Considering that our guest speaker had spoken at West Side the previous Sunday, we had a creditable turnout of l7 humanists at our November l0 meeting.  Several who attended both sessions expressed satisfaction that they heard enough that was new at the HoFW meeting to more than justify the second trip to West Side to hear Ole Anthony.  He is very informative (he has spent a couple of decades keeping tabs on TV evangelical preachers); he is also an accomplished entertainer.  Not only humanists but anyone of liberal persuasion would find an hour with Ole both edifying and corroborating commonly held impressions of TV preachers (at least if you have spent any time at all viewing a religious channel).  Don’t miss him the next time you get a chance to attend one of his sessions.

 As was noted in last month’s Newsletter, Ole and his followers numbering some 100 try to lead lives that will be exemplary to impoverished and homeless people.  At their Oak Cliff residences in Dallas they take in the homeless to live in their bedrooms and living rooms, thereby carrying on a 1st Century Christian style of ministering to the needy and destitute.  Supported by various friendly churches and contributions from the public, they subsist on $50 a month each (recently increased modestly to reflect the increased cost of living) in addition to room and board.  As a sideline, they keep records and do investigations of TV evangelicals, especially those preaching the “prosperity” gospel or claiming miraculous healing powers.

 Ole noted that 1st century Christianity was quite unlike its 21st counterpart in the recruitment of adherents.  In the first place, early followers of Christ didn’t call themselves Christians nor did they proselytize.  There were no churches as such until after 350 A.D. (The Christian religion was legalized throughout the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. by the Edict of Milan) The followers of the Galilean engaged in good works, particularly the founding of hospitals and providing shelter to the homeless.  Becoming one of the elect was no easy matter.  The early Christians discouraged the curious and the lighthearted by emphasizing how difficult the burdens adherence to the faith imposed on its believers. 

 Not much remains constant over two millennia and Christianity is no exception to the rule.  Today’s Christianity tries to be all-inclusive (excepting those who choose to be intellectually their own persons).  Gone are the admonitions of “laying down one’s old life and following me” and disposing of one’s wealth in order to be eligible for a higher than earthly existence.  Quite to the contrary.  Christian religion is dispensed (obscenely) like goods in a supermarket. Except for tithing, which of course expands the income the power of the clergy, the evangelized are not expected to do much more in the way of material sacrifices.  In fact, the brand of Christianity proffered by the religious channels and in many churches attracts new followers by emphasizing the material benefits that can accompany adoption of the faith.  Whatever material well-being may come from a “Christian” lifestyle to the newly faithful, there is abundant evidence that “Prosperity” gospel has been a windfall for many of its exponents, especially for the big-name TV evangelists such as Benny Hinn,  Robert Tilton and TBN’s Paul Crouch.  Benny Hinn lives in a $8.5 million dollar home and Robert Tilton recently invested $5 million in his Florida estate.  Many others cam be assumed to have fared well, if not quite so opulently as the bigger stars in the evangelical firmament.  There are others who also benefit if indirectly and sometimes in a very handsome way.  Ole cited the  ploy used by Oral Roberts several years ago to get financing for his “university” in Tulsa.  He threatened to be taken by the Lord if so many millions were not raised within a certain period of time.  The marketer of this scheme got $l.2 million for his services in purveying the first solicitation and  $.9 million for a follow-up letter.

The fact that there are now 12-14 religious networks suggests how lucrative evangelizing can be.  Rupert Murdock reportedly offered $2 billion for TBN, a network that exists on viewers’ donations alone.  Who are those people contributing money to the TV evangelists?  According to Ole,  upper-middle class people feeling guilty about their greed constitute 5-7 percent of the contributors.  The bulk of the rest, he claims, comes from the desperate, the financially broke and the broken in body and/or spirit who expect the intercession of the preachers will bring manna from heaven.  Don’t sneer at their credulity, he cautioned.  They are not stupid.  They are at the end of their rope and ready to try almost anything to improve their lot.

