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Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > OPEN - THE AUTHOR IS IN THE HOUSE - Q&A WITH MICHAEL WOLRAICH

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
***********SPOILER THREAD**********
Michael Wolraich will be joining us to answer any and all of your questions regarding his book and to discuss his book with you.

Please begin posting your questions for the author on this thread as soon as the thread is opened up.


Thank you and I hope you will you enjoy this special author experience here at the History Book Club.

Unreasonable Men Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics by Michael Wolraich by Michael WolraichMichael Wolraich


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
All, Michael Wolraich will be joining us for this discussion so please in advance begin asking questions concerning the book Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics here on this thread. Here is an example of the format: (you do not have to add the citation for this book because it is being discussed)

Unreasonable Men Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics by Michael Wolraich by Michael WolraichMichael Wolraich

Question: - Here is where you would type your question. Make sure that your question stands out in your post so it is easy for Michael Wolraich to spot the question and answer quickly without wasting any time. We look forward to Michael being with us and we want to make the experience enjoyable for him too. Bold the word question followed by a colon and then type your question.


message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
All, please begin asking Michael Wolraich questions about the book, Theodore Roosevelt, Progressivism, the current political season and what progressivism means now versus then etc. or any other topic discussed in the book.

Use the format above in message two - bold the word Question: and follow it with your question to make your question stand out for Michael so that he can answer it easily.



message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Welcome Michael.

We are delighted to have you with us again.

Question: What made you decide to focus on Theodore Roosevelt and progressivism?


message 5: by Jill (last edited Mar 26, 2016 02:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) We are so pleased that you have taken time from your busy schedule and joined us, Michael. Our membership really appreciates it.

Question: Why do you think Roosevelt triumphed over LaFollette in the fight for leadership of the Progressives....style, connections, dogma?.....or being in the right place at the right time?


Peter Flom I am very excited to be reading this book and to have you, Michael, here to answer questions.

Question: : These days, the "progressives" are usually associated with a strong anti-military, anti-interventionist stance. Yet TR was just the opposite. What happened? What are your thoughts on this?


message 7: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments What made you decide to focus on Theodore Roosevelt and progressivism?

First, thank you very much for inviting me to participate, Bentley. It's an honor.

The idea for the book came to me during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. I live in Manhattan and took the subway down to Zuccotti Park to witness the demonstration. The "99 percent" and "bankster" rhetoric was so reminiscent of the early progressive movement, but most of the young protesters seemed unaware of the heritage of their ideas and rhetoric. So I decided to write a book for a popular audience about the origins of the progressive movement. The rivalry between Bob La Follette and Theodore Roosevelt seemed like an excellent way to frame the historical events and drive the narrative.


message 8: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Why do you think Roosevelt triumphed over LaFollette in the fight for leadership of the Progressives....style, connections, dogma?.....or being in the right place at the right time?

Hi Jill, thank you for having me here and moderating this discussion. La Follette never had much of a chance against Roosevelt in the 1912 presidential contest. TR was a brilliant statesman and a charismatic celebrity with uncanny political instincts. He adroitly kept the press guessing about his intentions and allowed his supporters to build enthusiasm until the moment was ripe, then simply flicked LF out of the way.

That said, TR really only led the movement for a short time. Though he was always a reformer, he didn't join the progressive insurgency until 1910 and began to lose enthusiasm soon after the 1912 election. When WWI broke out in 1914, his interventionist zeal eclipsed his domestic interests and put him at odds with many progressive pacifists. La Follette, by contrast, spent most of his political life as a progressive crusader, from his gubernatorial campaigns in the 1890s to his final presidential campaign in 1924.


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments These days, the "progressives" are usually associated with a strong anti-military, anti-interventionist stance. Yet TR was just the opposite. What happened? What are your thoughts on this?

Interesting question, Peter. Most progressive presidents, including Wilson, FDR, JFK, and LBJ, have involved the U.S. in foreign wars. The modern association between progressives and pacifism really dates to the later stages of the Vietnam War. Before that "progressive" was mainly defined by domestic concerns.

