Saturday, December 7, 2013

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt's successor, is the only man to have served as both US President and Chief Justice. Previous to the presidency, Taft was President McKinley's Governer-General of the Phillipines and President TR's Secretary of War. Taft and Roosevelt were quite close, to the point that Roosevelt handpicked Taft to be his successor in the Republican party.

William Howard Taft 1909.jpg

Perhaps due to the public's continued support for Theodore Roosevelt, Taft easily won the 1908 election with 51.6% of the popular vote to William J Bryan's 43%. However, this one-term president would come in last in the 1912 election, beaten by Woodrow Wilson and then Theodore Roosevelt (in his new Progressive or so-called 'Bull-Moose' party) in second. In fact, once-close political ally Theodore Roosevelt ran against Taft as he was quite unhappy with the way Taft was running the country.

About this image
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Bryan/Kern, Red denotes those won by Taft/Sherman. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

How did this sudden unpopularity come about? It has a lot to do with how Taft moved away from the standard Republican platform. In his own words, "the longer I am President, the less of a party man I seem to become."
Some of Taft's domestic plans included breaking up monopolies, passing the 16 amendment (establishing an income tax), and reforming civil service and postal service. In foreign matters, Taft was an avid supporter of "Dollar Diplomacy," or using finances to support favored policies and combat unfavored policies. His support to Latin American countries was meant to increase security around the Panama Canal, though objections to Wall Street's involvement largely slowed the movement. One belief of Taft's that conflicted with many people in both parties was his large faith in world peace and his willingness to put the say-so of an international body over the US' nationalist self-interests. Arbitration treaties he signed with the UK and France that supposedly lessened the US' hand in its own fate only passed with modifications and the ability to veto an arbitration in the Senate.
Taft at Panama Canal inspection

All in all, Taft was a reformer- a 'wide-eyed idealist' in some people's view. He acted more from personal opinion than a party's platform, and lost many supporters from the Republican party that way. Had Taft been elected to a 2nd term, he would have President right at the start of World War II. It would have been interesting to see how this 'world-peace advocate' yet simultaneous champion of civil rights all around the world would have responded to the war. Instead, however, Woodrow Wilson became our President throughout World War I.

Sources: Wikipedia, White, Miller Center

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Liechtenstein + Switzerland

Liechtenstein, one of the smallest and one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world (the other being Uzbekistan). This monarchy has an interesting relationship with its neighboring nation, Switzerland, in matters of international representation and economics.

Map indicating locations of Liechtenstein and Switzerland

Liechtenstein and Switzerland are in a customs union and a monetary union. Switzerland acts as border control for Liechtenstein, often helps handle Liechtenstein's international relations, and protected Liechtenstein's neutrality in World War II. Liechtenstein's severe financial problems following its independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire played a large role in the strange interlocking politics of these two nations. Liechtenstein was in such dire straits economically that it disbanded its army in 1868. With the larger nation managing so many aspects of the Liechtenstein government, some incorrectly presume that the two may as well be one country.

Despite Liechtenstein close-knit and sometimes dependent relationship with its neighbor, the small country is distinct from the forever-neutral nation in many ways. Against Swiss neutrality policy, Liechtenstein gave asylum to 500 Russian soldiers during the Second World War.

Liechtenstein is one of the European countries to still hold a monarchy, and unlike the monarchy of the UK, Liechtenstein's prince has some governmental powers. The prince can veto the parliament's laws, call a referendum, propose legislation, and even disband the parliament.

Open border

Liechtenstein's economy has made a major comeback, yet its close economic and political ties with Switzerland remain. The two share an open border, and Liechtenstein, still possessing no army, relies on Switzerland for military defense. The extent of Switzerland's role in Liechtenstein's government can perhaps be well portrayed by the fact that, in the absence of representatives from Liechtenstein, Switzerland can enter into a treaty on Liechtenstein's behalf. Liechtenstein has entered into the European Free Trade Association as its own nation, separate from Switzerland, but the unique cooperation of these two countries' governments will likely continue even as Liechtenstein gains more independence.

Source: Wikipedia, BBC News