How do Ole and his investigators (of whom three accompanied him to our  meeting) get the dope on these dupers?   Combing through trash bins for records of financial transactions and for communications between the preachers and their audiences.  Ole told us to expect something big on the Crouches of TBN in the next couple of months.   [The LAT reported in September that Paul Crouch, TBN’s founder,  had paid $425,000 hush-money  to a former employee, who subsequently reneged on the deal and asked $l0 million for the rights to his book detailing a gay tryst with Crouch.  Crouch has staunchly denied the allegation.  In a 1997 wrangle with his detractors, Crouch was quoted saying: “God, we proclaim death to anything or anyone that will lift a hand against this network and this ministry that belongs to You.”  Whether he has renewed this fatwah against his current detractor is unknown.  TBN has about 10,000 affiliated stations in some 43 countries.  It’s big business.]

Anthony handed out copies of his publication,  DVD videos and other materials at the end of his presentation.  Recipients, please apprise Don Ruhs of what you have in order that he may arrange for their further distribution.




Our Winter Solstice Dinner will be held at 6:30 p.m. December 8 at Westside UU Church, 6901 South McCart Avenue.  This has become an annual event for the members, families, and friends of HoFW.  Come and share an evening of dining and conversation with us.  We’d all enjoy hearing of your concerns of the past year and aspirations for the coming year.  Bring a dish/beverage to share: veggies, salad, bread, dessert, wine, etc.  Smoked turkey, baked ham, vegetarian lasagna, coffee, iced tea and water will be provided.  Please don’t be shy about sharing the cleanup afterwards.

Some of you we haven’t seen in recent months.  We hope you will make a special effort to be with us on December 8.  The next four years promise to be very tough for humanists.  Individual liberties will almost certainly be further eroded; 1st Amendment guarantees of the separation of church and state will come under increasing attack.  Now is the time to man the trenches against the assaults of the religious right and its allies.  The need to stick together was perhaps never quite so urgent as now.

REMINDER:  Please remember to bring a can of food for the needy.  West Side will arrange for its distribution.  Dolores is still taking dues from anyone who wants to join at this time or to renew a lapsed membership.

JANUARY MEETING:  Each participant in the January meeting will be given five minutes or so to explain what factor or factors motivated him or her to adopt a humanist philosophy.  If you haven’t given much thought (and you probably have) how you left the religious mainstream and took up a secularist, or if not secularist, a distinctly nontheistic view of life, you might wish to reflect on a turning-point or points when you decided traditional religious beliefs were not credible and that a naturalistic philosophy was the only adequate alternative.  Perhaps you can trace it so some specific experience or experiences or perhaps to a book or to a particular discussion.  Think it over and be sure to be with us at West Side on January 12, 7:00 p.m.



We welcome contributions to and comments about the Newsletter.  Let us know how we can more adequately serve the needs of the membership.  Thanks to Sandra Langley and Don Ruhs for their contributions to this month’s Newsletter.




Chairman:  Don Ruhs, 1036 Hill  Top Pass, Benbrook,  76126-3848; 817-249-1829;

Vice Chair & Newsletter Editor:  Jim Cheatham, 1582 CR 2730, Glen Rose 76043; 254-797-0277;

Secretary:   Reed Bilz, 6326 Walburn Ct., Fort Worth; 817-292-7974;

Treasurer:  Dolores Ruhs (address same as Don Ruhs)

Immediate Past Chair & Webmaster:  Russell Elleven, 6120 Comfort Dr., Forth Worth 76132; 817-370-2171;

Programs Director:  Jeff Rodriguez, 4901 Bryce Ave. #5, Fort Worth 76102; 817-732-4236;




If President Bush has to nominate a replacement for any of the nine justices, the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that allowed legal abortions in the first three months of pregnancy is certain to be a central issue.  An AP survey finds that 59 percent of respondents said they favor choosing a nominee who would uphold Roe v. Wade, while 31 percent wanted a nominee who would overturn the ruling.  The preference for Supreme Court nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade could be found among men and women, most age groups, most income groups and people living in urban, suburban and rural areas.  However, fewer than half of Republicans, evangelicals and those over 65 said they favored a nominee who would uphold the abortion ruling.  The survey also found that 61 percent of respondents said Supreme Court nominees should state their position on abortion before being approved for the job.  (AP)


In the same poll, respondents opposed gay marriage by a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent, with young adults between 18 and 29 about evenly split.  Recent polls have indicated that the public is about evenly divided on the question of civil unions, which would provide many of the same legal protections as gay marriage. (AP)



Outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft charged November 12 that “dangerous and constitutionally questionable” rulings by federal judges that challenge the president’s powers in wartime are jeopardizing national security.  In a speech before the conservative Federalist Society , he called the trend “profoundly disturbing.”  The ACLU’s Anthony Romero called on the Bush administration and Attorney General-appointee Alberto Gonzales to renounce Ashcroft’s remarks, which he said showed “clear disdain for the rule of law.”    (Knight Ridder)



On Nov.29, the leaders of 30 civil rights organizations called on the Chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Judicial Committee to closely examine the civil rights’ record of the Bush administration’s nominee for Attorney General, Alberto R. Gonzalez, currently the White House legal counselor.  All expressed concern about the role Gonzales played in setting the administration’s policy on the detention and interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.  [Gonzales wrote the infamous memo suggesting torture of “noncombatants” might be legal.  Reportedly, Bush nominated Gonzales to give him a chance to burnish his credentials with religious fundamentalists, who suspect he may not be adamantly against Roe v. Wade.  Gonzales is viewed by many as a prime candidate for a Supreme Court seat if and when one becomes available during the next quadrennium.]



A 15-year study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal judges, has found that while sentencing has become “more certain and predictable,” disparities still exist among races and regions of the country.  The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as early as the week of November 29 whether to throw out the system because it allows judges, not juries, to consider factors that can add years to sentences. According to the study released Nov. 23, the average prison sentence today is about four years, two months—twice what it was when lawmakers began calling for a uniform sentencing system in 1984, mostly because of the elimination of parole for offenses such as drug trafficking. The numbers of Hispanics imprisoned on immigration charges has surged over the past two decades.  Another finding was that African-Americans stay in prison for about six years, compared with about four years for Anglos.  The report attributed the disparity in part to harsher mandatory minimum sentences that Congress imposed for drug-related crimes such as cocaine possession.  In 2002, 81 percent of these offenders were African-American. (AP)



On November 29, the Supreme Court heard arguments as to whether states have the right to adopt laws allowing the use of drugs the federal government has banned or whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding by those medical marijuana laws.  A majority of the justices indicated skepticism about the medicinal value of the drug. California passed the nation’s first so-called medical marijuana law in 1996, allowing patients to smoke and grow marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.  The Bush administration maintains that those laws violate federal drug rules and asserts that marijuana has no medical value.  Last December, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal laws criminalizing marijuana do not apply to patients whose doctors have recommended the drug.  The same court said that doctors were free to recommend marijuana to their patients.  (AP)


The federal government’s crusade against users of “medical marijuana” even in states that allow sick people to have the drug is obnoxious.  But a case argued before the Supreme Court on Nov. 29 is only superficially about pot and illness.  At a deeper level, it is the latest test of the Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, the constitutional authority that underlies the modern regulatory state.  While it would be satisfying to see the court bat down the Justice Department’s heavy-handed tactics, such a holding could be dangerous to civil rights enforcement, environmental protection and more.  (WP editorial) 



A recent telephone poll of Texan sentiment showed that 44 percent of Texans favor a moratorium on death penalty executions pending a study on death-penalty issues; 52 percent oppose.  “It’s clear that as people learn more about our application of the death penalty, there’s a greater understanding that the system is broke in Texas and there’s a greater desire to fix the system,” said Steve Hall, who heads an organization promoting a  moratorium on executions.  In other findings, the poll shows that 51 percent support the law allowing l7-year-old capital murder suspects to face the death penalty, while 40 percent oppose it.  (FWST)





Like so many others,  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott contends that the Ten Commandments are “undeniably a foundation document of the development of Western legal codes and civilization. Where that notion arises is beyond me.  The total number of times that the Ten Commandments were referenced during the Constitutional Convention is zero.  Laws supporting any of the first few commandments that deal with human-divine relations would patently violate our Bill of Rights.  Virtually every society—since before the Bible was written—has followed the same rules found in commandments six  through nine, and the last commandment contradicts the basic notions underlying our nation’s economy.  The only thing that’s undeniable is that unthinking repetition of baseless claims is commonly employed by those who strive to use the machinery of government to advocate their own personal religious views.  (Mike Newdow of Sacramento, letter to the editors of the FWST)



President Bush may be a lame duck [in his second term], but he is not immune from the political reality of what the Republican Party wants and needs in the coming years.  There is going to be an effort to try to pay back the religious right for what they have done in this election.  There are already rumblings that they are going to try to bring the Federal Marriage Amendment up again in the spring, but even with 4-5 more votes in the Senate they are not going to have the votes they need [at least 60 to cut off debate].  There is nonetheless going to be a battle, and the left cannot roll over and play dead.

