1912 by James Chace
Taft was the man in the middle. He was neither as commanding as Roosevelt nor as dishonest as Wilson and was neither able to compete with Roosevelt for the emotional support of Republicans nor curry favor with the Democrats. Debs who received only 6% of the vote is nevertheless correctly included in Chace's analysis because he represented the emerging electoral forces that the nascent middle class would bring to American politics. In the century that has passed it is the middle class that now decides the elections. In 1912, for the first time, their views have a national voice although this voice would be stilled in 1919 when Debs was sentenced to jail for ten years by those who saw in his invective evidence of treason. It was he who, when sentenced, after recognizing his "kinship with all living beings," famously said "while there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and where there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
The parallels to the politics of 2005 are striking. We are still arguing over whether to save trees. We still debate whether power should rest more with the federal government or with the states. We continue to be enveloped in periodic national paranoia that leads us to attack other countries under the guise of protecting ourselves. What are most changed are two things. The first is that the middle class decides the elections so they who must be won over to secure electoral victory. The second is that the middle class, while being sold, must always be sold a bill of goods. Theirs is an empty power. They are manipulated and double crossed but always in ways that leave few fingerprints. So every four years the parties rerun the Presidential election and blame the other side for what they promised to do but somehow never accomplished. So they need another chance but this time they need a larger electoral margin because last time it wasn't quite enough.
Looking back on 1912 it wasn't pretty but it seems, while tawdry, more honest than the crappy rhetoric we hear spewing from the White House today. The President's friends and his financial supporters grow richer. Tax breaks flow through the Republican dominated Congress like a broken toilet. Neither party seems to be interested in anything except personal advantage. Somewhere in this is the America we all learned about in school but it is not the America we live in today. And day by day more Americans are killed in Iraq protecting the American businesses that directly profit from our unreasonable compulsion to control other people's oil while claiming we are making the world a safer place.
Come to think of it 1912 was better. It was tawdry but honest. Today it is just tawdry.
Mr. Chace died unexpectedly in Paris in October, 2004. As he would have wanted his voice continues to be heard. Today this book is new. In time it will be old and part of various collections. In a thousand years someone clutching their example of this 21st century incunabula will ask a dealer the value of this book and be told "It is in the reading." It will be true then. It is true now.
It is available in hardcover and paperback online and in bookstores around the world.
1912 by James Chace. Published by Simon & Schuster. 323 pages including indexes.