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Teddy Roosevelt: Progressive.
Ronald Pestritto had an interesting column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (available here) on Theodore Roosevelt. Here is a bit:
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 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. . . .
The column breaks no new ground. It is just a nice reminder of why TR is one of my least favorite of all the "respected" Presidents and should provide no role model for today's political class.

Update: Max Boot defends TR as a conservative here, mainly due to his foreign policy record that "should provide inspiration for today's generation of conservatives" but also this bit:

Given that all but the most extreme libertarians have come to terms with the New Deal and considerable post-New Deal expansion of government (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid), it hardly makes sense to denounce TR as some kind of lefty for anticipating the kind of reforms that would make our capitalist system more stable and durable.
Boot provides a lengthy defense of TR as a conservative in World Affairs, in which he concludes:
TR's philosophy is not for everyone. He represented one strain of conservatism among many—a reformist strain of which Benjamin Disraeli was the other leading exponent. But it was conservatism nonetheless. Attempts to read him out of the conservative canon have no more persuasive power than attempts to exclude John McCain. Indeed, the energetic brand of conservatism that both men embody fits the temper of our times better than the anti-government rhetoric that defined the conservative movement of a decade ago. Some of the most influential tomes on Republican reform, by the likes of Newt Gingrich, David Frum, and Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, argue that the Grand Old Party needs to fashion itself more in TR's image and less in Barry Goldwater's and Robert Taft's. The creed of these modern-day conservatives intentionally echoes Roosevelt's: "It is not my intention to do away with government," he said in his first inaugural address. "It is, rather, to make it work."

A. Zarkov (mail):
TR was hardly a liberal in today's sense. Look at the Venezuela Crisis of 1902 where TR threatened Germany with war, "we cannot afford to let Europe get a foothold in our backyard, so we'll have to act as policemen for the West." Fortunately TR kept his negotiations with the Kaiser secret which allowed Germany to withdraw without losing face.

Sorry TR is one of my favorite presidents. It's true TR increased the power of the presidency and the national government, but nothing like we have today. I don't see a problem with his trust busting and conservation accomplishments.

TR was also one of our most intellectual presidents with a long set of accomplishments. Modern presidents are pygmies compared to him.
12.28.2008 12:28pm
David Welker (www):
It is funny to see men who have accomplished comparatively very little in their own lives, like Ronald Pestritto and Randy Barnett criticize Theodore Roosevelt, who was not only a great President, but a far better man than they could ever hope to be. Now, I am not saying that Roosevelt was a perfect President. But he certainly was a great one.

I think the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt expressed how I feel about Barnett and Pestritto:


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
12.28.2008 1:02pm
cirby (mail):
TR was hardly a liberal in today's sense.

Of course he was - with the exception that most modern liberals will willingly vote for a war and spend the next seven years explaining to us why that war was a bad idea.
12.28.2008 1:08pm
therut (mail):
He was a disgrace.
12.28.2008 1:32pm
gran habano:
"TR was hardly a liberal in today's sense. Look at the Venezuela Crisis of 1902 where TR threatened Germany with war,"


You mean he threatened to act out military adventures abroad, like LBJ did in Vietnam, and two Bushes did in Iraq? (and Wilson did in Europe, and Truman did in korea and... and ... and...)

Progressive, big-government liberal types like Teddy all fill the bill you laid out here... then and now... and they all spring from that blowhard Bull Moose liberal ... the blowhardiest progressive of them all.

Nobel Prize? Is that one of the "accomplishments" you're praising? You mean when he ran his mouth while the Japanese stared down their smoking gun barrels and watched the Czar's fleet go down in flames at Tsushima? That one got settled up on the scoreboard... no blowhards necessary in that outcome.

However, the end result nicely fit into Imperial Japan's empirical aims, did nothing to blunt them, and some say assisted them... and the end result of all that brought us to genocide in China and finally... Pearl Harbor.

Teddy's Nobel was same-same farcical as giving Nobels to Gore and Arafat. Nice to see history hasn't changed much.

I still find it amusing that this blowhard managed to talk himself onto Mt. Rushmore alongside 3 actual historical giants. At least the other 3 seemed to want to ditch slavery... Teddy loved eugenics, was a perverse bigot, and seemed to favor slavery in effect... if not in fact.