The Republicans are also trying to push a political speech bill which enables individual churches to speak out on electoral politics without violating their non-profit status, but people do not seem to be responding positively to it.  Polls suggest that they feel it is stepping over the line.  Americans tend to be religious in nature but they don’t like the idea of religion getting involved in their politics.  Politics is a dirty word and they get upset when their ministers get involved with it.

The electorate is much more moderate than the current majority in Congress and the White House and even the courts.  The pendulum has been shifting to the right steadily for years now and this election pushes it even further, but the election itself was close.  If the Republicans use their power to push a far-right agenda, the pendulum will swing back.  (Roy Speckhardt, Programme director, Ameican Humanist Assoc.)



In school districts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, creationists are once again campaigning against the teaching of evolution.  But this time, instead of breathing fire and brimstone, demanding that schools teach the Genesis story of divine creation, the forces of reaction are pretending to be reasonable.  Without mentioning God or the Bible, they’re arguing that schools should teach “intelligent design”—the concept that our universe is so infinitely complex that only “a supernatural, omnipresent Designer” could have devised it. It’s an appealing message, driven by the innate human need to divine a purpose and meaning in life.  But it’s still faith “masquerading” as science, and it has no place in a biology classroom.  True scientific theories require specific models to test their validity.  There are no experiments, no empirical examples that could prove the existence of an all-powerful Designer (“God by a different name”).  There’s nothing wrong with teaching children about faith as well as science—it’s merely a question of location.  Let the biology teachers do their thing, and leave the faith teaching for home and clergy.  In the end, mixing them up in the classroom will not strengthen either one. (TheWeek) 


Evangelist Jerry Falwell says he is starting a political organization that will be “a 21st-century resurrection” of the Moral Majority, the Christian lobby he founded and led from 1979 to 1987.  The new group, named the Faith and Values Coalition, will “utilize the momentum of the Nov. 2 elections” to maintain an evangelical revolution of voters who will continue to go to the polls to ‘vote Christian.’  (WP)



A recent poll shows that nearly two-thirds of British adults now believe that the pub has more to offer the community than the church.  Just 15 percent have faith that it is the other way round.  Three-quarters of the adult population go to pubs, and more than a third are regulars, dropping in at least once a week.  This compares with the seven percent who are regular churchgoers.  Another poll showed that only two percent of Britons go to church more than once a week, ten percent weekly, five percent monthly, and 36 percent a few times a year; 47 percent said they never go.  (IHS)



The governing body of Toronto Anglicans voted November 27 to defer a decision on approving the blessing of same-sex unions until 2006.  Five months ago, the Anglican Church of Canada affirmed the “integrity and sanctity” of same-sex relationships at a national meeting but stopped short of authorizing blessing ceremonies for gay couples.  The Toronto diocese is the largest in Canada. (AP)



Scientists at Maastricht University Holland have found that Roman Catholic rituals create 20 times more air pollution than a road with 45,000 vehicles traveling on it per day.  During a nine hour period, a Roman Catholic basilica in Maastricht had air pollutants 20 times higher than mandated by European clean air guidelines.  The study found high levels of aromatic hydrocarbons—known carcinogens—and ‘free radicals.”  Most at risk are priests and devout worshippers who go to church daily.  (IHS)




Swiss voters on Nov. 28 overwhelmingly approved a law allowing stem-cell research, rejecting a campaign that compared researchers to the Nazis’ “angel of death,” Dr. Josef Mengele.  About 66 percent approved the law passed by the government last December.  The Swiss bill only allows the use of embryonic stem cells left over from invitro fertilization, a more restrictive usage than elsewhere in Europe. (AP)



The International Red Cross is “deeply concerned” about the killing of civilians and noncombatants in Iraq and the apparent failure by all sides to respect humanitarian law.  International law prohibits killing anyone who is not taking part in fighting or has stopped doing so.  “As  hostilities continue in Fallujah and elsewhere, every day seems to bring news of yet another act of utter contempt for the most basic tenet of humanity: the obligation to protect human life and dignity,”  a Red Cross spokesman said.  [A recent Johns Hopkins study showed that about 100,000 more Iraqis died during the past 18 months than would have been expected based on pre-war mortality rates.]  (AP)



Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the U.S. led invasion of the country 20 months ago, according to surveys by the U.N., aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.  (WP)



Former detainees released from U.S.-run facilities around the world continue to come forward with reports of torture or degrading treatment during their interrogation and detention.  A just released Amnesty International report documents a pattern of human rights violations that range from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay.  It outlines how the U.S. has fallen into a familiar historical pattern of violating human rights in the name of national security.  (


The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the U.S. government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  The finding came after a visit by Red Cross inspection teams that spent most of last June in Guantanamo.  (NYT)



The U.S. will not attend a major review conference beginning November 28 in Nairobi that will review compliance with the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines.  The U.S., China and Russia are among 51 countries that have not ratified the treaty.  A State Department official said the administration could not justify using tax dollars to support the Nairobi conference since it “will have obviously a political platform that is not our policy.”  (AP)



The discovery of a nearly complete skeleton of a dainty, 95-centimetre- tall [three foot] humanoid in a cave on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores has opened an entirely new chapter in the story of human evolution.  The creature, nicknamed by its discoverers the ‘hobbit’, is now officially known as Homo floresiensis, and the discovery of her skeleton is a finding without parallel.  [It might otherwise have] emerged from the fertile imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.  What the bones reveal is that, not so very long ago, Flores was home to the closest thing evolution ever produced to a real live hobbit.  The creature did not have the island to itself, however, for it was forced to share its hills and caverns with ferocious dragons and enormous rats.  Even more astonishing, the forests of the island were the haunts of dwarf elephants, many no larger than ponies, whose heads would not have come up to your waist  …It may seem odd that, having arrived, these very large and very small creatures began to converge in size—the rats growing larger and the elephants shrinking.  …this pattern is widespread and is due to evolutionary selection for a body size best able to exploit an island’s limited resources.  On Flores the rats had reached such prodigious size and the elephants become so miniaturized, that we can guess the process had been ongoing for a million years or more.  Presumably both the elephants and rats fell prey to the island’s komodo dragons.  …The fact that, over a million years ago, Homo ergaster had already joined those few elite mammals that could cross water gaps makes humanity’s spread around the globe during the past 50,000 years somehow less surprising.  And the hobbit informs us that we are like any other species in that, when we are isolated on islands, evolution will fit our bodies to the opportunities the size of our “world” offers.  Most importantly, the hobbit tells us that we are not unique, nor were we, until 18,000 years ago, alone.  (Tim Flannery, Director of the South Australian Museum, TLS)



Many American youngsters participating in federally funded, abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the U.S. have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy,” a congressional staff analysis has found.  In providing nearly $170 million next year to fund groups that teach abstinence only, the Bush administration, with backing from the Republican Congress, is investing heavily in a just-say-no strategy for teen-agers and sex.  But youngsters taking the courses frequently receive medically inaccurate or misleading information, often in direct contradiction to the findings of government scientists, said the report by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., an administration critic who has long argued for comprehensive sex education. (WP)



A little-noticed report released in mid-November by the Agriculture Department found that 11.2 percent of all American households—about12.6 million of them—were “food insecure” at some point last year.  Nearly one-third of households headed by single mothers reported such concerns; children in 207,000 households, the report said, went hungry at some point last year.  In response, a group of senators from across the political spectrum now constituting one-third of the members of that chamber has banded together to help put the often-forgotten issue of hunger on the congressional agenda.  (WP)



When the elderly scream about the price of prescription drugs, ears prick up.  But 80 percent of the 45 million uninsured are what Princeton health-care analyst Uwe Reinhardt calls “low-income, hardworking stiffs”—waitresses, taxi drivers, clerks, nursing-home aides, gas-station attendants.  They swing no weight among policymakers; no lobby represents them; their pockets aren’t deep enough to buy congressional attention.  Working stiffs have to depend on the kindness of strangers and we’re running a kindness deficit.  What’s more, failing to cover 45 million people is, indisputably, a bargain.  The uninsured received $48 billion in free or government-paid care last year.  Insuring them could cost about $96 billion more.  Ooooh, that would raise taxes. So we look away.  …The next Congress may give a nod to the uninsured.  Maybe tax credits for people who lose their jobs, to help them buy interim coverage, or eliminating the two year waiting period that keeps the disabled from Medicare. But will we make a fundamental fix?  Nah.  Too many rich, corporate players have a stake in the status quo.  Princeton’s Reinhardt distills our chosen policy this way: the suffering of a few million Americans, while regrettable, is a price well worth paying for fine coverage for the rest of us.  What’s really regrettable is that that sounds, to most Americans, OK.  (Jane Bryant Quinn, Newsweek)



