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The Wizard of Oz involves Ohio politics

Published: Sunday, October 07, 2012 @ 12:00 AM
Updated: Sunday, October 07, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

“Who is this Wizard who speaks through various figureheads ….? Marcus Alonzo Hanna … a close adviser to (William) McKinley and the chairman of the Republican National Committee.”

— Rutgers Professor Hugh Rockoff

Oz is short for ounce.

The yellow brick road represents the gold bullion that once backed the dollar.

Dorothy’s slippers, changed to ruby for the Technicolor movie, were silver in the book and represent silver ingots.

Toto represents the nagging but politically ineffective voice of the teetotalers of the day.

These aren’t allegations being traded in the Sherrod Brown-Josh Mandel race.

They’re opinions of serious scholars who argue the 1900 Frank Baum classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” reflects the most pressing political issue of the 1896 presidential campaign and that era’s Populist political movement.

“Yes, I think it’s a story of Populism, sure,” said Larry Schweikart, professor of history at the University of Dayton. “The symbolism seems too much to ascribe to pure luck.”

The Oz-as-politics theme is of particular interest to Ohioans because the Wizard is thought to be Cleveland’s Marcus Hanna, Karl Rove’s role model.

Moreover, because of the stake farmers and laborers had in the political roil, Springfield newspapers of the time heavily endorsed the silver side, as did Springfield industrialist John Bookwalter, who in 1896 wrote the book “If Not Silver, What?”

A story, but more

In 1990 the respected Journal of Political Economy revived an academic discussion dating to the 1960s when it published “’The Wizard of Oz’ as a Monetary Allegory,” by Rutgers University’s Hugh Rockoff.

“Baum’s main purpose was to tell a story, and his need for symmetry, interesting characters,” prevented precise parallels, Rockoff writes. But the book is “rich in references” to the politics of the times, the author adds.

With the nation in an economic slide it wouldn’t face again until the 1930s, the 1896 election was a fierce fight between the Eastern financial and business establishment and the farmers and laborers of the South and West over what constituted “fair” money.

The financial establishment, championed by Ohio Republican William McKinley, argued that gold was the steadier commodity and its continued use would assured that any debts owed were paid back in dollars closest in value to the dollars lent. They also said the 16:1 ratio of silver to gold proposed by the so-called bimetallists would devalue the dollar and lead to wild speculation.

The bimetallists, led by Nebraska Democrat William Jennings Bryan, had two arguments with the gold standard:

• Because the limited supply of gold limited the supply of circulating money, parts of the United States didn’t enough cash on hand to do business. This proved a practical problem for Western farmers at harvest time and was a constant problem in the South, which had experienced massive bank failures during the Civil War.

• For many years, the stagnant supply of gold actually caused the value of the dollar to increase in a condition called deflation. As a result, debtors felt they were paying back more than they had borrowed when they paid back loans, although some historians argue the deflated prices farmers paid for other things evened things out.

If the gold-silver debate sounds strange 116 years later, some lines from Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Chicago Democratic Convention could be used in this year’s campaign.

“There are two ideas of government,” Bryan said. “There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

Some argue that in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Bryan is the Cowardly Lion — cowardly because of his opposition to the Spanish American War and a lion because of his roaring power as an orator. Likewise, most of Dorothy’s entourage is a political coalition, in which the Tin Man represents factory laborers and the Scarecrow represents farmers.

For the Scarecrow

It was for the scarecrows that Bookwalter, president of Springfield’s James Leffel Co., wrote his campaign-year book “If Not Silver, What?”

“As one whose prosperity depends almost entirely on farmers,” Bookwalter wrote, “I have naturally thought most of the effect of monometallism has had, and will continue to have, upon them.”

So did The Sun, Springfield’s morning newspaper.

Reliance on the gold standard had caused, “a heavy increase in the burden of taxation and of all debts, public and private; the enrichment of the money lending class at home and abroad; (and) prostration of industry and impoverishment of the people.”

