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« Loving Lizbeth | Main | I'm Gonna Marry a Millionaire »

Relearning from Teddy Roosevelt

By Bob Hooper
January 15, 2012

In his speech last December at Osawatomie KS High School, President Obama cited Theodore Roosevelt's remarks there a century earlier.


Republican President Theodore Roosevelt served from 1901 to 1909. In 1912, representing the Bull Moose Party, he lost to Woodrow Wilson--the only time a 3rd Party candidate has finished as high as second. Every place I looked, Theodore Roosevelt ranks in the top 10 US Presidents, and in none lower than 6th.

In 2010, 238 participating presidential scholars at Siena College Research Institute concluded: "Teddy Roosevelt had, more than any other president, the 'right stuff,' and tops the collective ranking of a cluster of personal qualities including imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck, background and being willing to take risks." He is one of the four U.S. Presidents honored on Mt. Rushmore.

Roosevelt was an environmentalist. He led in establishing 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests. I have little doubt as President today he would work with climate scientists to deal with the reality of global warming. As governor of Kansas, he would demand something beyond pious rhetoric to end mining of the Ogallala. But...

But Teddy was much more. He fought corruption. He understood, as too few good Americans today do, that good government had to truly be of, for, and by the people. He understood that such a government had to be bigger and stronger than any private business, corporation, or any consortium of them.

From Roosevelt's 1910 Osawatomie speech: "Now this means that our government, national and State must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics."

And more: "I believe every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States."

He saw the necessity of government regulation. He said, "The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."

The Supreme Court decision to grant corporations "personhood" would have infuriated it should us.

The wealthy hated him and missed few opportunities to smear him. Some called him a communist. (Sound familiar?) Nineteen years later, smoke and mirrors investments collapsed. Wall Street went belly up. Government had become not a government of, for, and by the people--but one owned and operated by the interests Roosevelt warned about.

But the Crash of 1929 was just the beginning. Businesses who had invested and lost, cut hours and wages, and jobs. Those people had less money, and spent less. The lack of spending meant even more businesses cut hours or wages, or laid off more workers. Banks closed their doors. Soup lines of desperate men and women were long and sad. In those days, like our own, those who bore the blame for the crash didn't pay much of the cost. Ordinary people did.

To prime the pump took not further cuts but targeted government spending for programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps which, from 1933 to 1942, gave jobs every year to several hundred thousand young male Americans. Among other projects, they built public parks, roads, and bridges. They planted almost 3 billion trees. With Pearl Harbor and World War II, young men stopped planting trees and took up rifles. More government spending.

The Works Projects Association, an ever bigger government program, began in 1935 and lasted until 1943. WPA aimed to provide a 30 hr per week job to one person per family.

Some will argue that WW II and the GI Bill were more responsible for the recovery, also government funded. Families who survived because of programs like the CCC and the WPA might not disagree. Neither would they deny the critical part such programs played.

Like the Depression, the Crash of 2008 and aftermath also has its roots in corporate interests controlling government. Those same interests are spending big money to sell the idea that government has no business regulating business. Today, they blame everybody but themselves for the current mess They pour big money into astroturf propaganda groups like the Tea Party to emotionalize and gull the gullible.

Ordinary Americans, now as then, are paying the price. Many of them don't seem to understand why.

Comments (3)

Ken Poland Author Profile Page:

I don't understand. Why inteligent people can't put 2 & 2 together and figure out that Pres. Barak Obama is responsible for our dire financial straits, today. Very strong evidence that he is also responsible for our danger of being subject to terrorist attacks. And, he's definitely responsible for the Mid East mess!

We started a rather steady decline in jobs and a sharp incline in deficit spending, about 2001. KABOOM! Someone blew up the Trade Center and nearly wiped out the Pentagon. Then we invaded Iraq to straighten things out. Where was that man? Then, BOOM again, on Sep 29, 2008 the bottom fell out of the stock market. Anyone should be able to connect that liberal rascal, Barak Obama, to all those events. He won the election, so he MUST be responsible!!!

Angelo Lopez Author Profile Page:

A great blog, Bob. I'm glad people are rediscovering how progressive Teddy Roosevelt was in the context of his times, and how he tried to control the trusts and corporations for the public good. I hope more people look at Teddy's Square Deal and the ideas of the Bullmoose Party that were the foundation of TR's third party run for the presidency in 1912. The overriding goal of the Bullmoose Party was to attack the domination of politics by business interests, which dovetails nicely with the concerns of many progressives today.

I wish the progressive Republican tradition that Teddy Roosevelt and Robert La Follette represented was still alive with today's Republican Party. Sadly, the 1912 elections was the high water mark for the Progressive Republicans. After that the business friendly segment of the Republican Party began to dominate, with the Taft, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover presidencies. The progressive Republican legacy is a proud legacy of laws to keep corporate power in check, to protect the environment, to protect African American rights, and to create a more direct democratic process so more people could participate. It's too bad the Republican Party has moved away from that.

Peter Tramel Author Profile Page:

Great blog! If I had a Teddy Roosevelt award to give a current politician, I would give it to Elizabeth Warren. She is going to be a great Senator and, I hope, one day more.

(But don't listen to me. Not long ago I predicted great things for Anthony Weiner.)

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