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THE PRESIDENCY With Bush in spotlight, McKinley's time shines



Published: Thu, January 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Separated by a century, their terms share many similarities.

Insurgents in a U.S. occupied country in the East were killing young Americans.

The country was easing out of recession and into a new century.

The nation was about to inaugurate an expansionist president bent on making the United States something of a world policeman and ready to anchor democracy in a country far abroad.

And, if a Mahoning Valley family happened to be in Washington, they could stop by the White House to shake the hand of President William McKinley, Niles' favorite son, and wish him well at the start of his second term.

As President Bush takes the oath today, there's renewed interest in McKinley, the 25th president, whose presidency bore some striking parallels to what Bush faces in his second term.

The similarities start with how Bush campaigned for the White House.

"Karl Rove loves McKinley. He kind of patterned what he did for Bush after McKinley's second campaign," Patrick E. Finan, director of the McKinley Memorial Library and Museum in Niles, said Tuesday.

Rove, George W. Bush's political adviser and the architect of his two elections, used McKinley's pattern of establishing coalitions and focusing on mid-America values as a model for his campaign strategy, Finan said.

That and the natural rhythm of interests of historians -- McKinley served from 1901 until he was assassinated in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1905 -- have brought one of the Valley's most famous historical figures back into the limelight, Finan said.

"It's been 100 years now, and that's got a lot to do with it," the McKinley museum director said.

Changed his party

After many years when the study of McKinley took a back seat -- make that back saddle, he hated cars and wouldn't get into one -- a new biography is out and the level of scholarly buzz is up, Finan said.

The book, "William McKinley," was written by Kevin Phillips, a former voting patterns analyst for President Nixon. Phillips' book does a solid job of documenting "that McKinley has been given short shrift by historians," Walter Russell Mead wrote in a Foreign Affairs review recently.

"McKinley's rise to power through post-Civil War Ohio politics combines with a close reading of McKinley's presidency to give him much of the credit for the progressive revolution in the Republican Party," Russell contended.

"The book talks about how McKinley was in tune with times. It's a very flattering portrait of McKinley," Finan added.

Perhaps the parallels to the opening pages of 21st century history have something to do with the renewed interest in the president, as well.

Themes live on

The themes mirror some of what Bush's critics and supporters are saying in January 2005.

"McKinley was turning America into an imperialist power," Finan said. "He wanted to make America a superpower along with Britain, France and Germany."

The stubborn Philippine insurgency, while remote from most Americans, hit home with families who lost young sons in the islands. Much like that military action, the war in Iraq has persisted longer and cost more American lives than the White House expected.

McKinley, after ramrodding through stiff tariffs on steel, repealed them not long after, much as the current chief executive has done.

Well before Middle American sensibilities became known as the "red state" values most analysts say boosted Bush back into the White House, they drew voters to McKinley, Finan points out.

And he was faced with getting Americans back to work, a major theme of Bush's 2004 stump speech.

But the echoes of 1900 fade just short of the atmosphere of today's extravaganza of 11 balls, thousands watching an elaborate parade, after-parties and politician receptions -- all protected by perhaps the largest security details ever assembled for such an event.

McKinley's reception was a simple affair, hand shakes at the mansion with all the protection three or four guards could provide.

A robust expansion of the Secret Service didn't take place until 1905, after William McKinley's assassination.

The man who shot him was Leon Franz Czolgosz, described in his time as a political radical and anarchist.

Today we'd call him a terrorist.




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