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Why Taft Matters

Even in that prehistoric time before television, Robert Alphonso Taft seemed an unlikely leader of men.  Looking like a small-town grocer, he spoke in what one admirer conceded was a “whiney Midwestern voice.”  When trying to pose as a deep-sea fisherman, Taft once allowed himself to be photographed in a boat that was visibly tethered to the shore, even as he was shown landing an already dead sailfish.  (A reporter for Time dubbed him the “Dagwood Bumstead of American Politics.”)  Despite an aloof and sometimes awkward manner, Taft sought the presidency three times.  The son of former president William Howard Taft (who once had to summon aides to extricate his more than 300-pound girth from a White House bathtub), young Bob wistfully referred to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as “the old homestead.”  Even though he never occupied that address in his own right, Taft was so widely respected as a legislator that, a mere four years after his death, a bipartisan committee of the Senate named him (along with John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Robert La Follette) as one of five members of that body who “left a permanent mark on our nation’s history.”

Although the vast majority of Americans under the age of 70 would be hard-pressed to identify Taft, much less explain his importance, he has recently become a hero to conservatives displeased...

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