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Your daily dose of unpersuasive counterfactuals


Frum has an odd little piece about “the elections that went most disastrously wrong for the United States and the world.” Politely refusing to consider more recent contests, Frum decides instead to fixate on the three elections beginning with Wilson’s victory in 1912. Why? I honestly have no idea. It seems that Frum thinks the election of Wilson in 1912 and 1916 guaranteed that the US would neglect to enter the Great War until it was too late; that an earlier mobilization (under Taft or Hughes) would have resulted in a shorter war; and that with Zombie Theodore Roosevelt as president from 1921 onward, the post-war debt crisis might have been resolved in a way that discouraged the Germans from attempting to kill all the people.

The whole thing is just insufferably weird, especially as Frum claims to have turned his “‘what if?’ mind” to these elections “again and again” — though evidently without knowing much at all about them. This is especially so for Wilson’s election in 1912, which Frum suggests had something to do with Roosevelt refusing to “discipline himself” and accept Taft for another four years.

Hardly. Taft was a clumsy President who managed to alienate nearly everyone in the progressive wing of his own party by voting for a tariff bill they hated (and which he subsequently described as “the best bill” Republicans had ever passed), by firing Gifford Pinchot from the Forest Service, and for regarding the presidency in decidedly more conservative terms than Roosevelt had approached the job. Taft was, moreover, distracted by a horrific stroke suffered by his wife, Nellie, a mere two months into his term, as well as by what I’d have to describe as an overall dislike for the position. (In my never-to-be-written book, Presidents Who Hated Being President, Taft would be near the top of the list.) The Democratic Party, helped along by Republican infighting, absolutely clobbered the GOP in the 1910 elections, seizing 59 seats (and the majority) in the House while reducing their adversaries from 60 seats to 48 in the Senate. Heading into 1912, the Democrats could easily have nominated a cinder block, festooned it with tiny American flags, and defeated Taft with several electoral votes to spare. As it happened, the Democrats took the unusual route of selecting the strongest available (and perhaps the strongest possible) candidate, and they won a victory that was more or less inevitable. Roosevelt’s pride had nothing to do with it; he and his supporters would have sat out the election rather than swallow another four years of Taft. Indeed, if anyone could deny Wilson a victory by stepping aside, it would have been Taft himself — but in one of the great episodes of spite in American political history, Taft hung around and accepted the GOP nomination even though he understood that he was toast in the general election. The guy barely campaigned for another term — defeating Roosevelt was satisfaction enough.

But even if Taft had won in 1912, I have no idea why Frum thinks he’d have been able to persuade Congress (and a deeply ambivalent public) to enter the Great War before 1917. After all, Taft — unlike Frum’s former boss — rejected TR’s expansive view of presidential power. Even with fellow interventionists clamoring for blood, Taft most likely have relied on his “What the Fuck Am I Supposed to Do?” face to evade the problem altogether.

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  • I find it terrifying that he thinks it would have been better for the U.S to have entered WWI sooner.

    And in what universe does TR win in 1920, in a decidedly anti-progressive year?

    Also, he’s dead wrong on the data – 1912 was not a close year. Wilson was 2 million votes in front of TR. Even if TR hadn’t run, the Progressives still would have peeled off enough votes to win – and their voters would never have voted for Taft. 1916 was a bit closer, but 3% and 600k votes is a lot wider than other close U.S elections.

    • Scott de B.

      I find it terrifying that he thinks it would have been better for the U.S to have entered WWI sooner.

      If you consider Wilhelmine Germany a threat to world peace on a par with Imperial Japan and a tiny notch below Hitler’s Germany (and I do: Generallplan Ost was basically a slightly updated version of Ludendorff’s vision for Eastern Europe), then I don’t find it terrifying at all.

      • witless chum

        Given who ended up running Eastern Europe after World War II, is any of this actually worse?

        • Malaclypse

          A faster defeat of Germany, and the Tsar might not have fallen.

          • witless chum

            If we’re just trying to end the war quicker, we could joined Wilhelm’s side. US embargo plus German subs would have had the Brits suing for peace pretty damn quick.

