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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

THE GAME OF POLITICS

I don't think anybody ever told Theodore Roosevelt “no”, and made it stick. When they told him America could not afford a two ocean navy, Theodore - he hated being called Teddy - first created the country of Panama. Then he defeated yellow fever. And then he built the Panama Canal, eventually turning the seven seas into an American lake. After he left the White House in 1908, when they told Theodore no one had ever charted the River of Doubt in Brazil, Theodore insisted on traversing all 400 miles of it through the rain forests. He was infected with malaria and suffered from dysentery. He lost 60 pounds off his 220 pound frame. But he charted the river, and it was later renamed the Rio Roosevelt. Nope; nobody ever doubted Theodore’s tenacity, even when he decided he wanted to be President one more time, in 1916.
Theodore faced one insurmountable hurdle between himself and the Republican nomination that year, and it was named William Howard Taft. The fat man had been Theodore’s chosen successor in 1908. But almost immediately Taft began laboring under the mistaken impression that he was now president, not just Theodore’s stand in. And Theodore then let it be known that he considered Taft to have stolen the presidency under false pretenses, just because he had won the election.
After holding the 1912 Republican convention hostage for two weeks, Theodore’s supporters, representing the progressive wing of the party, finally walked out. This handed the nomination to the hated Taft conservatives, who then purged all progressives from party leadership; it was the original RHINO test - Republican in Name Only. In response Theodore willed into existence the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, and the resultant three way race for President saw Woodrow Wilson elected. Theodore found that acceptable because he was convinced he could hold the hated Democrat to just one term.
Four years later, Theodore’s biggest hurdle was now his own creation, the Progressive Party. They were devoted to Theodore, but the Republicans blamed them (and Theodore) for their defeat in 1912. Rejoining the two antagonists to retake the White House seemed to an impossible goal. Just the sort of thing Theodore excelled at doing.
First, Theodore convinced the Progressives to hold their convention in early July and in Chicago, at the same time when, and in the same city where the Republicans would be holding their convention. And then he convinced some of the leading members of both sides to hold conferences on reuniting. Theodore’s idea was, of course, that they should reunite around him
His agent on the spot was George W. Perkins. And luckily (for us) George had his private secretary Miss Mary Kihm, on a telephone extension, secretly transcribing the conversations. I imagine the poor woman, at some tiny out of the way desk, perhaps even in a closet, holding a handset tight against her ear with one hand and furiously taking shorthand with the other. The conversations she assiduously transcribed were held at all hours of the day and night over a week’s time, and Mary was always there. There are even occasional breaks in the record when, I assume, Mary desperately raced for the bathroom.
Just after noon, on Monday, June 6, 1916, in Chicago, George called Theodore at his home in Oyster Bay, New York, to confirm that it seemed likely that the Republicans would nominate for President, Charles Evens Hughes (above), an ex-Supreme Court Justice. George put Pennsylvanian Senator Boies Penrose on the phone. Theodore had never met Penrose, and you have to wonder what the Sentor from Pennsylvania could be talking about that Perkins could not have said. Penrose informed Roosevelt that “This Hughes proposition has assumed proportions none of us dreamed of before we came here." Then Pensrose asked suggestivly, "Have you any suggestions to make?” Theodore immediatly assured Penrose that if there was a third Roosevelt term, he would make Penrose the leader of the Senate. Penrose disingenuously replied, “I really do not think the question of patronage…is the controlling factor at present.” But he added, “There is a general desire to win.” In other words, he accepted Theodore’s offer.
Theodore’s old friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, then got on the phone and assured Theodore that, “It is going to be either you or Hughes.” But he went on to warn “... if the Progressives nominate you before we act, that blows our plans all up and destroys them.” To this Theodore, just as disingenuously, replied, “…if they do not nominate me I shall breathe a sigh of relief.… I can earnestly say I am not interested in my personal welfare at all; but…I know I am worth two of Hughes.” You could never accuse Theodore of  lacking self confidence.
The next night the keynote address at the Republican Convention was delivered by Senator Warren G. Harding, in which he first used the phrase “Founding Fathers: don't we all wish he hadn't? That same night, on a more pragmatic note, Theodore again spoke with George Perkins, with Mary Kihm again on the extension. Speaking of the Republican convention, George told Theodore, “We figure up 81 or 82 votes on the first ballot. … On the second ballot we know we will have more than 75, and then we will be in the running.” George then laid out the plan for handling the "other" convention. “Now suppose that I could get (the progressives)…to authorize me to say to you, confidentially, that provided…the right Vice President and the platform were put up, we would immediately pick up our banners, walk down to the Coliseum (where the Republicans were gathered) and surrender, body, boots and breeches.” Theodore thought  that idea sounded great, saying “George, that is a master stroke.” It was all theatre, of course, but Theodore was certain it would be a hit that woud run for at least four years.