The Democrats have come up with lots of comfort-food explanations of George Bush’s victory—from the idea that the rascal stole the election for a second time…to the notion that he rode into Washington, D.C.,  at the head of an army of hooded fundamentalists.  But perhaps the most dangerous of all these myths is the idea that Mr. Bush terrified the voters into re-electing him. … This explanation is dangerous because it contains a measure of truth.  The election certainly took place against a background of fear. …And the Republicans certainly played the fear card with gusto. …They also clobbered them on hope. [Voter surveys show the public tends to choose more optimistic candidates over those perceived as less optimistic.] For the moment, the American right is better at talking about the future than the left.  It is better at exuding optimism.  And it is better at addressing the aspirations of an aspirational people. …Mr. Bush’s optimistic message gave him a commanding advantage in pro-growth America.  Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based writer who knows as much about the grassroots economy as anyone, points to the close relationship between growth, both demographic and economic, and a propensity to vote Republican.  [Bush carried 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties.] Most of Mr. Kerry’s base was in stagnant America.  Democratic strongholds such as Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Mr. Kerry’s Boston have been losing people and jobs. 

…The no-need-to-change things party:  First, the party is increasingly dominated by people who have no yearning for growth: public-sector workers; academics and trustafarians who both live off inherited endowments; environmentalists who want to regulate SUVS and urban sprawl; and billionaires who are too rich to aspire to anything.  (One of the best statistics of the campaign is that people worth $2m-10m supported Mr. Bush by a 63-37% margin, whereas those worth more than $10 million favoured Mr. Kerry 59-41%.)  Second, the Democratic Party is ceasing to be a mom-and-pop party. 

…the fertility rate in the Kerry states is 12% lower than the Bush states.  Vermont,

…perhaps the most left-wing state in the country, produces an annual average of 49 children for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age; in Utah, where 71% of the population voted for Mr. Bush, the figure is 91.  In deep-blue cities such as San Francisco and Seattle you find more dogs than children. …In America, self-styled progressives look ever more like the party of the past, and confessed conservatives are the ones focusing on the future. (Lexington: Economist magazine)

     The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the

    political field.  He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile

     within the sphere of his real interests.  He becomes a primitive again.  His thinking is associative

     and affective.                   

                                             --Joseph Schumpeter, economic theorist (1942)




           If I didn’t feel that I was the personal instrument of God, I couldn’t carry on.

                                                       --Woodrow Wilson

Does that sound like something that could have been said by a more recent occupant of the oval office?  It’s no secret that some neocon intellectuals in Washington, New York and elsewhere see a parallel, which they commend, between the foreign policies of the current administration and those of Woodrow Wilson.  Both presidents had and have a strong messianic strain:  America is the beacon on the hill beaming the light of democracy to a (mostly) benighted world.  And when that light reaches all those darkened corners ignorant of free elections and free markets, a light sometimes requiring muscle to pierce intervening obstacles, all will be well.  Let’s hope the present incumbent is more successful than his Calvinist predecessor.