          • witless chum

            Keeping Austria-Hungary together would have probably been a net positive, too.

            • Lee

              The same with keeping the Ottoman Empire together. A Middle East that manages to evolve into a Constitutional Monarchy with Islam holding the same place that Anglicanism does in England, would have saved the world a lot of grief.

              WWI scenarios are really fascinating because the clean up job was so botched and what followed was so horrible that anything looked better in comparison. The clean up job in WWII was handled much better, still very imperfect, because it was one of the few times in history that the mistakes of the past were remembered. I think that Japan retained its monarchy because of the perceived chaos in the ending the various dynasties after WWI.

              I’m currently reading Fischer’s one volume history of Nazi Germany. He, and other historians, argued somewhat persuasively that ending the German Monarchy was mistake because there weren’t enough segments of society that were willing to accept Republican principles yet. This is why the Weimar Republic tended to lack legitimately at crucial times. A more constitutional monarchy would have received widepsread acceptance.

              • John

                I don’t see how the end of the German monarchy can possibly be blamed on the allies, though. They never demanded that Germany become a republic. They demanded, first, that it become a real democracy, and second (implicitly) that the Kaiser and the Crown Prince had to be gone. I don’t see how that’s at all unreasonable, given what massive choads both the Kaiser and his eldest son were.

                The Allies would have been perfectly happy to accept a constitutional monarchy under the Kaiser’s grandson, and the Social Democrats would have been reasonably happy to create one.

                The problem was, firstly, that the German admirals insanely decided to go out and sink the High Seas Fleet in a last blaze of glory, which led to a sailors’ mutiny which ultimately turned into an incipient socialist revolution in Germany. At the same time, the Kaiser held on too long. By the time he abdicated, there was a revolutionary situation in Berlin, and the Social Democratic leaders realized they’d probably be driven out of power if they didn’t proclaim a republic.

                They were actually meeting to discuss how a regency for the Kaiser’s grandson would work when Scheidemann looked out the window, saw all the protesters demanding a republic, and unilaterally proclaimed one out of, essentially, fear. At that point there was no going back.

                • Lee

                  Oh, its not the Allies fault at all. Germany ended up as republic by accident. Most of the SPD leadership thought that the it would be better for Germany to remain a constitutional monarchy but events got out of hand fast because of political chaos.

              • Scott de B.

                I don’t see the Ottoman Empire developing along the lines you suggest. There wasn’t any way that the Arab population of the Empire was going to happily continue to acquiesce to Turkish overlordship.

                • John

                  Is that really true? The “Arab Revolt” was inspired more by the aspirations of the Hashemite Dynasty than by any particular discontent with the Ottomans, and originated in the most decent and least populated Arab part of the Empire.

                  The Ottomans had had a much easier time governing Syria and Iraq than the French and British were to have. Certainly there would have been demands for Arab (and Kurdish) autonomy, but how serious?

                  The problem is more, I think, that the Turks were increasingly less interested in ruling a multi-national empire. You look at Enver and his colleagues, and they were more interested in establishing a pan-Turkic empire in Central Asia than anything else.

                  Certainly the benign entity Lee envisions seems unlikely.

                • JoyfulA

                  John, the pre-Third-World Third World was immensely excited about Wilson’s words. Among the groups who came to France to petition Wilson for self-determination were Egyptians, Koreans, and Indians. I’ve forgotten if Kurds and Arabs also sent delegations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

                  Of course, what Wilson had in mind was self-determination for Europeans, and few nonwhites got to talk to an assistant to the assistant, let alone make their case to Wilson.

              • Spud

                I think that Japan retained its monarchy because of the perceived chaos in the ending the various dynasties after WWI.

                Except it didn’t. The Emperor really only wielded power in Japan during the Meiji period (1869-1910). After WWI, a constitutional monarchy formed from 1919 to 1932.

                By the time the militarists took power in the early 30’s. The Emperor was already a purely symbolic figure.