Both conventions opened on Wednesday, June 8th, and it was immediately clear that Justice Hughes and the conservatives had no intention of letting Theodore slip in and take the nomination. Theodore told a friend, “Hughes has been a big disappointment thus far. I guess there is no need to tell you that I think Hughes a good deal of a skunk in the attitude he has taken.” I guess anybody was a skunk who did not support Theodore.
All that night, and the next, the conference between the Progressives and Republicans met and argued and cajoled and sought a compromise. But at 3:30 A.M. Friday morning they finally admitted defeat. The Republican conservatives were backing Hughes and the Republican Progressives were backing Roosevelt, and neither would accept any middle ground. That afternoon the Republicans began making nominating speeches for President. At 3:30 that Friday afternoon William White, a leader of the Kansas Progressives, warned Theodore that his group would not hold off much longer. Theodore urged him to wait. “You know I haven’t committed myself in any way about running on a third ticket, but as you know I am very reluctant to do so. I can see that only damage would come from it…Try to keep our convention from acting today. Keep them from acting until tomorrow.” But White warned, “I think it can be very easily handled for tonight provided the Republicans do not…stampede for Hughes. Our people do not like the Hughes proposition.”
That night Theodore’s operative, George Perkins (above), warned that the Progressives were no longer willing to wait. “…they did not propose to listen to any more nonsense about postponing your nomination and were going to put you through.” To this Theodore observed, “George, there is no doubt about it; the other fellows have all the crooks and we have all the cranks.”
At this inopportune moment, Mary Kihm took a bathroom break. It was a little remenisent of Ms. Woods and the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes, although I certainly hope Mary was not gone that long. When she did return to her duties, Theodore was lamenting, “...much as I despise Hughes I would prefer him to one of the burglars (meaning a Taft man). Even the members of our lunatic fringe take that view.” It seemed that at the precise moment that Mary had been taking a tinkle, Theodore had been accepting the unpleasant truth.
The balloting at the Republican Convention put the coda to Theodore’s maneuvers. On the first ballot Charles Hughes (above) got 253 votes, while Theodore got 81, just as George had predicted. But the second ballot, taken almost immediately, saw Hughes surge to 326 votes, while Theodore dropped to 65. On the third round Hughes reached 950 votes and Theodore faded to only 19 true believers. Hughes was declared the Republican nominee by unanimous consent at 12:37 p.m, Saturday June 11th. Stung, the Progressives immediately nominated Theodore.
But Theodore was now rethinking his position. He had fought Hughes. He did not like Hughes. He did not trust Hughes, as long as he stood a chance of beating Hughes. But he now told his son Kermit, “Of course I will support him, but I will not be responsible for him.” In other words, Theodore had decided to cut the ground out from under the Progressive Party. They were the last third party to ever have a real chance of winning a presidential election.
Theodore was thinking of his own political needs, at this point. And he was thinking four years ahead. To mend fences, he campaigned for Hughes, and spoke out for him strongly. And with Theodore’s support Hughes even seemed to be pulling ahead on election night. Early the next morning, when a reporter rang up Hughes’ hotel suite, the butler informed him that “The President is asleep.” To which the reporter replied, “Well, when he wakes up, tell him he isn’t the President.”

Charles Evens Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes. If Hughes had just won California, he would have been President. And he lost California by a mere 3,800 votes. Wilson was thus the first Democrat to win a second term as President since Andrew Jackson, and the first man from either party to win without winning his home state
Theodore had mended his fences. And Hughes was now out of the way. But Theodore would never make the 1920 run for the White House. He died in his sleep at his home on Oyster Bay, on January 6, 1919. Most of those who knew him blamed his death on that trip up the river of Doubt.  As Thomas Marshall put it, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BATS IN THE ATTIC

I can’t say she was beautiful, but then photographs are a poor record of personality. The newspapers called her “comely”, which the dictionary defines as “Pleasing and wholesome in appearance.” But Dolly Oesterreich (above) ((pronounced "Acestrike") was not wholesome. She was, when our story begins, about 33 years old, an age at which a woman, so we are told, reaches the peak of her sensuality. However, I suspect that Dolly had always been skilled at seduction.
For 15 years Dolly (left) had been married to Fred Oesterreich (right), a man whose only selling point as a husband was that he was wealthy. He owned an apron factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he was constantly berating his 60 seamstresses to work faster. He pinched every penny and drove himself as hard as he drove his employees. As a result of his dedication to his job, the Oesterreiches got richer. And Dolly got lonelier. So it should have come as no surprise in 1913, when Dolly asked her husband to dispatch a particular repairman she had seen about the factory, to fix her personal sewing machine.
His name was Otto Sanhuber, and when our story begins, he was all of 17. Again it seems, the photographs do not do him justice. To the casual observer he looked like a mousy milktoast of a man. But Dolly must have recognized that, beyond Otto’s nebish exterior, loomed an undiscovered Hercules of passion.
