The bigness of the job demands a man of Taft's type. He is thoroughly prepared for the task. . . . Never has there been a candidate for the Presidency so admirably trained in varied administrative service. Creed and color make no difference to him; he seeks to do substantial justice to all. There isn't a mean streak in the man's make-up. No man, too, fights harder when he thinks it necessary — but he hates to fight unless it is necessary.
—President Theodore Roosevelt, explaining why he endorsed William Howard Taft to follow him in office, 1908
"To be a successful latter-day politician, it seems one must be a hypocrite. . . . That sort of thing is not for me. I detest hypocrisy, cant, and subterfuge. If I have got to think every time I say a thing, what effect it is going to have on the public mind — if I have got to refrain from doing justice to a fair and honest man because what I may say may have an injurious effect upon my own fortune — I had rather not be president."
—President William Howard Taft, two years into his term, 1910
December 6, 1912
Dear President Taft.
I am sorry you lost your election. My daddy says Wilson is a lousy so & so. When you are not busy being President any more you can come visit me at my house because I am from Cincinnati too. I would like a Teddy Roosevelt bear for Christmas. Thank you for reading my letter. Liberty & justice for all.
Signed, Irene O'Malley, age 6
The Washington Herald
March 5, 1913
The Herald editorial board would like to add a final note to our exclusive reportage of President Wilson's inauguration.
This newspaper has certainly had its disagreements with William Howard Taft during the four years he resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we have not hesitated to point out the many occasions upon which "Big Bill" failed to live up to his predecessor Mr. Roosevelt's fine example: for instance, his shameful treatment of that American institution, U.S. Steel. His refusal to sign legislation that would have sensibly restricted immigration to the literate. His un-American love for taxing businesses at the exorbitant rate of an entire percent of their annual income. This editorial board could go on at length!
But, for all these faults, we must acknowledge that Mr. Taft usually managed to approximate the personal behavior of a civil gentleman while president, a fact that leaves us all the more scandalized by his behavior yesterday. After saying his good-byes at the White House door in the morning, Big Bill subsequently did not bother to show up at all for resident Wilson's swearing-in. A more egregious snub, a more unpresidential breach of propriety, can hardly be imagined!
Thus, having been granted no opportunity for a final interview with the twenty-seventh president of the United States — and, we might point out, the tenth president to be denied a second term by an unhappy American people — the Herald editorial board must deliver our parting words here upon this page: Shame on you, Mr. Taft. We surely don't know what errand you could possibly have found so much more important than handing the reins of American democracy to your successor. Did you imagine Ohio could not wait another twenty-four hours to have its "biggest success" back? Or could you simply not bear to face a crowd of 250,000 people most eager to cheer your victor?
In any case, we have no doubt that the American people will see Big Bill again soon. After all, how could we fail to see him? The man is so large, he had to be pried loose from the White House bathtub. A proud legacy indeed, sir.
Part I: 2011
It had been dark for so long. Dark and warm and wet and heavy. And silent.
But not entirely so. He could hear things sometimes. A low hum of machines. A distant peal of laughter. A soft patter of either rain or tears.
He could feel things, too. The settling of the soil. The tickle of roots. The stately migration of the seasons.
And hunger. Good lord, the hunger.
He gnawed at the loam sometimes as he dreamed. He imagined he was buried under an avalanche of roasted chicken and brown gravy and custard. All he need do was eat his way out.
Instead, he slept.
That is, until the lights came.
It was a twinkling at first. They flashed intermittently, these lights, and then they quickly disappeared. He felt the dull thud of concussion, too, but knew not from where. But each flash and each thud brought him, bit by bit, out of his slumber.
Damnation, was he hungry.
With the hunger came memories. They lasted only as long as the flashes of light. First was a vision of a woman. A thin, pale woman. She spoke with difficulty, but she was happy, and she was strong-willed and alive. Even from this distance of space and time and consciousness, he drew from that strength.
Then there were children. Small ones and grown ones. There was a house, white as though carved from ivory. There was a man: bespectacled face round and beaming, voice so much louder than his own.
Then there was a smell. O glorious smell! The memory of it alone was almost enough to quell his ravenous, belly-clawing hunger. It was cherry. Cherry blossoms. The specter of the cool, sweet scent crept across his soul like a song. It came and went, but each time it faded, he clutched at it as if it were his own life's blood.
Then, one day or minute or millennium later, he didn't simply dream of the cherry blossoms. He smelled them.
The scent washed over him as he bolted upright. Other smells filled his nostrils too: rain and smoke and the familiar tang of roses. The cherry was faint, but it was there.
He had to find it. He ignored his hunger, ignored his pain, and pulled himself out of the infernal pit in which he'd found himself. He knew he was slathered in mud. No matter; he'd had mud slung at him before.
Groaning, his voice horribly coarse, he staggered into the light rain, looking for his beloved cherry blossoms. But there were none. It was autumn. The blossoms were long gone.
So instead he ran toward the sanctuary. The place where his one true friend slept.
But before he could make it there, he heard screams. He answered them in kind. He kept running.
That's when he heard a crack like thunder and felt a fire like lightning in his leg.
He fell. His waking dream had passed.
When he woke again, water was running down his face. He could feel it stripping the mud from his skin and dripping from his mustache. He looked up. Hovering over him were men and women with brightly lit machines perched on their shoulders.
In the distance, a man ran toward them. He held what looked like a gun. He opened his mouth. Words came out.
"Hey, turn off those cameras! Back away! Oh, my God — that face. That's impossible. Holy shit."
Secret Service Incidence Report WHG20111107.027
Agent Ira Kowalczyk
At approximately 1042, an oversized mammalian figure covered in mud appeared behind the White House South Lawn Fountain, approaching the press conference in progress on the lawn. It was unclear to me for several seconds whether the intruder was a man or a large animal as it lurched toward the crowd while moaning loudly. As the closest perimeter guard, I drew my firearm and ordered the intruder to halt while the executive guard secured POTUS. The intruder bellowed louder and attempted to proceed past the South Lawn Fountain in the direction of POTUS and the press corps. I discharged my weapon once, striking the intruder in the leg, and he collapsed against the fountain. I approached and saw that the water from the fountain, along with the morning drizzle, was washing the mud from the intruder's body. He was a very large man, over 6 feet tall, probably 300 pounds, wearing a formal tweed suit. He had white hair and a handlebar mustache. My first thought was that he looked like some sort of deranged presidential history buff dressed up as William Howard Taft.
From Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. Copyright 2012 by Jason Heller. Excerpted by permission of Quirk Books.