by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Talk about a lack of respect! Our 27th president is remembered, if at all, as the portliest occupant of the Oval Office. Not helping his physical image is a walrus mustache that screams “out-of-touch/outdated.” More substantively, Taft’s one-term tenure was a severe letdown after the hyperenergetic and innovative administration of his always exciting predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. …
… Taft’s approach to the presidency was diametrically opposed to Roosevelt’s.
— TR thought he could do anything he wanted, as long as it wasn’t absolutely and explicitly forbidden by the Constitution; Taft wouldn’t do something unless it was clearly permitted by said document.
— TR didn’t hesitate to run roughshod over Congress; Taft profoundly believed that doing so undermined the separation of powers. …
… Despite Taft’s seemingly somnolent approach to governing, some important things were accomplished. In fact, here, as elsewhere, Taft was an effective executive. Henry Stimson, who served under Presidents Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as secretary of war and under Herbert Hoover as secretary of state, found Taft to be, by far, the finest administrator. …
… — Roosevelt wouldn’t touch a third-rail issue: tariffs. Taft did and was pilloried for the results, even though he was the first Republican chief executive to achieve a reduction in tariffs, from an average tax of 24% to 21%.
— Regarding trade, Taft pushed for treaties with other countries to reduce barriers.
He negotiated a free-trade agreement with Canada, which our northern neighbor refused to ratify. (This wasn’t achieved until 1987.)
Taft took a political hit for refusing to invade Mexico–without express congressional approval–during the Mexican Revolution, in order to be ready to protect American lives and property there. (Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, did so, and the results were anything but successful.)