March 8, 2010


A good introduction to the American election campaign of 1912. Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt led a third-party crusade to seek to recapture the White House from his former protegé William Howard Taft, facing Democratic challenger Woodrow Wilson and a serious socialist candidate, Eugene Debs. Chase is strongest in taking Debs seriously and giving a careful airing to his views and constituency; we know now that this was the Socialist Party’s high water mark, but in many ways it seemed as if the Socialists were gradually moving to greater and greater strength and that their future role might be more like the British Labour Party than the fringe element they became.

Chase draws an interesting portrait of Wilson, whom he views as dangerously incurious, rigid, and personally volatile. In fact, this Wilson seems to share many of the failings of George W. Bush while lacking Bush’s talent for seeming to be likable. We are left to wonder how Wilson managed to be taken seriously by anyone, and this judgment seems to require either moderation or more enthusiastic defense.