Michael Wolraich's picture

    When the War Began

    Readers and friends,

    I'm happy to announce that I've signed a deal for my second book, When the War Began: Teddy Roosevelt, Republican Progressives, and the Birth of Modern Politics.*

    It will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in the Spring 2014. Palgrave is a great publisher, and I'm excited about the deal.

    I haven't met with my editor yet, but I would like to ask her permission to publish excerpts of my work-in-progress in order to get feedback from all the clever folks at dagblog.

    In the meantime, here's a brief description of the book:

    In 1907, America stood at the edge of calamity. Overextended banks operating without a safety net threatened to crack the brittle economy. Soaring prices brought profits to industrialists and hardship to farmers and laborers, fueling a vast income gap. The environment was polluted, the food supply was tainted, the government was corrupt. President Teddy Roosevelt struggled against a recalcitrant Congress to reform the system, but conservative Republicans backed by bankers and industrialists shut him down. Roosevelt’s successor, the amicable William Taft, proved even more helpless. As the two presidents faltered, a cluster of determined Republican reformers led by Senator Bob La Follette took up the charge. Their bold insurgency against their own party’s leaders shook the Capitol from its long slumber and propelled America into the 20th century, ushering in such institutions as the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the direct election of U.S. senators. Political analyst and regular CNN.com contributor Michael Wolraich tells the riveting, resonant story behind the first great battle between progressives and conservatives in WHEN THE WAR BEGAN: TEDDY ROOSEVELT, REPUBLICAN PROGRESSIVES, AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN POLITICS.

    To be notified of updates, please sign up for my mailing list or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


    PS I will be on vacation next week, floating down the Green River in Utah and trying not to think about politics or anything else that requires concentration.

    * The title is subject to change and probably will.



    Looks to be an interesting read.  Congrats on the book deal.  Of course, heading to Utah means the rumors of you doing some undercover investigation of the Mormons and Romney are bound to fly :P

    It's true, I plan to investigate whether Mormon mosquitoes drink Jewish blood.


    Very cool.

    Congratulations! Count me in as a buyer.

    Congratulation on the book deal as well as your choice of vacation. I haven't rafted the Green but have heard from many that it is great. Days away from politics should be great too and a river trip, whether slow and scenic or adrenalin rushed, [I think the Green during spring runoff will provide both, certainly the great scenery] is a great way to do it. Bet you have a great trip and I bet the book will be good too. 

    Thanks a lot. We'll be canoeing a quiet stretch through the canyons, so I don't anticipate too much adrenaline unless I manage to burn myself on the camp fire or some other typical clutzy maneuver. It should be very beautiful though.

    Congratulations, Genghis.  

    Congratulations, G-man. If as you say the title is still malleable, I'd suggest losing the conjunction. What you have now is subordinate clause, with no follow-up verb. Go active. 

    The War Begins: Teddy Roosevelt, Republican progressives, and the birth of modern American politics.

    The deck clearly states we're talking history here, so no need for the past tense. You're welcome.

    Not a bad suggestion. I'll bring it up when I get to that point.

    Teddy don't raft.


    P.S. Congrats, man!

    Aces Mr. Genghis.  Very proud of you.

    This is excellent news, for Teddy. BTW, his cops wouldn't have gotten away with giving.him the finger when he held Ray Kelly's job. Waytogo, G.

    Utah huh?

    Just in case of some accident or something, be sure to keep a copy of the Mormon Bible with you.

    I mean just in case!

    Always best to keep the locals happy!

    That's great news.  Congratulations on signing with a good publisher, too.  The content is fascinating and I can't wait to read it when it's available.  (Of course at my age 2014 isn't just down the road apiece, it's practically on another planet. . .)


    I read that TR made over 150 recess appointments, all done at once, in the split seconds between gavel blows in the Senate, likely a record, and certainly indicating a President 'at war' with a do nothing legislature, as we see again today. How history repeats itself, great subject for a book.

    Yep. But most of the time, he opted for compromise and conciliation. Progressives like La Follette were furious when he cut deals with the conservatives. Sound familiar?

    Actually, one of my objectives in the book is to explore the most effective strategy for achieving political change. Roosevelt took the incremental approach, squeezing through whatever legislation he felt he could get the legislature to pass, even if it was inadequate. La Follette, on the other, felt that half-a-loaf was worse than no loaf at all. He believed in hammering the drum for far-reaching reform year after year until he had gathered enough support to pass the whole package.

    This book really is going to be about TR and not Obama, right?  cheeky

    Another alternative to the two you refer to on strategy (perhaps meant to illustrate with  "ideal types" or relative poles and not intended to exhaust the potential alternatives) is to propose something more, rather than less, ambitious, not as a quickly abandoned bone offered to appease a bunch of demanding and ungrateful activists, but fighting hard for it, with the thought process being, in part, that you're likely to get a better compromise in the end if you go that route.  La Follette was never President, of course, and never had opportunity to fight for a farther-reaching, more ambitious legislative initiative from the presidential Bully Pulpit.  Of course as a legislator he was free to introduce any legislation he wanted, but he had less of a platform to command. 

    But, really, I hope that as much as it's possible for the book to be free from the bias of being written to try to support a preconceived point, that it illuminates.  I am optimistic that it will.  Congrats again. 