We are all the worse for Teddy (not to mention his soulmate Wilson).
12.28.2008 1:35pm
Careless:

It is funny to see men who have accomplished comparatively very little in their own lives, like Ronald Pestritto and Randy Barnett criticize Theodore Roosevelt, who was not only a great President, but a far better man than they could ever hope to be. Now, I am not saying that Roosevelt was a perfect President. But he certainly was a great one.

I think the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt expressed how I feel about Barnett and Pestritto:


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

What a bizarre thing to write and quote. A far better man? Do you know anything about Barnett aside from his profession? Your quote is referring to the sort of person who criticized for failures, not someone who points out the actual political beliefs of another. I'm pretty sure TR wouldn't have considered his own political beliefs to be a failure.
12.28.2008 1:57pm
JB:
Why do modern Conservatives like TR?

Roosevelt embodied the sort of national pride they try to have. He thought the USA was the best country in the world, was unapologetically chauvinist for it, and let that attitude inform his actions. Not for him is the modern Liberal questioning of their country's moral position.

Of course, that attitude on his part was mixed with a strong sense of what the USA had to do to remain the best country, and Randy Barnett clearly disagrees with TR on that substantive issue. Conservatives who like TR appreciate the attitude and ignore the substance; Barnett focuses on the substance and discounts the attitude.
12.28.2008 2:17pm
JB:
My position is closer to the conservatives who like TR. If there is an optimal size of government, in his time we had too little and now we have too much. The question is, what would he do today?
12.28.2008 2:18pm
Cornellian (mail):
If the size of the federal government in 1910 constitutes "big government" then about 98% of the electorate today is in favor of big government and, ipso facto, so is pretty much every congressman, senator and president/vp other than Ron Paul.
12.28.2008 2:28pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"You mean he threatened to act out military adventures abroad, like LBJ did in Vietnam, and two Bushes did in Iraq? (and Wilson did in Europe, and Truman did in korea and... and ... and...)"

TR avoided a war with German through the use of diligent statecraft. I don't see how you can compare a man who avoided war with one who didn't.
12.28.2008 2:38pm
Norman Bates (mail):
David Walker: Kudos! Excellent restatement of the Fuehererprinzip!
12.28.2008 2:48pm
Fub:
Love him or hate him, he left us a record of his opinions not only in his own words, but in his own voice.

Some readily available MP3 files:

Social and Industrial Justice.

The right of the people to rule.

The farmer and the businessman.

These particular recorings were released around the time of his death. I do not know exactly when they were recorded.
12.28.2008 3:16pm
David Welker (www):
Norman Bates,

Restatement of the what? I could use Google, I suppose. =)
12.28.2008 6:20pm
lumpy (www):
Remember that Boot, Kristol, Rove, etc are neocons, not conservatives in any traditional sense.

I am not sure that McCain has any coherent ideology, if he is a "conservative" at all.
12.28.2008 6:30pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Think Baden-Powell
12.28.2008 6:33pm
David Welker (www):
Careless,

I think to say that TR is "no role model" for other Presidents is to criticize more than his merely his politics.

One could think that, for example, Ronald Reagan is a sort of role model for a President (in terms of charisma and inspiring the American people for example) without having to agree with him politically.

I think criticism that Randy Barnett approvingly quotes seems to go beyond mere disagreement on particular policies. It seems to be as though he is suggesting that he betrayed the U.S. Constitution in some way, which sounds like an attack on character to me. Also, the attack strangely quotes something Woodrow Wilson said, supposedly as evidence of Theodore Roosevelt's beliefs. That is kind of bizarre. I am guessing there is a valid thought there though that cannot be expressed within the confines of the word constraints of a WSJ editorial.

Overall, I would suggest if Randy Barnett really is not engaged in some sort of character attack, he should try to say something positive along with his negative attacks.


Do you know anything about Barnett aside from his profession?


I do know that Randy Barnett has not and will not in his entire life accomplish as much as Theodore Roosevelt has. TR is, objectively speaking, the better man. By far. It sort of grates to see such one-sided criticism coming from him. What has Barnett accomplished in his life compared to what TR did with his? I think the quote is entirely appropriate.

Look, if you want to criticize some of TR's policies, that is fine. That is totally reasonable and within bounds. I am sure I would join in some criticisms myself. (For example, some of his views about race, such as those expressed in his book Winning the West were quite backwards. I would say that the term "f*cked up" might be a good way to describe them.) But, I think one-sided attacks that fail to acknowledge TR's many accomplishments and seem to attack his character, taken as a whole and without acknowledging his many good qualities as a leader and as a human being, should be out of bounds.

