1990s Politics

Hail to the (new) Chief

January 1993

It was a quirky election season. Three candidates jockied in a race designed for two.

The incumbent was a Republican, representing the moderate wing of his party. He had tried gamely to continue the legacy of his more charismatic predecessor, but he was generating more jokes than admiration. His chief rival was a Democrat from the South, a sitting governor with no experience in Washington, but with big promises to bring change and reform. While the message appealed, the messenger tended to bore, because his very academic abilities were long on information but short on dramatic style.

The third candidate did have charisma. He was an energetic outsider, a well-known character of almost folk dimensions and appeal, who excited the American people more than either of the other two, but who scared many because of his extreme proposals and his erratic personality.

The winner, of course, was Woodrow Wilson. In a close race, he defeated Republican President William Howard Taft and third-party candidate Theodore Roosevelt. The year was 1912, but the dynamics of the race and the personalities could well fit our own recent quirky season of presidential campaigning.

History never does repeat itself, but it can help explain puzzles of the present and even suggest what to expect in the future.

Read the rest of this story here.

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