CHAPTER XIII
CHOICE OF THE DEMOCRACY

AT PHILADELPHIA, ON FEBRUARY 2, 1912, Wilson spoke to hundreds of periodical publishers on the same platform with Senator Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin. The audience was largely one of Republican reactionaries, and remarkably sensitive to public opinion. They saw revolutionary omens in the political skies, in this most critical year of American politics since 1860. Large strikes had charged the air with electricity of high potential. Socialist Eugene Debs had a vociferous following. At last it seemed clear that the voices of revolt were loud and articulate enough to influence political action.

LaFollette, a powerful orator, went to Philadelphia commanding Wilson's respect as "a very high minded champion of progressive ideas." Bitterly insurgent, he had for years been fighting special privilege and corruption, had made himself the very soul of grass-roots progressivism in the Republican party. But to prove that he was of presidential stature, he would have to capture the intellectual liberals of the East. And that he failed to do. Weakened by an attack of ptomaine poisoning, his nerve shaken by the deflation of his presidential boom by what he regarded as a betrayal by Roosevelt, he was in no condition to match oratory with Woodrow Wilson at the gathering of sophisticated publishers. Usually a temperate man, on this occasion he drank a stimulant to fortify his weakened vitality, and the effect was tragic. He spoke twice too long, became lost in repetition, ranted against newspaper- men.

Wilson's briefer talk was urbane and charming even in its criticism of his hosts the publishers: "I used to be afraid that they would not publish what I offered them, but now I am afraid they will"--deftly discriminating in its definitions and prescriptions: "Progressivism means not getting caught standing still when everything else is moving . . . we are not steering by forms of government, we are steering by principles of government." In contrast, LaFollette's uncouth, humorless denunciation seemed as grim as a Puritan sermon. From the back of the hall men shouted "Sit down!" The audience melted away, LaFollette's

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