William McKinley's election in 1896 was a breakthrough. It marked the first time in two decades that the Republican party was able to dominate American politics for a generation. Meanwhile, the presidency had been declining in prestige and power, and McKinley's election restored it to prominence.
In the century since his death, McKinley's accomplishments have been eclipsed by the charisma and public appeal of his vice president and successor, Theodore Roosevelt. But, as Kevin Phillips explains, McKinley was a major American president, deserving admission to the second tier, the capable performers below the lofty level of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. He is among the sixteen U.S. presidents elected to two terms, and he avoided the tarnish of major scandal. It was during his administration that the United States made its diplomatic and military debut as a world power, partly through McKinley's shrewd prosecution of the Spanish-American War. McKinley is one of eight presidents who, either in the White House or on the battlefield, led the nation in successful wars; more important, he is among the six or seven whose election led to a major realignment of the U.S. party system.
Phillips, the author of Wealth and Democracy and The Cousins' Wars, has long been fascinated with McKinley and the Republican party's cycles of power. He explains that McKinley's lackluster ratings have been sustained not by unjust biographers, but by a legacy of unfair criticism about his personality, his indirect style of governing, his Victorian middle-class demeanor, and his inability to inspire the American public. In this powerful reexamination of McKinley's life and presidency, Phillips argues convincingly that McKinley's accomplishments qualify him for promotion into the ranks of the near-great chief executives.
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Kevin Phillips, author of Wealth and Democracy, The Cousins' War, and Arrogant Capital , is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post and is a commentator for CBS and National Public Radio. He also edits his own newsletter, American Political Report. He lives in Connecticut.
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