The history of the 1912 battle among Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Robert La Follette for the presidency of the United States, which gave birth to the first presidential primary.
Cowan (Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership/Univ. of Southern California; The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America's Greatest Lawyer, 1993, etc.) brings to life the wheeler-dealers, back-alley shenanigans, and political intrigue embedded within this legislative saga. He ably shows how the resulting primary system continues to affect our current political theater. Readers’ perceptions of Roosevelt and his motivations may change a bit after reading Cowan’s assessment of him. The author notes that his interest in writing the book lay in what transpired when Roosevelt created the Bull Moose Party, which bore the slogan of “the right of the people to rule,” and then proceeded to exclude black delegations from the states comprising the Deep South. Though Cowan’s portrait of Roosevelt forms the core of the book, the author fleshes out the personalities and motivations of many other influential characters. Cowan’s straightforward explanation of the role played by the prominent newspapers of the era provides an entertaining lens for viewing how outside influences create opinion and help contribute to the process of a presidential election. Readers who may feel overwhelmed by today’s political climate should take heart in noting how the past was not all that much different. “Insiders knew that the convention itself—the fight over the temporary roll, over the permanent chairmanship, even over the credentials challenges—was theater, for effect, for public consumption,” writes Cowan, whose use of material “from dozens of previously unknown and unused manuscript collections,” adds depth to his portrait of Roosevelt and the social and cultural environments from which the presidential primary emerged.
Political junkies will delight in this rollicking history containing lessons applicable to our contemporary political landscape.