That said, there has been a strong pacifist strain in the progressive movement from the very beginning, exemplified by La Follette's vehement opposition to WWI. As I mentioned to Jill, TR's militarism put him at odds with many of his comrades. But that's outside the scope of the book, which focuses almost exclusively on domestic politics before 1913.


message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Welcome Michael and I know we are going to want to discuss how the "progressive presidents" were similar and how they differed from TR's brand of progressivism and what made TR different.

Since we are in the midst of the "silly season" of presidential politics - discussing TR and this book is quite timely.


Peter Flom Bentley wrote: "Welcome Michael and I know we are going to want to discuss how the "progressive presidents" were similar and how they differed from TR's brand of progressivism and what made TR different.

Since w..."


I remember reading a book review that started:
"To read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt during the administration of George W. Bush is not a task for the easily depressed".


message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
(smile) Peter


message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 27, 2016 09:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
One other aspect of the political season leading up to our choosing our next president is the lack of in depth analysis of the policies and plans and positions that the candidates would take. I have often visited Presidential Libraries and I am amazed at the depth and breadth of the responses during the "real debates" that the League of Women Voters ran (shown in historical videos or audio casts) - nowadays it is just entertainment TV and everything is drummed down to the lowest common denominator. Even the candidates do not really know what they are talking about and everyone's remarks are full of platitudes, insults from others, and superficial explanations. There does not seem to be any new ideas about the "hard stuff". TR practiced what he preached and didn't shy away from personal sacrifices - this book should be very interesting.


message 14: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex (Felixlekat) | 1 comments Hi Michael! I just discovered your book and plan on reading it soon. I'm really glad you are taking some time to answer questions for the Goodreads community.

Question : Having read some reviews and a summary of your book, and being already acquainted a little with this part of American History, would you think it is possible to say that what actually happened to the Republican Party then is also what is happening to the Democratic Party in the current presidential race? President Obama, Hillary Clinton and of course today's revolutionary progressive, Senator Bernie Sanders. It seems to me the Democratic party is fractioning as we speak, a battle against the corporate and financial Establishment being led quite successfully by Sanders, and Clinton representing the power in place, a sort of Republican lite or old-days Republican. With Obama a sort of modern Roosevelt, fair-minded, but undeniably part of the elite. What is your view?


message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thanks, Alex. You're right to see parallels between the early 1900s and today. As I describe in the book, both parties were divided by populist insurgencies, though the Democratic divisions were less acrimonious. Today, we see the same thing, bitter class strife in the GOP, milder class divisions between Democrats.

As you mention, a number of the old progressive causes have also been revived, including Sanders' criticism of Wall Street and, I would add, Ted Cruz's denunciation of "crony capitalism" (though Cruz might not want to admit that he has anything in common with the early progressives).


message 16: by Jill (last edited Mar 27, 2016 12:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) A recent article in Atlantic magazine posited this:

"The influence of the succession of third parties, and their gradual conversion of the major parties to a serious estimation of social and economic issues, is one of the most significant phenomena in the United States of the first decades of the twentieth century. Apparently this accomplishment has reached a stage of relative completion, since no new minor or third parties have been formed since 1912."

Question: Do you think that any significant third parties will ever arise in the US or will the Republicans and the Democrats just continue to morph as a result of the pressure of smaller, less formalized (the Tea Party comes to mind) groups?


message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments That's another interesting question, Jill. The American political system is not friendly to third parties. The Progressive (aka Bull Moose) Party was short-lived and only gained such prominence in 1912 because of TR.

If one of the major parties dissolved, a third party could take its place, but that hasn't happened since the collapse of the Whigs before the Civil War. So I'd bet that American politics will continue to evolve through internal factional pressure rather than external third party challenges.


message 18: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) Thanks, Michael.........At one point, I thought the Tea Party was gaining some traction but never really expected a viable third party to evolve. And as you say, the Bull Moose Party was really just those rallying around TR and soon quickly faded away.


Bryan Craig Hi Michael. I just wanted to say welcome to our discussion. Good to see you again. Hope to raise some future questions.