                The only time the Emperor did anything of note in the 20th Century was when Hirohito finally got off his duff and announced the surrender.

                Even then he almost got killed over it. It couldn’t have even occured if not for key high ranking military figures signing off on it.

                • Lee

                  Historians are actually divided on how much power Emperor Hirhito exercised during the first part of his reign. The Meiji Constitution gave the Japanese Emperor a tremendous amount of power. Meiji like Wilhelm I of Germany tended to delegate power rather than exercise it. Taisho wasn’t mentally capable of exercising his theoretical power.

                  Hirohito, or Showa, was more than mentally capable. How much he actually did is not that easy to determine.

          • wengler

            If the Tsar hadn’t have fallen, Japan could’ve wound up with Siberia.

        • Scott de B.

          As a descendant of Poles, yes, an independent Poland, even under Communist rule, was infinitely preferable to living under either German or Russian autocracy.

          • JoyfulA

            My Polish in-laws kinda preferred the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which basically left them alone (until they were conscripted for WWI), to being under the Communists (and forced to move hundreds of miles west after Poland was carved up again). But that part of Poland was unindustrialized and undeveloped, which was the bad part of not being forced to conform.

            Of course, the best of all was independence in the Pilsudski era.

      • Bart

        Jesus to Baldy – would you have had most of a generation of our men dead too?

      • Doesn’t this assume that entering the war earlier would have actually sped up the war’s end, as opposed to ramp up the body count?

    • ajay

      I find it terrifying that he thinks it would have been better for the U.S to have entered WWI sooner.

      Well, it might have saved the lives of millions of people. But they were only Europeans.

      • JohnR

        “better for the U.S.”

        • wengler

          Unless your great-grandpas went over there and died.

          And then you wouldn’t be alive to argue about counterfactuals on the internet.

        • ajay

          Ah, I read it as “better (for the US to have entered WW1 sooner)”, not “(better for the US) to have entered WW1 sooner”.

          In any case, you can’t see any advantage to the US of forestalling revolution, slaughter and catastrophe in every other major nation in the world?

      • Might have. Might have killed more millions of Europeans, and hundreds of thousands if not millions more Americans.

    • John

      I find it terrifying that he thinks it would have been better for the U.S to have entered WWI sooner.

      I’m agnostic on this one, but I think the key to understanding where Frum is coming from is to remember the oft-forgotten fact that he is Canadian. Canadians were fighting and dying on the Western Front for almost four years before any substantial number of Americans showed up. The idea that an earlier joining US would have won the war quicker is a much more attractive one for people from the Commonwealth, I think.

      • “an earlier joining US would have won the war quicker” is the key assumption here. I don’t think it’s proven in any way.

        • Anonymous

          Its at least arguable that US intervention was as decisive as it was precisely because by 1917 the other powers were exhausted; unlike WW2, where US industry, aircraft and naval power was essential, I think this was much more a pure matter of boots on the ground.

          And if Thinking about intervention on the German side – well, bear in mind you’re then talking about war in and around Canada. Winnable, sure, but not particularly cleanly.

  • Warren Terra

    It seems appropriate to link to this blog post about the novel Taft 2012.

    • Murc

      Thanks for getting to that before me, Warren, so I can feel much better about going off on a tangent about it.

      Taft 2012 is dreck. I say that as someone who proudly and unapologetically reads and enjoys Eric Flint, David Weber, John Ringo, and S.M Stirling, so I’m not exactly coming at it from a position of literary snobbery.

      Jason Heller wanted to re-hash, for the millionth time, the incredible fantasy lots of people have for a Daddy Candidate who has Magical Unity Powers to appear and make the children on the left and on the right stop their squabbling and agree on obvious solutions to problems, because of course the only reason they fight is because of “politics” and most Americans just want to elect an adult.

      And that is precisely what he did. That would be fine if he were a more engaging writer and could make you more interested in his characters and plot, but both of those are paint-by-numbers predictable. For someone who claims to be a journalist, he doesn’t even stop to consider that if someone born in 1857 were to magically appear and run for President, perhaps some pointed questions would be asked about his positions on racial, gender, and sexual equality, that maybe it would be considered that he has zero experience with modern scientific consensuses on things like the environment and medical technology.