Theodore Roosevelt was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary President, whether you agree with all of his policies or not.
12.28.2008 6:44pm
OrinKerr:
David Welker writes:
I do know that Randy Barnett has not and will not in his entire life accomplish as much as Theodore Roosevelt has. TR is, objectively speaking, the better man. By far. It sort of grates to see such one-sided criticism coming from him. What has Barnett accomplished in his life compared to what TR did with his? I think the quote is entirely appropriate.
David, given that your comment criticizes Randy Barnett, it naturally raises a question: Who has accomplished more in his life, you or Randy Barnett? Who is the "better man"?
12.28.2008 8:10pm
stombs (mail):
TR was a man of enormous personal accomplishments, and a pretty good President as well. It's hardly fair to criticize him for not being something he clearly was not (a small-government conservative). But Max Boot's advice to Republicans reminds me too much of Nietzsche's "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
12.28.2008 9:07pm
David Welker (www):
Orin,

I don't know the answer to that question. Given the difference in our personal goals and career paths, I would say that would not be an easy question and perhaps not even a sensible question. I would also say it is an irrelevant question.

I am not evaluating Randy Barnett overall. I am criticizing his one-sided character attack on TR and his endorsement of a suggestion that TR was unfaithful to the Constitution (contrary to his oath of office) and saying that he is not a role model (which is a criticism that goes beyond mere differences in policy).

I am simply calling Randy Barnett out on what I see as one-sided attack on TR that seems to go to character and which Randy Barnett is in not qualified to make.

I think your question would be relevant if I were to say, Randy Barnett is a lousy law professor and not a role model for law professors. If I said that, it would be relevant (though certainly not decisive to my argument) to ask what my qualifications were and whether I was well-positioned to assess those attributes.

Roosevelt was a bold doer of deeds. He was a man of action. How qualified is Barnett, really, to assess him? Of course, I have to admit that I myself am very biased in my view of assessing Barnett, because I view libertarianism, which is clearly Barnett's ideology, as an rather impractical armchair ideology that tends to be adopted by those with a streak of idealistic impracticality.

Of course, there is a place for someone who is not a academic or not a doer of deeds on the same scale as TR to say so-and-so is a lousy law professor or so-and-so is a lousy President and not a role model for others in that position. But, if one wants to make a valid and persuasive assessment, it is imperative that it not be totally one-sided, as here.

Now, of course, comparing the accomplishment of Randy Barnett to TR, while relevant in the sense of expressing strong condemnation of a one-sided assessment is certainly not decisive. If Randy Barnett were as accomplished or even more accomplished than TR, this one-sided and imbalanced assessment of TR still would be subject to criticism as poor assessment.

But, I would find it less irritating. If you are at least at the same level as the person you level an unfair and one-sided criticism at, it grates less. I would say that at a purely logical level in terms of assessing the argument, it isn't relevant. But, when it comes to the offensiveness of the one-sided argument, I find it relevant. There is a certain arrogance in not dealing fairly with someone who is much more accomplished than yourself. Of course, such an arrogance exists in not dealing fairly with those who are less accomplished as well, so I suppose one could wonder how far assessing relative accomplishment really takes you.

The real focus of my criticism of Barnett here is that his assessment is nearly completely lacking in value due to its totally one-sided nature. That Barnett also does not strike me as well-position to make an assessment of TR due in part to his adoption of an impractical armchair ideology that seems to glorify inaction is something that is secondary.
12.28.2008 9:27pm
subpatre (mail):
"Do you know anything about Barnett aside from his profession?"

Well, I do, having watched Barnett's work mature over a decade or so. So here is the real money-quote:
I do know that Randy Barnett David Welker has not and will not in his entire life accomplish as much as Theodore Roosevelt Randy Barnett has. TR RB is, objectively speaking, the better man. By far. It sort of grates to see such one-sided criticism coming from him. What has Barnett Welker accomplished in his life compared to what TR did RB has done with his?
There, it is fixed exactly as Mr. Welker's ad hominem screed demanded. It is screed, and Welker's demand for 'positive criticism' is more illogic.

Welker apparently needs reminding that Mao (Lenin, Genghis, find-a-dictator) may have been an 'extraordinary man and an extraordinary leader, whether you agree with all of his policies or not'; but may legitimately remain a 'least favorite' and (emphatically) "should provide no role model for today's political class".

