The Nationals’ racing presidents will appear at Mount Rushmore this week in honor of Presidents Day. For four of them, this is a natural destination – the original quartet, after all, were once called the Rushmores, and are chiseled in South Dakota stone.
Now there is a fifth, though, and the new William Howard Taft mascot is also heading to the Black Hills. Taft is not typically referenced in Presidents Day celebrations, nor is he typically associated with Jefferson and Lincoln. Does he – or his racing likeness, anyhow – deserve such an honor?
“You’re getting a whole lot more serious about this than I would ever get,” laughed John G. Taft, great-grandson of the 27th president. “But I actually think it’s cute, and I think it’s interesting. Why shouldn’t he be included? Secretary of War, Governor of the Philippines, President of the United States, Supreme Court Justice? His face isn’t on Mount Rushmore, but I’ll tell you what: my great-grandfather has done a lot more for this country than I have.”
The younger Taft – the CEO of RBC Wealth Management and the author of “Stewardship,” a book-length reflection on his industry’s role in creating the financial crisis – is not in politics. Neither is he a Nats fan – he grew up in Connecticut rooting for the Yankees, and later “reformed” and became a Minnesota Twins supporter.
But, not surprisingly, he received dozens of e-mails after the Nats announced the addition of the Big Chief over the offseason. Family members have already discussed an impromptu reunion at Nats Park during one of Taft’s first races this spring, and have contacted the franchise about working together on a possible event. And the great-grandson said he “absolutely” will follow racing Taft’s racing career.
“It’s another in a series of data points that lead me to think we’re going through a mini revival of interest in William Howard Taft,” he said, citing the recent novel “Taft 2012” and a surge of stories about the former president’s weight. “There has been a noticeable increase in public interest in my great-grandfather. I’m not sure I can entirely explain it. But there was a lot of humanity to my great-grandfather, starting with his weight, and of course that’s very topical today.”
Here Taft was referring to speculation about the political future of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The younger Taft has been an active crusader for workplace diversity and inclusion, and said he considers weight “a difference that, quite frankly, can lead to prejudice in the way people are treated.”
“The notion that Chris Christie, merely because of his weight, is somehow unqualified to be President of the United States?” he asked. “My great-grandfather is a case history that you can weigh a lot and still serve your country effectively over decades.”
Taft said he had toyed with the idea of inviting Christie to the Taft family gathering at Nats Park, although he acknowledged the New Jersey governor would probably decline. He said the Taft legacy – which he attempted to uphold in his book – is of integrity and adhering to principles, so he hoped racing Taft would be a stickler for the rules.
He said he has no hard feelings toward the descendants of Roosevelt, although “I have to see how Teddy treats my great-grandfather in the races.”
And as absurd as this whole thing is, I told Taft that the Nats’ offseason decision had prompted several fans – and at least one blogger – to re-examine the life and career of his famous relative.
“I’m pretty sure I know why they brought William Howard Taft in — I think it’s to give Teddy some company at the tail of the race,” he joked, before humoring me by turning serious. “Quite frankly, there’s a humanity to him — as there is to Roosevelt, as there is to Jefferson, as there is to Lincoln. There’s a humanity to all of them. He doesn’t run as fast as Teddy, and can lose a few races now and then, but there is a connection between these presidents that, to me, is not so far-fetched.”
(Image of Taft’s journey to Mount Rushmore via his Twitter page.)