      And Taft specifically was Governor of one of our imperial conquests right after we’d just fought a bloody and atrocity-filled war to acquire it. By most accounts he did a decent job, but a decent job by the prevailing standards of ruling brown people half a world away a century ago. One might think people would have pointed questions about THAT as well.

      • witless chum

        Heller writes for the AV Club, so probably the sharpest cut would be to compare his book to that Robin Williams runs for president movie a few years ago.

        I guess the book can’t be that bad, but the American desire for a politician who isn’t a politician is one of the things that just suggests we aren’t grown ups and don’t want to be.

        • ajay

          the American desire for a politician who isn’t a politician is one of the things that just suggests we aren’t grown ups and don’t want to be.

          This isn’t a uniquely American longing, though. Look at the reception that de Gaulle (professional soldier) got, or Berlusconi (media magnate), or Shinawatra (ditto).

          The difference might be that other countries look for that sort of nonpolitical saviour in the aftermath of a major political upheaval (the war, or Tangentopoli) and Americans look for him all the time.

          • Murc

            Let’s not kid ourselves; Berlusconi and ESPECIALLY de Gaulle were always politicians in addition to whatever else they were.

            • ajay

              Fair enough…

          • witless chum

            Well, if you have an NPR-deep understanding of politics in Italy, France and Thailand, my statement makes perfect sense.

        • AV Club is nice and all but I’ve never seen any evidence that anyone is more politically sophisticated than a sixth grader.

          They’re cynical about Hollywood without an idea how things work in Hollywood.

          • witless chum

            Do you mean the staff? What gives you the idea they don’t know how things work in Hollywood?

            Todd Vanderwmumble in particular is constantly explaining how TV gets made to commenters.

      • MPAVictoria

        “Eric Flint, David Weber, John Ringo, and S.M Stirling”

        I also enjoy those writers much more than I really should. Can’t get enough Military Sci Fi.

        • Malaclypse

          You should be sure and read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series.

          • Murc

            Am I wrong for really not liking John Scalzi?

            I love his blog, and a number of his short pieces of fiction, but as novel writer… meh.

            He always comes off as so PASSIONLESS. He hits on an idea he thinks is interesting and then competently unpacks it. I always feel like I’m reading something written by a person for whom writing is their JOB, rather than their VOCATION.

            • Malaclypse

              You are asking an accountant to judge novels based on passion, rather than competent analysis of an idea?

              Although my reading The Android’s Dream first may color my opinion. I like his humor.

              • Hogan

                Same here, and I started with Agent to the Stars.

            • Bill Murray

              yes, of course you’re wrong. We all must like the same things or else

        • witless chum

          I was huge into Stirling’s Nantucket books and the first five or so Emberverse novels, but that series is starting to really fucking drag. He really should have done the Tiphanie section of the last book as a novel and gotten to the fucking showdown. Unless there was something new happening that I didn’t get, it just seemed like a rehash of stuff he’d already done, illuminating themes he’d already illuminated.

          And I say that as somebody who read the Tyrion and Daenarys stories in A Dance With Dragons with unreserved joy.

  • rea

    How the hell does President X get the US into the war before 1917? Absent (1) unrestricted submarine warfare and (2) the Zimmermann telegram, there isn’t popular support for entry into the war.

    • JohnR

      How the hell does President X get the US into the war before 1917?

      Not important. The reason Frum chose these elections, I suspect, was three-fold:
      1. It’s nothing to do with him or anybody whose opinion matters to him,
      2. This period has become part of the mythology of the right sort of political fantasist, and
      3. It’s far enough back that nobody on the right has the vaguest idea of what actually was going on*, meaning that ‘Man in the High Castle’ fantasies don’t make anybody he knows uncomfortable.

      * Not that this is really a problem, considering the almost unbelievable ability of these guys to set themselves completely outside any recognizable objective reality. But I had thought that Frum at least drifted in and out of consciousness.

