Sunday, February 17, 2013

Presidents, Rulers and Leaders: William Howard Taft

The Two Man Gentlemen Band: William Howard Taft

I take credit or blame for suggesting this theme for Presidents’ Day, an attempt to consolidate holidays honoring Presidents Washington and Lincoln into a generic Monday holiday recognizing all of the nation’s presidents, whether brilliant, like George and Abe, competent, mediocre, criminal or incompetent. In true American fashion, we celebrate this holiday with sales, and it has now morphed into “Presidents’ Week.”

I had tons of ideas for president songs, but the first few that I came up with were by bands that I have already posted about, so instead, I decided to post this ditty about William Howard Taft, a one term Republican president from the early 20th Century. Taft is generally ranked in the middle echelon of chief executives, paling in comparison to his predecessor and former mentor turned rival, Theodore Roosevelt.

Taft’s legacy is mixed. He was responsible for some reasonably positive developments during his one term, but wasn’t as aggressively progressive as Roosevelt would have liked, and Teddy decided to challenge Taft for the nomination, but failed. Instead, he mounted a third party campaign under the Progressive Party banner (usually called the “Bull Moose” Party). This split the Republican vote, allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election. Yes, at one point, Republicans fought over who was more progressive. Really, you can look it up.

President Taft is generally remembered for two things—being fat and becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court less than a decade after leaving the White House. Of course, most people who think about Taft know about his weight issue; fewer, I suspect, know about his tenure as the most powerful jurist in the country. It is rare that a former president takes on a significant official role after his term is over. Other than John Quincy Adams, who served in the House of Representatives after being president, Taft is the only one I can think of. There has been talk about Bill Clinton getting a seat on the Supreme Court, but I suspect that he likes his current gig running the Clinton Global Initiative, giving speeches and making money. I have to assume that if Hillary decides to run, Bill will want to be able to use his considerable political talents to get the family back into the White House.

The song (I know, this is a music blog, not a history or politics blog), released in 2007, is a funny retro swing piece featuring the banjo (it does seem hard to find a song these days that doesn’t have a banjo) that focuses mostly on Taft’s weight. The song continues the urban legend that Taft got stuck in a bathtub in the White House, which is probably not true. He did have a supersized bathtub installed; there is no evidence of his ever getting stuck in it.

Taft got a little bump in publicity recently when the Washington Nationals announced that a 12 foot mascot version of the 27th President will be joining mascot versions of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Taft’s nemesis, Teddy Roosevelt, during the fourth inning race. Roosevelt lost more than 500 times before finally winning during the playoffs last season. Taft’s selection is probably related to the fact that he was the first president to throw out a first pitch, in 1910, and may expand his public profile to a new generation of baseball fans. The Two Man Gentlemen Band put out a new album in 2012 and are currently on tour.

blog comments powered by Disqus