In honor of a new book on one of my heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, I am reposting an article on wrote over the summer at The Moderate Republican. The book, Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris is the final installment of his three-volume biography. I highly recommend the set as a great Christmas gift for any moderate political junkies out there.
T.R. is often looked at in both admiration and disdain by many modern Republicans. This is of course understandable when one recalls that , while a hugely popular leader, T.R. did famously usher in the progressive era in America. I have blogged at length why I think the early 20th century’s forays into Progressivism were wrong, though to be fair , The United States did not go nearly as wrong as our European friends did. But rehashing the history of the progressive movement is not the point of this post. At the core of the issue T.R. saw a wrong and sought to set it right. He saw unbridled capitalism creating dictatorial monopolies that were abusing their power. He felt the way to set this right was to set the government up as a watchdog- and hence the era of regulation was born.
One needs to remember though that Roosevelt was very much a man of his time, and in the early 20th century most educated people felt that the state could be the arbiter of righteousness at least to some degree. I recently listened to a talk by Joshua David Hawley, author of Theodore Roosevelt Preacher of Righteousness, and I came away with the feeling that more than ever we need a person of this caliber to reinvigorate the GOP for the new century. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars sponsered the talk and their intorduction goes a long way to making my point:
From his birth in 1858 to his death in 1919 the United States was engaged in an accelerated process of maturation. Settling its vast interior, welcoming hordes of new immigrants and rapidly urbanizing; the country was preparing for a 20th century role as a world power. Theodore Roosevelt’s own maturation paralleled his country’s. He raised his commitment to a muscular Christianity and belief in righteousness to the level of a political philosophy. Eventually, his vision of the state as moral arbiter for the people became the theme of his progressivism.
With some minor alterations that paragraph could be talking about our current place in history; we too stand on the precipice of a new age with new problems to face. T.R.’s response to a vastly changing landscape was government as benevolent ruler. Government which could raise men to a higher and more virtuous standard. With the benefit of history we can see that this in fact did not work. We now have a class of bureaucrats, answerable to no one controlling vast amounts of capital and resources. But that does mean T.R. failed.
Civilization, society, self governance are all vast experiments in trial and error. The only real failure is standing still while the world moves on. We need a character of T.R.’s strength, energy and commitment to battle big government much they way T.R. battled big business. Modern Republicans should not run away from Teddy Roosevelt, they should look at him as a hero of his age, who tried with the best tools and ideas at his disposal to right a wrong. Now it is our turn. Who will lead?