      • witless chum

        Also, I think Woodrow Wilson is also kind of uniquely unpalatable figure.

        The modern left dislikes him because of his racism and imperialism. The modern right blames him for expanding the federal government. He threw people in jail for political statements. He brought shame on the previously spotless reputation of New Jersey.

        • JohnR

          He brought shame on the previously spotless reputation of New Jersey.

          Oooh, nice! ‘witless’, eh?

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Actually, at least before the Iraq debacle, Wilson was a huge hero to the non-isolationist wing of the modern American right. He was one of Nixon’s favorite presidents. And he was an iconic figure for the neocons, who loved alling themselves “neo-Wilsonian.”

        • wengler

          Not his imperialism, his hatred of the most basic civil rights and liberties.

    • This was my fundamental thought. For people like Frum and his ilk, actual popular support for policies is irrelevant. For them, presidents should be able to start wars whenever they want to, past and present.

    • John

      It’s possible a President Roosevelt would have been able to gin up a war more quickly than Wilson did. Wilson at least tried to look like he was genuinely disinterested. Even that wore on the Germans, and they eventually decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare despite knowing this would bring the US in.

      It seems plausible that a President TR could have used the Lusitania situation to provoke the Germans to more hostile steps that would have led to war in 1915. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know, but again, from a Canadian perspective earlier American entry would seem like an unmitigated good, I think.

      • JoyfulA

        In a biography, I read before that WWI Carnegie paid TR a sum of money to visit the Kaiser and talk him out of his bellicosity. TR took a side trip to shoot some big game in Africa and never got to Europe before war began.

  • Scott de B.

    the Democrats could easily have nominated a cinder block, festooned it with tiny American flags, and defeated Taft with several electoral votes to spare.

    An ancestor of inanimate carbon rod, no doubt.

    • wengler

      I would’ve voted for the rod, until he ended up inside that intern.

  • c u n d gulag

    It worked for “Baby Doc” Bush a little less than a century later, so I suppose Taft, had he won, could have pointed out that the Germans had WMD as a justification for getting into the war.

    And, unlike “Baby Doc,” he’d have been right!

    • Hogan

      He’d still need some kind of Maine–9/11 thing. But those can be arranged.

      • c u n d gulag

        “Baby Doc” Bush would have used the sinking of the Lusitania as cause enough.

        His speech:
        ‘Thank you all. I want you all to know — it [bullhorn] can’t go any louder — I want you all to know that American today, American today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost at sea, and for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of the USA, and foreign nationals, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens, and theirs.

        Rescue Worker: I can’t hear you!

        President Bush: I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who sunk this ship will hear all of us soon!

        Crowd: USA! USA!!! USA!!!

        Of course, after The Battle of Verdun, he’d have rowed out to a battleship wearing a deep-sea diving suit, and declared “Mission Accomplished,” after which some early 20th Century Mathews-like scribe wrote about the thrill running up his leg as he watched our manly-man President declare victory.

        • Wrye

          Yeah, screw Taft 2012. Bush 1912! That’s something I’d read in a second.

  • Taj Mahalo

    In The Imperial Cruise, James Bradley suggests pretty strongly that Taft had basically no interest in his political career and was driven to undertake jobs for which he had neither ambition nor expertise in order to please his parents and his wife (whom Bradley describes as being close to obsessed with the idea of becoming First Lady). Sticking it to TR (his former patron) was probably the only reason he ran in 1916, and it seems entirely possible that Taft would have been nearly as disappointed as Wilson had Taft somehow been reelected.

  • William Burns

    This is a preemptive strike against Loomis’s “Underrated Taft” post, right?

    • No, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with anything Dave said here, yet I would still argue that Taft is underrated. He did a lot of good things in spite of himself.