Helga Cohen (hcohen) | 576 comments Hi Michael, I am so happy that you are joining us and welcome you to our discussion.

Question: Was the Republican Party of Abraham Lincon and Theodore Roosevelt more like the Progressive movements and the Democratic party today rather than the Republican party? The GOP politicians today like to say they are the party of Lincoln. What is your opinion?


message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Hi Bryan, great to see you again I'm enjoying the discussion so far and look forward to more.


message 22: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thank you for the warm welcome, Helga. I'll defer to the Civil War experts here on the Lincoln question. The Republican Party was still inchoate and preoccupied by slavery and war, so it's difficult to draw a comparison to either party today.

But I can certainly address the TR question. Most Republicans in TR's day were quite conservative. You will meet a number of these "Standpatters" in the book, like House Speaker "Uncle Joe" Cannon and Senator Nelson Aldrich, "the power behind the throne." They aligned with big business and opposed progressive reform--a bit like today's Republican establishment.

But there was also a faction of the Republican Party, represented by TR and "Fighting Bob" La Follette, that pushed for progressive reforms like corporate regulations, labor laws, taxes on the rich, and campaign finance reform. These Republican insurgents were ideologically similar to modern Democrats on economic issues. In fact, they were the progenitors of the Progressive Movement.


message 23: by Kacy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kacy (Brav3N3wWorld) | 45 comments Thank you, Michael, for providing our group with the opportunity to read your book and participate in this discussion.

Question: - The eugenics movement and the progressive movement arose simultaneously in the US, and many progressives were supporters of eugenics. What was Theodore Roosevelt's stance on eugenics, and what parallels (if any) do you see to the political climate of our own time and the rise of racial tensions alongside current progressive politics?


message 24: by Michael (last edited Mar 31, 2016 05:00PM) (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thank you, Kacy. It's a little complicated. TR was sympathetic to the eugenics movement and did express support for sterilizing criminals and the "feeble-minded," but his primary concern was "race suicide." He worried that the "Anglo-Saxon" race was falling into decline--in terms of quantity (population) and quality (physical strength, courage, morality). For that reason, he disagreed with eugenicists who advocated comprehensive birth control.

It's hard for me to draw contemporary parallels except to the far right. Pat Buchanan, for example, frets about the death of "White America." On the left, there is discord between progressives who focus on economic issues and those who focus on race issues, but it's mainly a matter of emphasis and priority, in contrast to TR's day when many progressives were openly racist.


Peter Flom Another proponent of eugenics that might surprise us is Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, author of the infamous Buck v. Bell decision.

The book Imbeciles has gotten excellent reviews; I have not read it but I plan to do so

Imbeciles The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen by Adam Cohen Adam Cohen.


Simonetta Carr (SimonettaCarr) | 28 comments Hi Michael! Thank you for writing this book and for being on this forum. I was attracted to your book for two reasons: 1. I was born and raised in Europe (I have lived in the US for only 20 years) so my knowledge of the US political system is still very limited; 2. I see a strong resemblance between TR's days and ours.
I appreciate your explanation of the political evolution of the word "progressive." I am just beginning to read the book, so I am sure you will explain this later, but do you think the position of conservative Republicans in TR's day is summed up in what you said on page 8, "Traditionalist Republicans did not believe that a company could be too large and they certainly did not believe that the government had any business telling private corporations how to manage their affairs. (etc.)"?
What was the position of the democratic party at that time?


message 27: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thanks, Simonetta. I hope Unreasonable Men gives you some insight into the evolution of American politics. My wife is also an immigrant, so I often have to explain the quirks of our system to her.

The quote you mention presents a broad summation of the conservatives' position on trust legislation, but there were many nuances in their views about the role of government. For example, they were not free-market libertarians like conservatives today. Most believed that the federal government should actively assist American corporations by imposing tariffs on foreign products.

Like Republicans, Democrats were split between business-friendly conservatives and anti-corporate populists. The populists had the upper hand, though, and the party platform officially denounced trusts and tariffs.


message 28: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 05, 2016 11:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Thanks Michael for all of your thoughtful answers so far and we don't kick off until April 11th.

