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George W. Bush will soon be facing an interesting problem: What do you do with your life once you’ve hit the apex at a young age? Most ex-presidents are a bit older and slip into a dignified retirement, serving in some lucrative, low-stress positions, a few high-profile commissions, and appearing in the spotlight every four years at their party’s political convention. There are exceptions, usually one-termers who either get back into government, like John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, and William Howard Taft, or who do charity work, like Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Yet if Bush wants to, he can look to one president who didn’t take the usual path to a cushy retirement — the nation’s youngest chief executive, Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt is frequently seen as the template for the modern president. Unlike his Gilded Age predecessors, who allowed Congress to run the country, Roosevelt was an assertive, energetic leader. Working from the “bully pulpit” — a term created for him — he pressed for the progressive movement’s agenda of business and social reforms as well as an activist foreign policy. But once outside the White House, the 50-year-old man who, according to one critic, wanted to be “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral” was in search of ways to put his seemingly boundless energy and sharp intellect to use. In When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House, Patricia O’Toole presents a well-written, though familiar, portrait of the Rough Rider’s search for relevance during the last 10 years of his life. The work is an interesting read for those unfamiliar with Roosevelt’s history, and while O’Toole does use a few new sources, unsurprisingly, she does not present any new angles of inquiry into the already well-documented life of America’s most energetic ex-president. In many ways the work is more of a discussion of Roosevelt’s family and some of his famous friends and contemporaries, such as Henry Adams (the subject of O’Toole’s The Five of Hearts, a 1991 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), than an analytical treatise or an exploration of his political philosophy. Her analysis of Roosevelt’s character can be boiled down to one statement that can also be ascribed to many other leaders — Roosevelt had an immense need for power and sometimes mistook that desire for the “trumpet call” of duty. Unlike some of his darker successors, such as Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Johnson, and Richard Nixon, Roosevelt was a fairly happy and well-adjusted person, even with the early death of his first wife. The prime reason for any negative take on Roosevelt’s character is due to what was seen as his continued interest in regaining the White House. His other activities did not seem to be primarily motivated by a lust for personal power, although a desire for attention was always present. He went on two noteworthy foreign adventures, wrote more than 30 books and newspaper and magazine columns, and had a famous feud with Wilson over America’s initial lack of participation in World War I. DUBIOUS HONOR The centerpiece of O’Toole’s book, as well as the greatest example of Roosevelt’s craving for power, is his attempt to win a third term, in 1912. Although Roosevelt was not the first president to make, and fail at, an attempt for a third, nonconsecutive term — that dubious honor belongs to Ulysses Grant, who went for the Republican nomination in 1880 — his run is by far the best known, and for good reason. The election of 1912 is usually given substantial coverage in the history books, both for its entertaining characters and its placement at the apex of the social reform movement known as progressivism. It makes for an exciting read: Roosevelt’s early clashes with his hand-picked successor; his splitting the Republican Party in half and founding the Progressive Party; the spectacle of the immediate past, present, and future presidents facing off in a year filled with the first real presidential primary campaigns; two exciting conventions; the most successful fourth-party candidate of the 20th century; and an assassination attempt. Factor in the other personalities — three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, “Fighting” Bob LaFollette, Tammany Grand Sacamen “Silent” Charlie Murphy, and Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs — and you have a great tale. Yet, O’Toole, echoing many historians, pushes the idea that 1912 was a critical election in American political history, because it created a great ideological schism between the two political parties that continues to this day. O’Toole writes: “[T]he election of 1912 was no ordinary election. It was a moment of transfiguration in American politics, with the Democrats fashioning themselves into the party of liberal ideals and the Republicans pointing the craft toward the far shores of conservativism.” DIFFUSE PROGRESSIVISM This argument, which implies that if not for the 1912 election, the Republican Party may