Roosevelt was a towering personality, but people who examine his policies are often astounded at his socialist economic policies, his willingness to intervene in foreign affairs, his advocacy for government intervention in the family, and his assistance in raping the environment.

Despite its 3000 words, Boot's defense of Roosevelt is a backhanded 'he may have been liberal but he was a tremendously weak one'. TR is not an icon for conservatives, and less so for libertarians.
12.28.2008 9:45pm
David Welker (www):

Welker apparently needs reminding that Mao (Lenin, Genghis, find-a-dictator) may have been an 'extraordinary man and an extraordinary leader, whether you agree with all of his policies or not'; but may legitimately remain a 'least favorite' and (emphatically) "should provide no role model for today's political class".


Are you really comparing Theodore Roosevelt to Mao? What next, Stalin and Hitler?

Give me a break.

I really do not expect people to give non one-sided evaluations of Mao, Stalin or Hitler because I think their tendency to engage in mass murder and other forms of repression so clearly outweighs everything else. (Although, there is also a place for analysis that examines these men in their totality -- but there is also a place for analysis that focuses on condemning them.)

I think that Theodore Roosevelt, in sharp contrast, does not deserve to be subject to such one-sided analysis.


TR is not an icon for conservatives, and less so for libertarians.


I would imagine that would depend on the conservative. Speak for yourself.

Finally, as far as your cute substitution of names in your quote of me goes, your point totally irrelevant. I am not criticizing Barnett in totality or as a law professor. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, relative accomplishment is definitely secondary to my criticism of the flawed nature of the analysis.


Roosevelt was a towering personality, but...


At least your "analysis," even though rather deeply one-sided, is less one-sided that what Barnett provides.
12.28.2008 10:01pm
Kathryn:
Roosevelt understood himself as a progressive, not as a conservative. Perhaps this all shows more about today's conservatives, that we see Roosevelt as conservative, than it does about Roosevelt. Yes, we would take Roosevelt today and be grateful. No, he was not a conservative, if conservative means someone who would preserve the status quo. He did not like the status quo of his day. He grew government and with civil service reform, solidified the bureaucratic government most conservatives claim to dread. Pestritto is right. T.R. was a fine man, but he did not consider himself a conservative and neither should anyone else.
12.28.2008 10:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
It is funny to see men who have accomplished comparatively very little in their own lives, like Ronald Pestritto and Randy Barnett criticize Theodore Roosevelt, who was not only a great President, but a far better man than they could ever hope to be. Now, I am not saying that Roosevelt was a perfect President. But he certainly was a great one.
He was "great" in the modern liberal sense of having done a whole lot of prominent things. But since that government is best which governs least, he wasn't "great" at all, but lousy as a president. He was a big government liberal at home and an imperialist abroad. There's nothing "great" about that, and no self-serving quote by Roosevelt can change that; indeed, the quote misses the point. Roosevelt wasn't bad because he tried and failed; he was bad because he tried at all, in situations where it wasn't his business to do so.
12.28.2008 10:47pm
tsotha:
Teddy Roosevelt was the last of our presidents to speak a foreign language fluently...

Until Bush, you mean? Or doesn't Spanish count anymore?
12.29.2008 12:44am
David Welker (www):
Mr. Nieporent,

I can understand the temptation to call TR a "lousy President" based on your ideological disagreement concerning role. However, I think if you take TR's ideology as a given, and ask how he performed, given that different set of beliefs regarding role, you would have to admit he performed well. I.e. If TR was correct concerning the proper role of a President, his performance was good.

Basically, I think an assessment of performance can and at least in some cases (i.e. when your ideology does not demand mass murder or something similarly insane) should be seperated from ideological disagreement.
12.29.2008 5:07am
Mikeyes (mail):
Teddy Roosevelt was the last of our presidents to speak a foreign language fluently...

Until Bush, you mean? Or doesn't Spanish count anymore?




Bush hardly qualifies as a fluent Spanish speaker. TR, on the other hand, spoke German and French fluently and also was able to have a conversation in Afrikaans due to his partial fluency in Dutch. After his year long safari in East Africa he went on a tour of Europe that included a long conversation with the Kaiser and speeches in several languages.

