favored to be the nominee of the Democratic party. And what happens is, the convention starts, Woodrow Wilson is truly the dark horse, the guy who's not supposed to get there yet. He's Governor of New Jersey, very progressive in the -- in one of his attitudes, he's been President of Princeton University, an educator. And Wilson, in the first ballots, looks like Clark is clearly ahead. But Clark needs two-thirds of the convention and he's not getting it.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:02:06
And so they go again and again, vote after vote and as the votes are taking place, Wilson keeps creeping up on Clark. One of the votes is held at midnight. There is a break until 8:00 o'clock the next morning. Finally, on the 46th vote, Wilson takes it. California had swung over to him and he's got the nomination. On the other side, the incumbent is President Taft and he is running into problems because Teddy Roosevelt is a progressive Republican, Taft is a more conservative. And Taft and Teddy Roosevelt disagree on many things, many of the things they disagree on.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:02:44
But one of the big ones is conservation. Teddy Roosevelt tried to protect huge amounts of the Western land, he's trying to create a forest service, etcetera, has already done so. But he's trying to protect it. And he breaks, he breaks from the regular Republican party and forms the Bull Moose party. It's a really very interesting time because you've got Taft who's much more conservative, much less of a speaker, much less of, you know, person that could elevate crowds.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:03:10
And you've got Wilson, this sort of sharp, academic who is basically promising, among other things, to keep the country out of war. He's also running on a thing called The New Freedom, which is -- he's in favorite states rights, individual rights, almost sounds Republican in today's standards. But that's what Wilson is running on.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:03:28
It's it amazing to you, when you think about all the unusual aspects of that campaign, the closely contested primary, all of these dynamic figures. You know, it's not just a two party race, per se. It's hard to imagine how much has changed in American politics in the past century in some ways.

DICKSON

00:03:46
Oh, in many ways. I mean, even the fact that Wilson is not even at the convention. The convention's in Baltimore and Wilson is in Sea Girt, N. J., and so he's not even there for his own nomination. So that's happening. The other thing is this idea of these contests that go on and on and the pledging and the pulling back and forth, to go to over 40 ballots is just an extraordinary thing when you think about it. And, I think, the fact of Roosevelt just being such a phenomenal figure.

DICKSON

00:04:12
But again, it was the dynamic guys and the country was really, you know, they had some major issues. Anti-trust was one of them, huge powerful corporations. Roosevelt's whole business with conservation which was major damn, which is preserving the natural parks, the national forests and they were interest in this country at that time who desperately wanted to rest those back from the government and turn them into commercial development, logging and other forces.

DICKSON

00:04:38
And the other thing, of course, was the great differences, was the concept of mass communications. They were totally relying on newspapers and the things that newspapers could give you. Imagine a day that's even pre-radio. You would go to bed and the only thing somebody down the street may have gone downtown to see a sign in front of the Washington Post or the Evening Star building saying "Wilson's gaining in the last ballot." So even that changed. But again, it's still politics.

DICKSON

00:05:03
And still, you realize the big struggle was going on in both parties, was between Conservatives and Progressives. You know, you can call that, you know, Conservatives and Liberals, Conservative -- but it was in fact, a typically very American campaign, which you can argue this is as well. This is the two forces that have always been the Yin and Yang of American politics.

SHEIR

00:05:27
That was local writer and historian Paul Dickson, talking with "Metro Connection's" Tara Boyle. Paul is the author of a forth coming book, "Words From The White House." You can find more information on that book by visiting our website, metroconnection.org.
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