  • sherparick

    It is amazing the myths we begin spin in our own heads. Although admittedly, like some other excommunicated Conservatives (see Bruce Bartlett and Dan Larison (of course Larison view himself has having excommunicated the other Conservatives)Frum has drifted left and I expect that he admires TR because of his Nationalism and Imperialism. But of course, TR’s 1912 platform would be considered “radical” and “to the left” of the mainstream if he ran on it today. Although if in a fluke TR had won in 1912, even he would initially pursued neutrality, even if a “partial” neutrality that favored the allies (which in the end was pretty much Wilson’s policy and why Bryan quit during the Lusitania crisis. That the country’s popular opinion was for neutrality was recognized in TR’s famous (or infamous letter to Sir Edward Grey, Great Britain’s Foreign minister, in January 1915 where he stated:

    “…You know that I am as little in sympathy with President Wilson and Secretary Bryan as regards their attitude in international matters as John Bright was in sympathy with Lords Palmerston and Derby and Mr. Gladstone in their attitude toward the American Republic when it was at war fifty years ago. But they speak for the country; and I have no influence whatever in shaping public action, and, as I h ave reason to believe, very little influence indeed in shaping public opinion. My advice, therefore, must be taken or rejected by you purely with reference to what you think it is worth…”

    Finally, since the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, just a over a month after Wilson’s 2d Term Inaugaration, so it is hard to see how Evans Hughes election would have caused any earlier intervention (in fact, it might caused just the opposite as debate over intervention and neutrality split the Progressive Party (which is one of the reason TR and his wing rejoined the Republicans in 1916 while Bob LaFollette and George Norris led the anti-interventionist filibusters in the winter of 1917). Senate Democrats with grave resevations about intervention supported Woodrow Wilson out of party loyalty, but would have stood with the anti-interventionist Progressives against Hughes.

    As for 1920, the election of Harding (and his successors), were all disasters, but I don’t know if the alternatives would have been any better given the way the Overton window had shifted rightward in the 1920s.

    • John

      Dave has actually mischaracterized Frum’s argument about the 1916 election. His claim is that, because Hughes was a Republican, he would not have gotten so completely out of step with Congress in the peace negotiations, which thus could have been more successful and prevented the US withdrawal into isolation.

      He doesn’t go into much more detail about this, but I’m kind of unconvinced. Hughes was actually directing US foreign policy in the early 20s, and made little effort to make the US more politically involved in European affairs. I have little doubt that Hughes would have negotiated a treaty that could have gotten Senate approval. But I don’t really see that such a treaty would have been any better for the prospects of peace in the long run.

      • Anonymous

        Hughes in the 1920s (who is the same guy who presided over the Washington Naval Conference, btw), when the League was dead in America, is apples and oranges to Hughes in 1919, when American participation was very much alive.

        • John

          Sure. But would there even be a proposal for a League without Wilson? With no 14 Points, how does the end of the war change? Recall that the Germans asked for peace on the basis of the 14 Points. Even then, they weren’t prepared for the hard reality behind Wilson’s idealistic words. With no idealistic words to fool them, do the Germans try to hold out longer?

          If Ludendorff had waited a few days after the Bulgarian Armistice before panicking, he would have realized that he had time, that there was no way the Allied army in Macedonia would be able to reach the Hungarian plain before the spring of 1919 or so. So just a slight delay in deciding to ask for an Armistice could prolong the war for quite a while.

          But the broader question is – what kind of peace would a President Hughes have envisioned? What kind of post-war role for America? For the latter, it’s almost certain he envisioned a less extensive role than Wilson did. but was it a broader vision than what he actually pursued as Secretary of State? Maybe, but I’m not sure we can assume that.

  • Lee

    Er, hasn’t been proven that if TR did not run in 1912 than the result would be an even bigger win for Wilson?

    • strannix

      Old myths die hard. I guess this means that we’re still due for another 80 years of the “Clinton would have never won if Perot had stayed out” meme.

    • John

      Bigger popular win, probably. Maybe not as big an electoral victory. It’s hard to see him losing, though.

  • John F

    No, but pretty damn likely.
    Taft was not going to win under any scenario.