Simonetta, - please follow the format for questions to make it easier for our authors. Please check format in message two:

This is message two so you do not have to scroll back:

All, Michael Wolraich will be joining us for this discussion so please in advance begin asking questions concerning the book Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics here on this thread. Here is an example of the format: (you do not have to add the citation for this book because it is being discussed)

Unreasonable Men Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics by Michael Wolraich by Michael WolraichMichael Wolraich

Question: - Here is where you would type your question. Make sure that your question stands out in your post so it is easy for Michael Wolraich to spot the question and answer quickly without wasting any time. We look forward to Michael being with us and we want to make the experience enjoyable for him too. Bold the word question followed by a colon and then type your question.


Jason (jason_watts) | 104 comments Hi Michael,

Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us. I don't know much about this topic so I am excited to read your book.

Question: Was there a particular reason you organized the book with the date headings? And if I may be so bold to ask a second question, what are you reading right now and what is your all-time favorite book?

Thank you!!


message 30: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thanks, Jason. How do you like the structure?

There were two reasons I chose to write it this way. First, I wanted to tell the story chronologically. When I read narrative history myself, it annoys me when authors jump around and make it difficult to track the order of events. Second, I decided to present the events as a serious of "scenes," discreet moments in time and space. I've heard Bob Woodward talk about his books in terms of scenes. Edmund Morris writes this way too, very effectively. Once I'd broken up the events into these chronological chunks, it seemed natural to introduce them with date/location headers. In my mind, I imagined subtitles at the bottom of a movie screen announcing the time and place of the scene.

Another device I took from Morris was attention to perspective. He presents each of his scenes from the point of view of a particular person and never veers from that perspective until the end of the scene. I've even seen him plant thoughts in his subjects in order to make some historical point without breaking perspective. I didn't go that far, but I did emulate his approach of presenting discrete events from a particular person's point of view.

On books, I'm currently bouncing back and forth between The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression and America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century. I can't say that I have an all-time favorite book, but The Guns of August is certainly one of my favorites for narrative history.


Jason (jason_watts) | 104 comments Thanks Michael! I am enjoying the structure and book very much. Thank you for taking the time to talk to our group!


message 32: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 07, 2016 05:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Thanks Michael for all of your thoughtful answers so far - we add the book cover, author's photo (if available) and author's link - you will see if you look at the white space on the right - that by doing so we are creating some interesting book and author lists - with links to other topics. To assist you - I added them for you (smile)

The Great Persuasion Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression by Angus Burgin by Angus Burgin (no photo0

America Ascendant A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century by Stanley B. Greenberg by Stanley B. Greenberg (no photo)

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman by Barbara W. TuchmanBarbara W. Tuchman


message 33: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Ok, thanks, Bentley. And I thought that I was being so diligent by including the links.


message 34: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
You did great Michael (smile) - but the authors would not have been noted at all - like yourself (lol).


message 35: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan Williams | 8 comments This is a very timely book! Just when I was thinking about these issues! And I had never read about La Follette before. Just as I finished the chapter, Anderson Cooper mentioned "Fighting Bob La Follette" on CNN. Thanks!


message 36: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Well there you go - you might never have noticed it otherwise Jan. Welcome to the conversation


message 37: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) You write "to pass legislation, he had to compromise with congressional leaders".

Question
Was there ever a situation when TR used Executive Order to attain some of his goals?


message 38: by Kressel (last edited Apr 14, 2016 09:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kressel Housman | 918 comments Dear Michael,

Question: In light of the discussion of the Shaw quote that you adapted into your title, I wondered if you were inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's use of it in David and Goliath?

Citation: David and Goliath Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell by Malcolm Gladwell Malcolm Gladwell


message 39: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Jill wrote: "You write "to pass legislation, he had to compromise with congressional leaders".

Question
Was there ever a situation when TR used Executive Order to attain some of his goals?"


