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The issues are the economy, taxes and America’s place in a changing world.
But it’s not the election of 2012. It’s the campaign of 1912, and a pragmatic politician from Northeast Missouri is in the thick of it.
A play by former newspaper reporter and television assignment editor Brent Engel tells the story of Bowling Green resident Champ Clark’s failed bid to win the Democrat nomination for president.
The one-hour play will be presented at noon and 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, in the third-floor courtroom of the Pike County Courthouse on the Bowling Green square. The free event is part of the annual Champ Clark Heritage Festival.
“Before anyone had heard of Harry Truman, just about everybody in Northeast Missouri knew, had met, read about or listened to Champ Clark,” said Engel.
Clark was the popular Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912, and the Democratic front-runner going into the party’s convention in Baltimore.
Had it not been for a bit of treachery from an unexpected source, Clark likely would have beaten out New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson as the party standard-bearer.
Engel first had the idea for the play about six years ago, but put the project on the shelf until last January. The more he researched the topic, the more the parallels that emerged between 1912 and 2012.
“Just as in 2012, people in 1912 were concerned about the economy and taxes,” Engel said. “Clark favored higher tariffs on some products to bring money into the federal treasury, but he objected to many in his party who wanted broad tax increases.”
Like any seasoned politician, Clark could play both sides of the street. He happily accepted the financial support of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, one of the richest men in America, while arguing against the trusts that he believed held a monopoly on certain industries.
Engel said that despite a desire to help working families, Clark came to be viewed as “anti-progressive,” and it ended up costing him the nomination.
Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who had run unsuccessfully three times for president, helped derail Clark’s ambitions.
Bryan was an old friend of Clark. He had even spoken at Louisiana in 1896 and told Clark about his own plans to seek the nation’s highest office.
But at the convention, Bryan turned on Clark, arguing that the Missourian was beholden to special interests — even though Bryan himself had taken money from the trusts during his presidential campaigns.
“Champ Clark would have made a wonderful commander-in-chief,” Engel said. “But he didn’t hold any grudges after what happened in 1912. He championed Democratic causes and continued to fight for the disadvantaged. He also was an early proponent of women’s suffrage.” Had he been president,
Clark continued as Speaker of the House until 1919, but was defeated for re-election to Congress in 1920. He died the next year in Washington and is buried in Bowling Green.
Clark’s Bowling Green home, named Honey Shuck for the type of locust trees that grow in the yard, is open for tours. More information is available by logging on to www.bgchamber.org.