I just finished reading Mario DiNunzio’s book Theodore Roosevelt: An American Mind, a collection of writings by the 26th President of the United States. This was a fascinating journey into the thinking of a man who led our country during a time of great transformation. One hell of an accomplished man, TR was trained as a biologist and thus had a huge respect for science and learning and took an enlightened approach to solving the problems of his day. He was also a fighter and put it on the line in fighting corruption and corporatism.
As I read TR’s writings I couldn’t help but think about John McCain’s fondness for identifying himself as a Roosevelt Republican. The GOP convention last year even paid tribute to TR in a video presentation. TR, however, wouldn’t have a chance in hell at securing the GOP nomination today. In fact, he would be labeled with the scary s-word… socialist. The disconnect in TR adulation among many Republicans is confounding. Did any of these guys read anything about TR? I think the praise is the result of some sort of glorification of TR. Perhaps it’s the image of TR leading the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill and well yeah he was a Republican, but the Republican Party of Theodore Roosevelt is certainly not the Republican Party of Sarah Palin, dare I make such a comparison. What happened to the GOP? This one-time party of Roosevelt has been reduced to the party of the anti-intellectual crazies of fear and hate.
TR was a clear anti-corporatist. We are talking about the trust buster president and today America could use a little trust busting. This is the guy who broke up J.P. Morgan and Standard Oil. I say if a company is too big to fail then it is too big to exist.
Roosevelt was a strong advocate of regulation, a bad word in right-wing circles. TR wrote,
Of course there are many sincere men who now believe in unrestricted individualism in business, just as there were formerly many sincere men who believed in slavery — that is, in the unrestricted right of an individual to own another individual…
I believe that the more far-sighted corporations are themselves coming to recognize the unwisdom of the violent hostility they have displayed during the last few years to regulation and control by the National Government of combinations [monopolies] engaged in interstate business. The truth is that we who believe in this movement of asserting and exercising a genuine control, in the public interest, over these great corporations have to contend against two sets of enemies, who, though nominally opposed to one another, are really allies in preventing a proper solution of the problem. There are, first, the big corporation men, and the extreme individualists among business men, who genuinely believe in utterly unregulated business — that is, in the reign of plutocracy; and, second, the men who, being blind to the economic movements of the day, believe in a movement of repression rather than of regulation of corporations, and who denounce both the power of the railroads and the exercise of the Federal power which alone can really control the railroads. (DiNunzio)
It was under Roosevelt that we saw regulation of food, with meat inspections, for example, and drugs.
TR opposed the special interests. He wrote,
For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. (DiNunzio 1994)
These words are so poignant today as we see the stranglehold the health insurance companies and banks have on Congress. The Republican party is completely bought and sold by these special interests and sadly for a large part, so are the Democrats.
Like many, I have had my share of frustration with President Obama. I wish he had more fight in him, especially in fighting such a weakened GOP. We need a Theodore Roosevelt for our own time and Obama should look to TR as a role model as the times he lived in parallel our own in many ways. I am still giving Obama a chance and I hope he will prove my doubts wrong. I hope he’s playing chess where in my mind I guess I am playing checkers.