Absolutely. TR issued hundreds of executive orders, mostly for government appointments and other prosaic needs, but he did occasionally issue executive orders to skirt Congress, particularly when it came environmental conservation. The establishment of the Grand Canyon National Monument is one of his most famous executive orders. Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906 mainly to protect prehistoric ruins from vandalism. TR exploited the law to set aside 800,000 acres around the canyon. He also used executive orders to protect millions of acres of Western forest land, but I won't say more on that now because it's in the book.


message 40: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) Thanks, Michael. I knew that he used executive order for appointments but it looks like he also liked to go around Congress on occasion as most Presidents have.


message 41: by Michael (last edited Apr 14, 2016 02:29PM) (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Kressel wrote: "Dear Michael,

Question: In light of the discussion of the Shaw quote that you adapted into your title, I wondered if you were inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's use of it in.."


Hi Kressel. I haven't read David and Goliath. A friend of mine suggested the title, Unreasonable Men, and it made me think of the Shaw quote.

Interesting aside, I occasionally see Malcolm Gladwell at a coffee shop in Greenwich Village. Before I started writing Unreasonable Men when I was still searching for a topic, I approached him, introduced himself, and asked him how he goes about finding a book topic. His advice wasn't very helpful to me, unfortunately, but he was extremely gracious, and I really appreciate that he shared his time with me.

PS Bentley, am I supposed to cite another author's book if I reply to a question in which it was already cited?


message 42: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
I will cite Malcolm's book: (there is a counter in the white space on the side)

David and Goliath Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell by Malcolm GladwellMalcolm Gladwell


message 43: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
I find that a fascinating aside Michael - thank you for sharing it with us. It is sort of interesting that you both met up by accident.


Ann D Hi, Michael. I am enjoying your book very much. I like your organization by "scenes" and the way you counterpose Roosevelt and La Follette. It adds momentum and drama to the narrative.

Question: Do you see many similarities between La Fallotte and Bernie Sanders?


message 45: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Thank you very much, Ann. I'm glad that you appreciate the organization. I just answered a question about parallels between Sanders and LF at the week-one thread (message 182), but since this is a spoiler thread, I can add a few more details.

Like Sanders, La Follette believed the political system was corrupt, and he was particularly concerned about the power of big banks. In 1908, he broke Senate records when he filibustered a banking bill for 18 hours and 23 minutes.

Sanders copied this tactic in 2010 when he delivered an 8.5 hour speech against a bill that extended George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. He is certainly aware of LF's legacy and has spoken at the annual "Fighting Bob Fest" in Madison. I suspect that he is deliberately emulating LF in some ways.


Ann D Thanks, Michael. That is very interesting. I didn't know about either the La Follette or Sanders bank filibusters. They are definitely on the same page on that.

The following may be a significant difference.

In reading Chapter 1, I noted that La Follette had a very detailed knowledge of facts to support his position. You write: "He came by his facts through meticulous research an applied a lawyer's had to shape a sturdy case from the mass of information." P. 11

Sanders tends to make a lot of sweeping generalizations.

I am looking forward to reading more of the book to see how the similarities/differences hold up.


message 47: by Michael (new)

Michael Wolraich (wolraich) | 101 comments Ann wrote: "La Follette had a very detailed knowledge of facts to support his position...Sanders tends to make a lot of sweeping generalizations."

Good point


message 48: by Jill (last edited Apr 15, 2016 08:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) Michael.....I know that this is a pretty simplistic question but "Fighting Bob" has really resonated with me and I keep asking myself why I don't know more about him.

Question
Why you think LaFollette is pretty much a footnote in the overall history of the US. Is it because he was an adversary of a bigger than life man and is overshadowed because of him?


message 49: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike | 16 comments Mr. Wolraich and Bentley, thank you for giving us this opportunity to dive into this subject in detail.

Question: in researching this book, were you surprised at Theodore Roosevelt's belief that the presidency should be above politics considering how intertwined presidents and politics are today?


message 50: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 17, 2016 08:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 37666 comments Mod
Mike - very good on the format (see message 2 above) aside from your need to bold the word Question: - looks good otherwise and easy for the author to find the question without wasting time - you are most welcome and I am happy to bring this offer to you with the graciousness and kindness of St Martin's Press and its author Michael Wolraich who has been quite giving of his time.


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