Do you have a soft spot for Teddy the "Rough Rider". I do or did until I realized through this article that even the history books that I had emphasized his flamboyant character rather than the reality of his politics.
Yes, there are still many things that I admire about him....for example a quote of his about hyphenated Americans:
AMERICANS, HYPHENATED. We welcome the
German or the Irishman who becomes an American.
We have no use for the German or Irishman who
remains such. We do not wish German-Americans and
Irish-Americans who figure as such in our social and
political life; we want only Americans, and, provided
they are such, we do not care whether they are of native
or of Irish or of German ancestry. We have no room in
any healthy American community for a German-
American vote or an Irish-American vote, and it is
contemptible demagogy to put planks into any party
platform with the purpose of catching such a vote. We
have no room for any people who do not act and vote
simply as Americans and nothing else. (Forum, April 1894.) Mem. Ed. XV. 24; Nat. Ed.
But contrast that with:
If on this continent we merely build another country of great but unjustly divided material prosperity, we shall have done nothing; and we shall do as little if we merely set the greed of envy against the greed of arrogance, and thereby destroy the material well-being of all of us. . . . The worth of our great experiment depends upon its being in good faith an experiment—the first that has ever been tried—in true democracy on the scale of a continent, an a scale as vast as that of the mightiest empires of the Old World. Surely this is a noble ideal, an ideal for which it is worth while to strive, an ideal for which at need it is worth while to sacrifice much; for our ideal is the rule of all the people in a spirit of friendliest brotherhood toward each and every one of the people. (At Carnegie Hall, New York City, March 20, 1912.) Mem. Ed. XIX, 223; Nat. Ed. XVII, 170. (Emphasis added by me)
In all of his many talks and famous quotes he sounds so right then in the midst of it all comes the lies, the bombs. These are two that jumped out at me once I started reading with a more opened mind. We are not a TRUE DEMOCRACY nor did we have unjustly divided property until big government. Besides, who says what is unjustly divided property....the government?
I believe that Calvin Coolidge was the last of our Presidents that did not expand government.
Theodore Roosevelt Was No Conservative
There's a reason he left the GOP to lead the Progressive Party.
We know that Barack Obama and his allies identify themselves as "progressives," and that they aim to implement the big-government liberalism that originated in America's Progressive Era and was consummated in the New Deal. What remains a mystery is why some conservatives want to claim this progressive identity as their own -- particularly as it was manifested by Theodore Roosevelt.
The fact that conservative politicians such as John McCain and writers like William Kristol and Karl Rove are attracted to our 26th president is strange because, if we want to understand where in the American political tradition the idea of unlimited, redistributive government came from, we need look no further than to Roosevelt and others who shared his outlook.
Progressives of both parties, including Roosevelt, were the original big-government liberals. They understood full well that the greatest obstacle to their schemes of social justice and equality of material condition was the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written and understood: as creating a national government of limited, enumerated powers that was dedicated to securing the individual natural rights of its citizens, especially liberty of contract and private property.
It was the Republican TR, who insisted in his 1910 speech on the "New Nationalism" that there was a "general right of the community to regulate" the earning of income and use of private property "to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." He was at one here with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had in 1885 condemned Americans' respect for their Constitution as "blind worship," and suggested that his countrymen dedicate themselves to the Declaration of Independence by leaving out its "preface" -- i.e., the part of it that establishes the protection of equal natural rights as the permanent task of government.
In his "Autobiography," Roosevelt wrote that he "declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it." The national government, in TR's view, was not one of enumerated powers but of general powers, and the purpose of the Constitution was merely to state the narrow exceptions to that rule.
This is a view of government directly opposed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 84. Hamilton explains there that the fundamental difference between a republican constitution and a monarchic one is that the latter reserves some liberty for the people by stating specific exceptions to the assumed general power of the crown, whereas the former assumes from the beginning that the power of the people is the general rule, and the power of the government the exception.
TR turns this on its head. In his New Nationalism speech he noted how, in aiming to use state power to bring about economic equality, the government should permit a man to earn and keep his property "only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community." The government itself of course would determine what represented a benefit to the community, and whether society would be better off if an individual's wealth was transferred to somebody else.
We can see the triumph of this outlook in progressive income taxation, which TR trumpeted in his speech (along with progressive estate taxes). We may also see this theory in action when a government seizes private property through eminent domain, transferring it to others in order to generate higher tax revenues -- a practice blessed by the Supreme Court in its notorious Kelo v. New London decision of 2005.
Some conservatives today are misled by the battle between TR and Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. But Wilson implemented most of TR's program once he took office in 1913, including a progressive income tax and the establishment of several regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission.
Others are misled by TR's crusade against an activist judiciary. But unlike our courts today, the judiciary during the Progressive era properly struck down legislation that violated our bedrock rights to liberty of contract and private property. TR hated the judiciary precisely for standing up for the Constitution; this is certainly no reason for conservatives today to latch on to his antijudicial rhetoric.
Many who respect individual liberty and the free market believe that the electoral tide has turned, and that an era of big government is inevitable. But recall that John McCain gained traction in the closing days of his campaign only when he attacked Mr. Obama's desire to "spread the wealth" through higher tax rates on the upper-income earners. His attack clearly resonated among the public. But it came too late, and truth be told, his heart wasn't really in it.
Looking ahead, conservatives hardly need to look back to progressives for inspiration. If there is a desire to "conserve" or restore something about our political tradition that has been lost with the rise of modern liberalism, how about the American founding as a model? It is with the founders that we can find the patriotic promotion of America as an exceptionally great nation -- a notion that attracts some conservatives to TR.
The difference is that, with the founders as a model, we get the idea of American greatness, but without the progressives' assault on the very enduring principles that justify America's claim to greatness in the first place.
Mr. Pestritto is the Shipley Professor of the American Constitution at Hillsdale College and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. Among his books are "Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).