WASHINGTON, D.C. — Let your imagination run wild:
What if President William Howard Taft suddenly disappeared nearly 100
years ago on his way out the White House door and was resurrected (as
certified by scientists) in 2012?
That fantasy would leave intact his previous life's accomplishments
as an educator, solicitor general, holder of two judgeships, governor-general
of the Philippines and, of course, president for four years.
In Taft 2012: A Novel Taft's nine years (1921-1930) as chief justice
of the United States are necessarily omitted because they occurred
during the 100 years of his mysterious absence.
No small matter, given that a seat on the high court was his ultimate
ambition. (Yes, even more than the presidency, which he had little
interest in seeking. The Republican Party and his ambitious wife, Nellie,
persuaded Taft to go for the White House.)
Even minus the Supreme Court years, the rest of Taft's distinguished
career is ample grist for a fictitious mill of speculation as to how
our 27th president would view 21st-century America.
However, speculative fiction such as this would do well at least to
present its main character in a way that comports with the historical
record. Otherwise, what's the point? Why not just write fiction?
Yes, a returned William Howard Taft likely would be heartened that
black people occupy prominent positions in the U.S. mainstream, including
that a black American could ascend to his old job at 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue, however horrifying he would find the substance of President
However, if William Howard Taft were back with us in 2012, is it not
logical that his interest in the 2012 presidential race would transcend
the relatively incidental focus "Taft 2012" accords it? Would
he not trade barbs with the candidates?
What about same-sex marriage? Abortion? A mandate that every citizen
purchase health insurance? Would not Taft, whose brilliant legal mind
made him a stickler for the law and the Constitution, have something
to say about these suddenly discovered "constitutional rights"?
Or a tax code whereby half the population subsidizes the other half?
Say it isn't so.
The author puts some unlikely words in Taft's mouth. He posits the
former president advocating "a new Bull Moose Party," the
nickname of Teddy Roosevelt's third party in the 1912 campaign (when
Taft trailed both Roosevelt and the victorious Democrat, Woodrow Wilson).
The Bull Moose Party platform included a National Health Service (see
Obamacare a century later), a death tax, a federal income tax and election
laws that would diminish legitimate state prerogatives. This is Taft
The 20th-century president hints at a relaxed
attitude about illegal immigration, and he tells his new friends
he's not excited about "the war on drugs."
Some 21st-century statements in this book blend truth with
allegations out of thin air, as with the TV host who says the
economy is "in a shambles"(yes) and that there is "more
disenfranchisement among voters than ever before." (What?)
The book's dialogue defines the Taft administration as having
been "sandwiched between" Teddy Roosevelt's and Woodrow
Wilson's in the same sense that tiny Luxembourg is sandwiched
between Belgium and France.
In fact, history has been much kinder to the "sandwiched" president's
later years as chief justice. Moreover, in his capacity as
chief justice and president, Taft said the president could
exercise no power that could not be fairly traced to some specific
grant of power by the Constitution or Congress. On occasion,
Roosevelt and Wilson (sometimes with much disdain) evaded restraints
on their powers.
At best, "Taft 2012" is beach reading. Someday, one hopes,
there will be a book (fiction or not) that accurately portrays Taft
versus 21st-century American culture..
The Big Picture
Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer whose broadcast career included
25 years with CBS Radio.
Copyright © 2012 by Wes Vernon and
the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. A version of
this article appeared in The
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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