William Howard Taft: 27th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Handpicked by Roosevelt, William Howard Taft was to continue his agenda. He had been brought in by the McKinley Administration, and served admirably as the Governor General of Philippines (1900). He was best friends with Roosevelt, and was viewed as a utility infielder in both the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations as the man to do the job no matter what it was.
Taft was more than happy being Roosevelt’s right hand man having no desire to be president. He was a reluctant decision maker and certainly not a natural politician. His wife Nelly more or less pushed him into it as she dreamed of living in the White House.
A lawyer by trade, he dreamed of being a Supreme Court justice, believing a good judge is the model in our minds of God. To Taft, a good judge was the highest human type.
Taking the narrow legal route in all matters was much different from the precedent-setting Roosevelt. In fact, they were opposites in many ways including weight as Taft was obese while Roosevelt was renowned for his athleticism.
Taft hated the glare and scrutiny of the office. He became angry, depressed and reached 340 pounds and reportedly got stuck in the White House tub. His discomfort with the Presidency was proven in his leadership.
As President, he delegated responsibility, generally allowing his cabinet to do as they pleased. He fretted over and procrastinated in making decisions. Taft believed the President’s job was to uphold the Constitution. As a result, the groundbreaking policies set by the freewheeling Roosevelt began to reverse under Taft as Congress began to dismantle a lot of them.
Roosevelt planned to bully Taft out of the Republican nomination as revenge in 1912. The former best friends battled each other in a very personal and divisive primary. Roosevelt was devastated when the party chose Taft as the nominee preferring his conservative politics. Roosevelt chose to join and run under the Progressive Bull Moose Party allowing the Democrat to easily win.
Taft received only 8 electoral votes in 1912 after being swept into office in 1908. He would lose weight after office and be named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in 1921 still the only person to hold both positions in our nation’s history.
William Howard Taft
We saw this with Adams following Washington, Van Buren following Jackson, and will see it with George H.W. Bush following Reagan. We will even see it to some degree with Harry Truman following Franklin Roosevelt. People are generally dissatisfied with the guy following the larger-than-life figure no matter how right or wrong they are.
Taft was overshadowed by Roosevelt due to their difference in personalities, and sheer willingness and desire to want to be President. In spite of Roosevelt’s rhetoric, Taft’s administration did much to continue Roosevelt’s policies, doing more to regulate monopolies than TR’s administration did. More importantly, Taft’s Administration was the model of the past as he warned of a 20th-century-style imperial presidency and its potential abuse of executive power and privilege. People want their presidents to be larger than life characters to make laws, execute the laws and determine their constitutionality in one fell swoop.
Theodore Roosevelt preceded him
Woodrow Wilson would follow him.
It all started with George Washington.