Down the road in Dayton, the Evening Herald argued the opposite.

“It is estimated that the stockholders of the silver mining companies number about 50,000 persons … considerably less than the population of (Dayton). To increase the(ir) already enormous wealth … we are asked to take a step that will add mountains of weight to the burdens … of our laboring millions.”

Dayton’s Evening News agreed, citing this paragraph from the Financial Chronicle of New York: “The only gainers by a dishonest money policy would be the big debtors, including all employers of labor, who owe great numbers of small creditors, such as depositors in savings banks, holders of insurance policies and men and women who work for fixed salaries and wages.”

Witch direction

As mentioned, the battle pitted different regions against one another. It’s for that reason, Rutgers’ Rockoff argues, that Dorothy is from Kansas, a hotbed of Populism, and that her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, representing Eastern banking interests.

The Good Witch of the North, where populism also was strong, gives Dorothy the silver slippers and sends her toward the Emerald City (Washington, D.C.) to confront the powers that be. And Glinda the Good Witch of the South, where Populism also took root, helps Dorothy return to Kansas.

Rockoff notes that when Dorothy and her coalition arrive in the Emerald City (a city the color of cash), they are ushered one by one into a round room (“The Oval Office?” he asks). During their separate meetings with Oz, “each sees a different character” in an exchange Rockoff says is typical of the different things people hear when talking to politicians.

“But who is this Wizard who speaks through various figureheads …?” Rockoff asks. “To a Populist at the turn of the century there is only one answer: Marcus Alonzo Hanna. A close adviser to McKinley and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, he was, in Populist mythology, the brains behind McKinley and his campaign.”

Upon taking office, McKinley arranged for Hanna to fill the U.S. Senate seat from Ohio vacated when he named Sen. John Sherman his secretary of state.

Local fallout

The Ohio Historical Society says that Springfield industrialist Asa Bushnell, whose opulent mansion on East High Street is now the Richards, Raff & Dunbar Memorial Home, was a “longtime foe of Hanna in the state (Republican) organization.”

Serving in his first term as governor when McKinley was elected president, Bushnell “delayed naming Hanna as long as possible,” the historical society says.

Bushnell was a partner in Warder, Bushnell & Glessner, meaning his economic interests were close to the so-called Silverites. But it’s not clear whether his differences with Hanna were over silver or due to Bushnell’s allegiance to his own political mentor, Joseph Foraker.

There’s no doubt, however, that after resisting Hanna’s appointment and then only narrowly winning a second term, Bushnell was aware of the real world power of the “man behind the curtain” in late 19th century American politics.

Weekend plans? Know how the weather will impact you

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini has the latest on this weekend's storm system.

A complex storm system will move in to the Dayton area late Friday night, bringing with it a weather mix that will impact most of the Miami Valley this weekend, according to StormCenter 7 Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini.

 >>Get WHIO’s free Weather App: Hour-by-hour forecast anytime, anywhere 

Here are a few things to keep in mind to stay prepared:

  • Heavy rain late Friday night, Saturday afternoon--ponding on the roads and reduced visibility will make driving challenging, and raise your risk of hydroplaning.
  • Winds will be gusting Saturday afternoon and evening. Isolated power outages are possible. Holiday decorations and lawn furniture could be blown around or damaged. 
  • Cold air will move in quickly, a 20-degree drop is expected by Sunday morning. Below freezing temperatures, light snow flurries are possible. Accumulation should not be an issue, but icy spots on roads Sunday morning are possible.

 >>Live Interactive Radar

 

Stabbing victim flown to hospital; Springfield crews search for suspect

Published: Saturday, November 18, 2017 @ 3:04 AM

Springfield police are searching for a suspect after a man was stabbed in the chest, according to Springfield Sgt. Michael Curtis.

Crews were dispatched to the 1100 block of Water Street around 11:40 p.m. Friday on a report of a stabbing. 