Dolly met Otto at her front door attired only in a robe and slippers. She showed him to her bedroom, where she kept her Singer. She lounged on the bed while Otto adjusted her bobbin. Dolly brushed back her hair. Otto tightened her belts. Dolly raised a leg. Otto greased her shuttle shaft. Dolly let her robe fall open. And according to Otto, they threaded her needle eight times that first afternoon.
They began by sneaking assignations in the Oesterrich home while Fred was at work, but a needling neghbor warned Fred about the man who was constantly coming and going from his house. Dolly was forced to hem and haw an excuse. First the love struck pair substituted Otto’s depressing rooms, and then a hotel. But every rendevouses ran the risk of uncovering their affair. Eventually, Dolly conceived a simple pattern for their love. Otto quit his job and moved into the attic of the Oesterreich home. A curtain was thus drawn and there would be no more comings and goings - visible to the neighbors.
The thread of Otto’s life had found his spool. The hook of Dolly’s life had found her eye. For three years they pulled the wool over Fred’s eyes. For three years Otto slept above his mistresses’ marriage bed, slipping out of his hidden attic room by day to help Dolly with her housework, and once the dishes were done, to pump her treadle and spin her crank. There were loose threads, of course, that threatened to unfray the fabric of Dolly’s life. But with a little tacking, awl was mended.
Eventually Fred got the notion of moving his factory to Los Angeles, and in 1918 he bought Dolly a grand home on North St. Andrew’s place in that city. The new home had, of course, a tidy tiny attic room, so Otto would feel comforted too. Life was a perfect fit for Dolly and Otto and Fred, as long as Fred never noticed how much it was costing him to feed and clothe one woman.
This happy scene unraveled on the night of Tuesday, August 22, 1922, four years after the move to Los Angeles. Fred and Dolly returned from a dinner party and a fight broke out. Fred lost his temper and actually struck Dolly, which is when Otto rushed to the rescue from behind his hidden access door, carrying a .22 pistol. The two men struggled. Otto’s gun went off three times, and Fred went down. His string had run out. A few moments later, the police arrived to discover an apparent house robbery gone bad. The husband was dead on the living room floor and the hysterical wife was locked in the hall closet. Still, there was something that made the police suspicous. When sweatered by the cops, Dolly insisted the couple had never fought. The police, many of them married men,  knew that had to be a lie, but they couldn't prove it.
Dolly was arrested, and charged (above) with the murder of her husband. While she was in lockup she pleated with one of her lawyers, Herman Shapiro, to do her a small favor. Dolly claimed to have an addeled half-brother named Otto who lived in her attic, who must be running short of food by now. Already under Dolly’s beguiling influence, Herman agreed to deliver sustinunce to the man. When he tapped on the hidden attic door, a bespeckeled little face appeared and wolfed down the food, and talked; he talked as if he had no one to speak to for years. He was, in fact, explained Otto, a sewing machine repairman who years ago had come to fix Dolly’s machine and stayed to be her “sex slave”. Otto said nothing about Fred’s murder, but Herman was no fool.
Without knowledge of Otto, the Police case against Dolly fell apart, and she was released. But Herman Shapiro found he cottened to Dolly, and he insisted that Otto had to go. So, in 1923, Otto moved out of the attic to Canada, where he married. Eventually he moved back to Los Angeles and got a job as a porter in a hotel. And all might have lived happily ever after had Herman Shapiro kept his big mouth sewn shut.
In 1930, eight years after Fred’s death, Herman finally realized the seducrtess from Milwaukee was never going to marry him, especially after she took up with her business manager, Mr. Ray Bert Hendrick. A lawyer scorned, Herman went to the police and confessed the details of his encounter with the man in the attic. The police checked the Oesterreich homes in Wisconson and Los Angeles and discovered Otto’s hidden abodes, and the veil was stripped from their eyes. Dolly's life quickly unraveled. Otto (above, with glasses, center, showing off his hidaway) was arrested, and he talked and he showed. The prosecutors were in stiches, and they put Dolly back in handcuffs.
Otto was convicted of manslaughter. But, since the statute of limitations for manslaughter was eight years, which had just run out, Otto was released immediately after his conviction. He then faded from history. Dolly’s trial ended in a hung jury, the majority favoring her aquital. She was never recharged. Dolly lived out the rest of her life over a garage, surviving on the meger fortune that Fred had amassed - which would have infuriated Fred, had he not been dead. In the end I guess Otto was still needling Dolly.  She did not remarry until 1961, at the age of 75. Her new husband was her long time business manager, Ray Bert Hendrick. She died just two weeks later.
It brings to mind the way that Leo Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.  And this family was surely particularly unhappy, because whatever it was that Otto and Fred and Dolly were doing together, they were doing it in their very own way.
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