 “In 1912, four formidable personalities of mythic proportions clashed in their quest for the presidency.  This was a unique event in American history, and James Chace does full justice to a dramatic story,” says the cover blurb, contributed by Aruthur Schlesinger, Jr.  Perhaps this paean was sung with tongue in cheek.  The third, William Howard Taft strikes me, at least in Chace’s narrative, as more of a milquetoast than a titan, except in girth.  (Taft weighted 350 pounds, and in that respect was the preeminent heavyweight among presidents.)   Taft never wanted to be president (he came from the bench and to the bench, on the Supreme Court, to be sure, he wished to return—and eventually did) and almost certainly never would have been except for the overweening ambition of his wife and a sitting president’s desire for a successor compliant to the progressive program already laid down for him.  Alas, Roosevelt made the mistake of going off on an African safari immediately after he left office and during his one year absence, the heavy-hitters in a Republican dominated congress, seething at Roosevelt’s rhetorical bashing of big business, pretty much had their way in reversing Rooseveltian reform.  (In fairness to Taft, it should be pointed out that the Taft administration was rather more vigorous with trust-busting than its predecessor.)  Teddy was able to contain his frustration with his anointed successor only so long and when it exploded, two men who had been the dearest of friends became the bitterest of enemies.  Roosevelt sought to deny Taft a second term and put forth his own candidacy for the Republican Party’s nomination.  But the party machine wanted Taft and undertook such skullduggery as was necessary to get their man the nomination.  Roosevelt and his progressive supporters walked out of the convention to give birth to the Bull Moose Party.

 The split in Republican ranks gave the Democrats a real shot at the presidency and congressional control for the first time in sixteen years.  But who was to be their candidate?  The pickings were pretty slim.   Most of the party elite regarded William Jennings Bryant as washed up after three unsuccessful runs.  Its congressional leaders were an uninspiring lot.  Democratic governors could scarcely raise an electoral eyebrow—except with one exception:  the reforming governor of New Jersey and former president of Princeton University.  And Wilson had rhetorical skills as well as almost endless ambition.  In those days when delegates were mostly chosen in party caucuses and not in democratic primaries, electoral appeal was a lot less than everything.  It took several ballots and oodles of wheelerdealer intrigue in smoked filled rooms before Wilson got the nod.

 Despite the advantage of a divided opposition, Wilson might still have lost.  He was a southern Democrat with all the racial baggage that generally accompanied people of his class and religious outlook; he despised labor unions; his cold personality scarcely endeared him to populists of the Midwestern prairie or of eastern workshops; his Jeffersonian bent committed him to laissez-faire economic policies in an age of industrial monopolies and kingpin financiers.  Roosevelt and Debs might have had the progressive vote to themselves at a time when the electorate was demanding a lot more of Washington than honest government. At this point who was to come to the rescue but a little known Jewish lawyer, Lewis Brandeis, who met with Wilson at the latter’s vacation home on the New Jersey shore and persuaded him to an activist agenda later to be styled the New Freedom, somewhat ironically, given the subsequent persecution and deportation of many dissidents by Wilson and his Attorney General. (Among those dissidents was Eugene Debs who was not to be released from prison by the ever vindictive Wilson but by his successor, Warren G. Harding.)  A reinvigorated Wilson now had a platform to rouse his latent oratorical talents.  He and Roosevelt were pretty much all there was to the campaign.  Taft made only a fitful stab at campaigning and Debs lacked money and organization to become a viable challenger. Wilson won with a large majority in the electoral college and a plurality of the popular vote, albeit substantially less than Roosevelt’s and Taft’s combined vote.


The rest, as they say, is history.  And tragedy.  Wilson to his credit pushed through a Democratic congress economic reforms such as the Clayton Anti-trust Act, a federal income tax and the Federal Reserve Act, a program most economic historians continue to commend.  He will be best remembered, however, for his role as wartime president and failed peacemaker. “ What ifs” abound.  Chace suggests that Roosevelt erred in confronting Taft in 1912:  Taft loathed the job and might have bowed out of the race before it began if Roosevelt had practiced flattery and accommodation rather than fulmination.  Without Taft in the race, he almost certainly would have won.  A far different foreign policy would have ensued.  For Roosevelt was never a reluctant warrior, his winning the 1906 Nobel Peace prize notwithstanding (for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese war).  Whether he could have set U.S. policy on a more forceful course early in the war is of course speculation.  But if he had succeeded and had the U.S. intervened militarily at an earlier stage, it is plausible to suppose that political collapse in central and eastern Europe might have been avoided and near economic collapse all over Europe during and at the conclusion of the war.  Flexibly pragmatic Roosevelt wanted to restore a balance of power in Europe that had been upset by a dynamic and aggressive Germany, not to wage a messianic crusade for democracy.  Whether that would have better in the long run or not, we will never know.  We only know that almost anything would have been better than what was to follow.

In small compass Chace has done a remarkable job in delineating the issues and the personalities who dealt with them.  His is the most engaging work of history that I have read in a long time.