have become a progressive bastion, fails to acknowledge the fact that the party had an actual strong conservative base that did not support the progressive movement. It also does not appreciate the diffuse nature of progressivism, a social and political movement that lacked a clearly defined goal and whose methods and aims would be considered all over the charts on a modern political thermometer. Despite the modern-day use of the term, the turn-of-the-century brand of progressivism does not really lend itself to the easy liberal-conservative dichotomy. Furthermore, the argument that the Republicans were “pointing their craft to the far shores of conservativism” after 1912 doesn’t take into account that progressives maintained a strong foothold in the Republican Party after the election. In 1916 they nominated progressive Charles Evans Hughes for the presidency, and even more revealing, before his unexpected death in 1919, Roosevelt was the front-runner for the Republicans’ nomination in 1920. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats were not so strongly liberal. Other issues such as temperance would dominate the party’s debate throughout the 1920s — at least until another Roosevelt came on the scene. In an attempt to explain the Republican Party’s split during the election, O’Toole delves into the personal agony of Roosevelt’s closest friends and political allies, including his secretary of state, Elihu Root, and Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge. Contrary to what many historians and contemporary critics believe, Roosevelt’s violation of the Washingtonian two-term ideal may not have been his great failing in their eyes. Rather, as O’Toole mentions in passing but does not explain in depth, perhaps the prime factor that forced friends of the magnetic Teddy to spurn him in favor of the uninspiring Taft — a likely loser even if the party had not split — was Roosevelt’s early attacks on the judiciary. Roosevelt’s support for direct-democracy legislation, specifically the recall of judges and judicial decisions, was a platform that most conservatives could not stomach. In the eyes of conservatives, Roosevelt’s behavior was unpardonable. Although O’Toole devotes a fairly large portion of the book to the election and does a good job of presenting the Republican primary and convention campaigns, she gives short shrift to the Democrats’ battle for a nominee. Wilson’s nomination is depicted as a foregone conclusion, not the 46-ballot fight between urban machines and the agricultural populists. Also left out is the fact that Wilson was nominated only because of the two-third rule, a since-discarded relic that required a Democratic nominee to amass the support of two-thirds of the delegates. If not for that barrier, Democratic Speaker of the House Champ Clark may very well have been the Democratic candidate instead of Wilson. After his election debacle, Roosevelt was stranded in the political wilderness as he tried to buttress the Progressive Party. By 1916, when the Republicans were unwilling to nominate him, he rejected the nascent party’s hopeless nomination, essentially deflating the Progressives. World War I was his path out of oblivion. As the main proponent of American military might, Roosevelt was a ferocious critic of Wilson’s early non-engagement policy, pushing for the United States to join the war, and of Wilson’s idea that would grow to be the League of Nations. Roosevelt has been criticized for his belligerence, though O’Toole presents more of a straightforward account of his behavior. He also fought for some free speech against Wilson’s abysmal sedition policy, but Roosevelt’s defense was on “disappointingly narrow grounds.” Much of the end of the book focuses on Roosevelt’s children’s war experiences, with some heroism, much bravado on their father’s part, and a tragic death. The book, which will be released in a paperback edition in March, is well written and researched, although there is one popular error in thinking. As all his biographers note, Taft’s real dream was to be chief justice. O’Toole says he turned down a potential associate justice appointment by Roosevelt in order to fulfill his wife’s goals for the White House. O’Toole later writes that after the death of Chief Justice Melville Fuller (which she calls a resignation) in the middle of Taft’s term, the president was “suffused with regret . . . Had he not allowed himself to be seduced into running for president, he would have been appointed to the court during Roosevelt’s presidency, and the post of chief justice . . . would now be his.” Doubtful. Taft elevated Edward White to chief justice, but before this, no sitting associate justice had ever been bumped up to the top slot. When Trumpets Call is a good, readable presentation of Roosevelt’s final years. While sometimes failing to present a full context and to break new ground in analysis, it is a fine work for those looking to read about one of America’s most engaging presidents and his family.
Joshua Spivak is an attorney and media consultant in Berkeley, Calif.

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