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Elections Then & Now

Well, we made it through election 2012!  President Obama and Governor Romney were gracious and praised each other in their election night speeches, despite their increasingly negative campaign ads during the last year and polarizing arguments over repairing the economy.  The economy was the main topic, but the nation was also concerned with health care, the rise of the 1%, women’s issues, the environment and foreign policy.  You know what?  This sounds remarkably similar to the presidential election one hundred years ago. 

Last month, the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club compared the two elections by discussing 1912:  Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs – the election that changed the country, by James Chace.  If you think one hundred years would make a big difference, you will be surprised after reading this fascinating and engaging book by “one of the country’s leading foreign policy thinkers and historians” (New York Times, 2004).

Kirkus Reviews writes, “(Chace) offers a lively recounting of this pivotal, bitter contest that hinged on how to overcome economic inequality and featured significant third-party involvement.  The rivals included conservative Republican President William Howard Taft; his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who broke with his old friend over conservation and trust-busting issues, then bolted the GOP to form the Progressive Party; New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, whose brilliant oratory called for more stringent antitrust legislation; and fiery socialist Eugene Debs, who preached trade unionism to audiences as large as 100,000.  Chace captures the way that rivals’ egos could shade into substantive quarrels over the use of presidential power.  Debs took six percent of the vote – the highest proportion ever given to a Socialist candidate.  TR split the GOP vote with Taft, helping to issue in the eight-year Wilson administration.”

Let’s see, we have a “pivotal, bitter contest,” with “economic equality” as the main issue, a “Socialist” candidate with “the highest proportion ever” and “brilliant oratory” from the winning Democratic candidate.  Other issues in 1912 besides the economy were Suffrage, labor unionism, social justice” black rights” and the environment. These two elections are ripe for comparison.  The Narrative Nonfiction Book Club (and one of their spouses) really enjoyed reading Chace’s book and were surprised by the many parallels spanning the century.  We had an illuminating discussion coming away with a greater understanding of all that we had read. 

The book group meets the first Friday of every month from 10:00 to 11:00 AM at the Falmouth Public Library on Main Street.  We are very pleased to announce that at our next meeting on December 7, acclaimed historian and author Stephen Puleo, will join us to discuss his book, Dark Tide:  the great Boston molasses flood of 1919.  We would love to have you join the discussion too.  Come pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk to read before the meeting.  If you have your own copy, bring it with you for an autograph.  A small number of copies will be available for sale after the discussion, along with Puleo’s new release, Caning:  the assault that drove America to Civil War.  Hope to see you there!

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