Officers arrived to find the victim coherent and unable to recall the events leading up to the stabbing, according to Curtis. 

Curtis said a medical helicopter took the victim from the scene to Miami Valley Hospital where he remains in an unknown condition. 

Aided by a K-9 unit, Springfield officers were unable to locate a suspect at the scene. 

The incident remains under investigation.

GOT A TIP? Call our monitored 24-hour line, 937-259-2237, or send it to newsdesk@cmgohio.com

Patrol: Higher speed limit leads to spike in crashes, fatalities

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 9:05 AM

Patrol: Higher speed limit leads to spike in crashes, fatalities

Crashes and fatalities spiked after Ohio increased the speed limit to 70 mph on hundreds of rural interstates and freeways, according to an Associated Press report.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol released a report Thursday that said there was a 24 percent increase in crashes, including 22 percent more fatal and injury crashes, on 70 mph roads since the state went to the faster limit four years ago, according to the AP.

» READ MORE: Patrol launches efforts to curb fatal crashes in Greene County 

Here in the Miami Valley, 70 mph speed limits were established on portions of I-70, U.S. 40, U.S. 68 and Ohio 4 in Clark County. Interstate 71 through part of Warren County was also increased to 70 mph.

Should Springfield ban smoking in cars with kids?

Published: Saturday, November 18, 2017 @ 12:00 PM


            Should the city of Springfield follow Honolulu’s lead and ban smoking in cars with children? Staff file photo
Should the city of Springfield follow Honolulu’s lead and ban smoking in cars with children? Staff file photo

A smoking ban in cars with children in Springfield could be problematic because it would only be in effect in the city limits, local leaders said, but they’re willing to talk about it.

The city of Honolulu sparked a national debate on Oct. 18 when the city’s council voted unanimously to enact a ban on smoking and use of electronic cigarettes in cars when a child 17 or younger is in the vehicle.

» READ MORE: What’s next for downtown Springfield? Nonprofit weighs options

The ban is aimed at protecting minors from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But could such a ban ever come to Springfield?

Mayor Warren R. Copeland said it’s something he would take into consideration but a change of that magnitude has never been presented to him before.

“There hasn’t been a precedent set for something like that before,” he said. “But I’m always willing to talk about something that would have an effect on the city once I’m more informed.”

» RELATED: Smoking rates affect Springfield health

More than 20 percent of Clark County residents are smokers, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings. The health district’s 2015 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, which polled about 800 Clark County residents with land-line telephones, showed 45 percent of adults in Clark County have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

The problem with a law such as the one passed in Honolulu is that it only affects people within the city limits, Copeland said, so people who travel outside of Springfield wouldn’t be subject to it. A law that would affect all of Clark County could be passed, but it would have to go through the state of Ohio itself.

“It’s a lot more complicated than people think it is,” he said.

Presently, under Chapter 523 of Springfield’s codified ordinances, smoking is banned inside buildings owned by the city.

Ohio’s indoor smoking ban, which was enacted in 2006, encompasses more than 280,000 indoor public spaces and places of employment, but doesn’t cover what people are able to do on private property such as homes.

But the idea of stricter smoking laws isn’t entirely foreign in Springfield. In 2016, the Clark County Combined Health District released their Community Health Improvement Plan, which outlined a proposal to increase the minimum smoking age in Springfield and New Carlisle to 21.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said in an e-mail the initiative, titled Tobacco 21, is still on the table for consideration by Springfield’s government, and the health district plans on raising the issue again next spring.

“The health district supports the current Smoke-Free Workplace Act and the Tobacco 21 initiative,” Patterson said. “We would certainly support additional efforts to reduce second-hand smoke for all of our citizens, especially our future generations.”

The youth-based anti-smoking group STAND is presently requesting the Springfield City Board of Education consider designating the city school district campuses as smoke-free zones as part of the health district’s larger plan.

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