    Roosevelt doesn’t run and his supporters either:
    A; Stay Home; or
    B: Vote for Wilson; or
    C: Vote for Taft; or
    D: Vote for Debs

    Roosevelt finished 2nd, not Taft- if Taft had quit the vast majority of his support goes to Roosevelt- Roosevelt could have won- in fact far more voters in 1912’s primaries voted for Roosevelt than Taft- under anything resembling the recent (past 60 years) primary process, TR would have been the Republican nominee not Taft.

    It was Taft who should have quit, but he quite likely did want to block TR- who had been hammering him nearly non-stop (not without justification) for 4 years.

    • John

      I don’t think TR would have won, either. The conservative wing of the Republicans would probably have rather had Wilson than Roosevelt.

      • Anonymous

        There’s really no chance that Wilson defeats a GOP-nominated TR. Compare his vote totals in each state to Bryan’s four years before, and they’re strikingly similar – except Wilson got fewer of them.

        The theory fails due to the fact that the conservative Republicans, those most likely to defect (unlikely) or stay home (plausible) are concentrated in the Northeast, the states where Democrats are weakest.

        • John

          This seems to be exactly like assuming Perot cost Bush re-election in 92. Compare Clinton’s percentages to Dukakis’s – Clinton did worse than the percentage Dukakis got in 35 states – basically everywhere outside the South.

          But this isn’t how elections work.

          • Craigo

            Clinton garnered more votes than Dukakis did four years before him. Wilson gathered fewer votes than Bryan did four years before him.

            To John, the situations are “exactly alike.”

            • John

              Taft+Roosevelt garnered fewer votes than Taft did four years before.

              There were only 150,000 or so more voters in 1912 than in 1908 – that number is entirely absorbed by the increase in votes for Eugene Debs. In 1992, on the other hand, there were 12.8 million new voters. Clinton increased on Dukakis’s total by 3.2 million – 24%.

              • John

                I should say 24% of all the extra votes from 1988 went to Clinton. I don’t see how the situation is that different. There were only a few new voters in 1912, and all of them went to fourth party candidate Debs – the Democrats lost votes, but so did the two Republican candidates compared to the one Republican candidate in 1908. The basic point is that you can’t compare a three way race with a two way race and assume that the changed dynamics make no difference

      • The question is what share of Taft’s vote were conservative Republicans who would not have voted for TR under any circumstances. I don’t think it’s that huge, more likely Taft’s 3-odd million voters were largely made up of lifelong old-style partisans who couldn’t bring themselves to not vote for the party of their fathers.

  • jafd

    Interesting question here. Kaiser Wilhelm II was Not A Nice Guy, and his government seriously destabilized the international system. But ranking nations by social welfare, education, and scientific and technological progress, a 2012 liberal might prefer Germany over England.

    “The First World War was one of those things that give war a bad name.” – Somebody wiser than I

    • John

      Ranking nations by social welfare, education, and scientific technological progress, a 2012 liberal might prefer Singapore over the United States. But none actually do.

    • wengler

      This is probably more about “not enough hatred for the tyrannical, genocidal and destructive British imperial system” than “too much hatred for the tyrannical, genocidal and destructive German imperial system”.

    • burritoboy

      Kaiser Wilhelm II wasn’t some entirely isolated phenomenon within Germany. Though he certainly added to his overall not-niceness with his own personal eccentric not-niceness, Imperial Germany’s entire Weltanschauung was definitively not nice. The Second Reich was going to turn bad sooner or later. See Heinrich Mann’s Man of Straw for a vivid picture of what political “life” in the Second Reich looked like.

  • e julius drivingstorm

    Where do we go from here? Blaming all sorts of catastrophes on the failure to elect Republican conservatives at all points in history is a rightwing hack attempt to legitimatize crap like preventive wars or cutting taxes for the rich, bust unions, shoot to kill immigrants — all the sick stuff the modern party of bigots stands for.

    Eventually, Frum and his ilk will have to declare that Lincoln was a RINO. After all, what self-respecting conservative of today would have attempted to free the slaves back then?

  • wengler

    If we’d have re-elected Taft, we’d already have that fucking moon base.

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