13 January 2008
They Shoot Candidates Don't They? - The Most Dramatic Moment in Presidential Campaigning
For my nickel, Teddy Roosevelt provided the most dramatic moment of any presidential campaign. On his way to a rally, he was shot by a would-be assassin. He shook off advisers who insisted that he go to the hospital rather than the podium. The audience - in this time before cell phones, TVs, or even radio - had no idea that Roosevelt had just been shot until he dramatically opened his suit jacket to show the spread of blood. When his aides saw this, they panicked at the sight of so much blood and again insisted that he rush to the hospital and he again shook them off. (Now that, sports fans, is a called an attention getting opening and is far more effective than a joke.)
Roosevelt explained to his audience that his speech was more important than his safety. (And, fortunately, it was a long speech. The sheaf of papers in his breast pocket was so thick that it slowed the bullet. Had he been delivering a speech as succinct as the Gettysburg Address, he might have died.)
What mattered so much to Roosevelt? Issues that today we take for granted, issues that helped to create a far better world where capitalism in its rawest form was tempered by something more just and less brutal. His platform included advocacy of the vote for woman, limits on child labor, the introduction of old-age insurance, regulations on business and an end to racist practices. Although Roosevelt never served another term, there were probably no issues that better defined the difference between 1900 and 2000 than the issues he championed in this death-defying speech. He lost his bid for a third term (this time as a Bull Moose rather than Republican) but his issues eventually won.
I don't just love this story about Roosevelt. I love the thought of how speechless would be today's pundits and analysts who endlessly dissect oddly trivial moments like Clinton's recent emotional moment. Now that would be campaign coverage.