November 10, 2014

The myth of Teddy Roosevelt, part deaux

A few months ago, I blogged about the start of Ken Burns' latest PBS American whoregasm, "The Roosevelts," wondering what he'd get wrong about Teddy. (Answer: A decent amount, but not quite a huge amount. Click the link.)

Now, via a Facebook friend, we have the laughable wonder of TR calling Woodrow Wilson laissez-faire, in a 1912 campaign speech.


The man who refused to cut the tariff, did't push to get Congress to pass the 16th Amendment on income tax, and, even after the Panic of 1907 and his failure to push for something like the Federal Reserve, calls Wilson laissez-faire? Well, that's a chuckle.

It's true indeed that Wilson, a unreconstructed Southerner who, if he had pushed for Obamacare today, would have found a way even more than today's red states are doing to restrict its benefits to white folks, was saying that only keeping government power was coherent with protecting individual liberties.  That said, per the paragraph above, TR wasn't in much place to critique Wilson, and that's my critique. Beyond that, contra later parts of that TR speech, Wilson strengthened antitrust laws with the Clayton Antitrust Act, created the Federal Trade Commission, and battled to cut child labor, before legislation he pushed Congress to pass was declared unconstitutional.

In the speech, Roosevelt also lies about the accomplishments of Taft, some of which were more progressive — and more legally grounded — than TR's. See my first link.

Teddy Roosevelt would be a hoot for today. We'd have twice as many dams in the West as we actually do, we'd have czars for everything, TR would himself be talking to Kurzweil about putting his engrams in a computer, and he'd be dropping nuclear bombs in ISIS in the name of vigorous Christianist nationalism.

Burns did somewhat get this right. An activist government, for Teddy Roosevelt, boiled down to one thing: An activist Teddy Roosevelt. It's also was "Battling Bob" La Follette disliked TR forming his Bull Moose party and disrupting the growth of broader progressivism.

With a population four times that of his U.S., I thank doorknobs that, for some of his attractiveness, he's not president today. Had he been president when Truman was, he probably would have tried to shoot Congress before it could pass the 22nd Amendment. He almost certainly would have nuked North Korea, and maybe China, too, during the Korean War.

In short, he would be a hypercaffeinated (he bespoke Maxwell House's slogan), jingoistic Just.Another.Politician.™ Were he president today, he'd scare the hell out of me.

And, even a pre-modern TR would have been bad enough.

Had he been able to pull off the 1912 third-term win, and an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 had happened as in reality?

He would have gotten us into World War I two full years before Wilson, in all likelihood.

He might then have used that as an excuse to run for a fourth term in 1916.

As for presidential rankings? We know why he's on Mount Rushmore. In actuality, for all of his good on environmentalism, and for his trust-busting for partially selfish reasons, he's not one of our top five presidents. He's probably not in the top 10.

That said, other than that the game of ranking presidents requires 10 of them to be in the top 10, we don't really have a 10 best presidents list.

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