TR was a progressive, one who thought that the economic disparity in the United States was too great for the country to survive. He came from the rich class (his allowance at Harvard is the equivalent of one million dollars a year in currant coinage) but saw that the only way to grow a middle class was the kind of wealth redistribution that we take for granted today. In addition he supported the labor movement for the same reasons.

He did stick to principles and it (sort of) was his undoing. When he assumed the presidency after McKinley's death he vowed to only serve two terms. He could have been elected to a second term easily but decided early on that his one elected term qualified as a second term and left office. His trip to Africa for a year was, among other things, a way to give Taft some time to establish himself as president without the presence of "a force of Nature" (as Roosevelt was known) being present to distract. He later regretted the effects of his decision and ran for president under the Progressive Party label (that sould be a clue) and came in second to Wilson.

TR was a flawed character, a great or terrible president depending on your existing political views (none of which were present at the time of his presidency, at least not in the form seen today in any numbers), and no doubt one of the most prolifically intellectual men of his time.

He wrote over 50 books including a history of the naval war of 1812 (his Harvard thesis) and numerous works on natural history. He had an unending curiosity about everyhing, was prominent in the conservation movement, and a superb student. He was also arrogant, self centered, unbending, and sly. (Sly won him the Nobel Peace Prize as he was the only person to talk to either side during the peace negotiations. He just made up things and eventually the treaty was signed without the principals meeting face to face. Sort of like the way children tell each parent that the other agreed to what the child wants.)

It is hard not to find admirable qualities in TR one hundred years later, but I bet he was impossible to like if you had to be near him for any period of time.
12.29.2008 9:08am
Tracy Johnson (www):
Or is all the hoopla about President Theodore Roosevelt simply because there was a show about him on the History Channel this past week AND it subconsciously (or consciously) percolated to Mr. Pestritto's writing hand?
12.29.2008 9:27am
JB:
It also bears repeating that since the political situation, the challenges America faced, and the size, scope, and direction of government it had were so different in the 1900s than they are 100 years later, that one could not expect a similar ideology to produce a similar set of policy prescriptions.

Similarly, ideologies with the same name have changed their meaning. TR was a Progressive back then, but his views and ideas would horrify today's Progressives, and they would horrify him in turn.

TR grew government a fair bit back then, but it is a stretch to say he'd grow it today. As likely he'd try to cut it back to the size he left it at, a goal he'd have the support of a lot of conservatives for.
12.29.2008 9:57am
Commodore:
Max Boot:


"...all but the most extreme libertarians have come to terms with the New Deal and considerable post-New Deal expansion of government (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid)..."


Seriously?
12.29.2008 10:17am
Eli Rabett (www):
Perhaps Eli was too elliptical. TR was a great example of what was then called muscular christianity. The identification of athletes with a particular type of evangelical churches (Think Athletes in Action) is the modern version of this. In that sense at least, TR has a strong connection with the modern Republican party at prayer.
12.29.2008 11:17am
gran habano:
"TR avoided a war with German through the use of diligent statecraft. I don't see how you can compare a man who avoided war with one who didn't."

I disagree with your analysis. Teddy was a provocateur... very much warlike... and the "big stick" was the larger part of his credo. He thirsted for war with Spain. Gunboat diplomacy was his handiwork, if not his creation. He philosophically paved the way for Wilson's venture into the Great War, a foolish stumble which only enabled continuation of European empirical stupidity... and which irresolution brought on more war 20 years later, much like Teddy's lack of vision and blowhard ways helped lead the Japanese to Pearl Harbor, despite his vaunted Nobel.

Take a look at our current adventures in Mesopatamia and the Balkans... and know that all of this has roots back to Teddy and his soulmate Wilson, both progressive blowhards... both firm believers in preemptive war.

Not to compare Teddy to Mao and the rest, but also know that our splendid little war with Spain brought us into the Philipines, and I shouldn't have to describe the atrocities we visited on some there. The Japanese viewed this as carte blanche for the "China Incident".

"diligent statecraft"? No.

Naked aggression? Yes.

Short term, jingoistic thinking? Yes.

When you advocate sending great armies abroad, absent an immediate national security threat, that can't be viewed as exemplary of conservative thought... in any era.

Teddy was the first media star, as mentioned above. Note the bombast. Note the flailing hand gestures. Who does he remind you of? Be honest now... who?

Let the progressives/liberals own this guy. He's one of them.
12.29.2008 11:21am