My close friend Mark Joseph has a website entitled the Bully Pulpit. I’ve been reading it for the better part of the last few years. However, little did I know that the phrase actually emanated from the early 20th Century period when two Republican Progressives controlled the White House. The phrase was coined by Teddy Roosevelt and is closely associated with the era of Roosevelt Taft. I’m currently reading a book on the subject by Doris Kearns Goodwin. That book is also titled “The Bully Pulpit.”
I have written many columns about the Gilded Age. This is the period usually referenced as being between 1880 and approximately 1910. During that period, there was a great disparity of wealth. The Presidency was held by a string of mostly forgettable presidents. In fact, just recently, Tom Donelson of this site wrote an article about Grover Cleveland who was President twice during that time. This was also a period of great poverty in the country. And, It was the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Two of the presidents who did a lot to end the great poverty and disparity of wealth were Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The were also two Progressives. But, surprisingly, they were not Democrats. In fact, the Progressive era of the early 20th Century came from the GOP. Even more surprisingly, both Roosevelt and Taft came from affluent backgrounds. These are two of the last men you would expect to buck the system.
At this point, I’m about 100 pages into Goodwin’s book. This entire 100 pages is spent on the childhood and early careers of the two Presidents. As stated earlier, they were both born rich. And, they both came from political families. In fact, their fathers’ were very active in the early GOP. And, they were both populists. In fact, this was also the first populist era. The only difference between then and now was that, unlike Donald J. Trump, the key populist William Jennings Bryan failed to win the White House even though he was nominated by the Democratic Party three times.
I find it an interesting thought that both men fought for the working man. In fact, both bucked the system and establishment members of the GOP. In a way this is similar to the early days of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. He also came from a rich background and is bucking the system. He is doing his best to represent the “Forgotten Man.” This is also very similar to the early Progressives who did their best to even the playing field and help create the middle class. The main difference now is that President Trump is trying to bring the middle class back from what I like to call the Second Gilded Age.
The analogies between the Roosevelt Taft era and today are vast. As I continue reading the book, I will probably write a few more articles on the period as I feel we must learn from that period to understand what is going on now. We are in the Second Gilded Age. And, I truly believe that a deep understanding of the First Gilded Age is needed to solve the problems of today. For, as the old phrase goes, “those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.”