    I hear your concern about preconceived ideas. I'm not actually planning to put forward an explicit thesis. My intent is to simply tell the story, letting this question and its answer lurk in the in the background. My bias will color the story but hopefully won't overwhelm it. And Obama will not be mentioned except possibly in the preface.

    La Follette was never president, but he was governor for five years. He accomplished very little during his first four years until he finally broke the back of the conservative opposition; then his last year was very productive. His progressive successor benefited from LF's triumph and accomplished even more.

    A parallel process occurred at the national level. TR and Taft pursued incremental change for 11 years without accomplishing much significant reform. Meanwhile, the progressive legislators were running hard against the conservative bloc and finally managed to break their choke-hold on the legislature in 1912. After that an alliance of Democrats and progressive Republicans ushered in the most far-reaching national reforms the country had ever seen during Wilson's first term.

    Thanks.  Is part of your attraction to this topic the prospect of re-introducing the words "Republican" and "progressive" into some of the same sentences?  Showing that things have not always been as they are now, with the implication that, perhaps, they need not be so in perpetuity in our time?

    I do like the way the words snarl off the tongue.

    Bully for  you!

    :) Trivia: Teddy was the first president to ride in an automobile, but he wasn't keen on them and didn't ride them very often. Taft was car guy.

    I do know that Teddy once opined that automobile racing was even more evil than professional boxing.

    P.S. There's a load of good TR-related political cartoons to mine here, by chance you haven't caught that page yet.

    Great link. I'll use that.

    TR was also the LAST president to ride in a horse drawn carriage, the Smithsonian once had it on display in the transportation section.

    That can't be right. Taft rode a carriage to his inauguration.

    Thanks, folks!

    Mazel tov! I'm looking forward to reading it!

    I look forward to reading the book.

    Reading about Teddy Roosevelt, inspires many to have the same attitude as he did about America and its greatness. 

    Count me as one of your supporters.

    You might be disappointed. It's hard not to admire TR. He was an amazing human being, superhuman even. But for someone who feels that Obama is a sell-out to corporate America, I've got news for you, TR was a bigger sell-out. Even the trust-busting for which he is famous was not quite what it was cracked up be. The industrialists and capitalists he went after, like JP Morgan and Rockefeller, were not so upset that it kept them from donating to his reelection campaign.

    The industrialists and capitalists he went after, like JP Morgan and Rockefeller, were not so upset that it kept them from donating to his reelection campaign.

    Wow.  I hope you'll develop that point in the book.  Hard to imagine a similar dynamic in our day.  What to make of that?  From its description, I'm wondering if Chris Hayes' book, Twilight of the Elites, due out next week, might offer some comparative cultural commentary food for thought on that.  In TR's case, might that have been in part because those titans of industry respected TR's toughness and strength, inconvenienced as they were by it?  I wonder whether the Koch brothers, say, feel that way about Obama, or instead can only find it within themselves to feel contempt and scorn for him?

    In TR's case, might that have been in part because those titans of industry respected TR's toughness and strength, inconvenienced as they were by it?

    Not exactly. Here's what Speaker Joe Cannon, king of the do-nothing-legislators, had to say:

    Roosevelt, business found, had a bark that was considerably worse than his bite, although often his bark was annoying enough.

    The capitalists were also more comfortable with a Republican than a Democrat, even if he had some unsettling ideas. As one quote I read put it, they preferred the "unpredictable head of a predictable party" to the "predictable head of an unpredictable party."

    You might be disappointed , surprise

    Another disappointment?

    TR may have realized, he had been bought and paid for too and he owed them their moneys worth? 





    "The party also became known as the Bull Moose Party ……

    Inspiration for the party's beginnings may have come from Roosevelt's friend and supporter, U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns of Utah, who in October 1906 broke off from the Republican Party and started the American Party in that state. Kearns was a Roman Catholic, and this

    was a direct response to the influence of the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"


    However, the main theme of the platform was an attack on the domination of politics by business interests, which allegedly controlled both established parties. The platform asserted that

    "To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day"
    Genghis,  please hurry up and get the book done so we can discuss it. 

    After the elections and the end of the gnashing of teeth, throwing ashes and ripping our outer garments, we'll be looking for something to discuss. 

    Yeah, TR radicalized a bit during his time off. His 1912 campaign employed much more progressive rhetoric than he expressed during his presidency from 1901-1908. But it was too late; he shoulda done it while he was still in office.

    I would add that even in 1912, the hard-core progressives supported La Follette, but he never stood a chance against Teddy.


    But, to be honest, I'm a bit frustrated that I can't give it to my brother-in-law for Xmas this year ... or next.  I know ... Patience.  All things in their time.  

    I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

    Congratulations, Genghis, what a major opportunity for Progressives.

    I'm sure you have more research than you know what to do with but in my book scouting I ran across a book, "
    Big Steel and the Wilson Administration, Urofsky, Ohio State. U. Press. It's about the corrupting influence of Elbert Gary of U.S. Steel within the Wilson Administration relative to the initial Progressive ideals. Ultimately Gary prevailed and anti-trust measures lost. Thought it might have some interesting parallels to the Obama Admin and the Banks, what I believe to have been the corrupting influence of Geihtner.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Oxy. I have so much to read that I probably won't dig too much into the Wilson administration. His accomplishments will be confined to the epilogue.

    Latest Comments