Skip to comments.Bully Boy Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt by Thomas Sowell
Posted on 07/05/2006 6:21:10 AM PDT by K-oneTexas
Bully Boy Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt by Thomas Sowell
A special issue of Time magazine celebrates the historic career of Theodore Roosevelt and the implications of his presidency for the development of American society. In the phony familiarity of our times, where you call people by their first names when you have never even met them, the cover story in this issue is titled "Teddy."
Theodore Roosevelt was indeed a landmark figure in the development of American politics and government, but in a very different sense from the way he is portrayed in Time magazine. In fact, the way that Theodore Roosevelt has been celebrated by many in the media and among the intelligentsia tells us more about them than about the first President Roosevelt.
It also tells us something about what has gone wrong with American society.
Aside from questions of flamboyant style and rhetoric, what did Theodore Roosevelt actually accomplish that would justify putting him on Mount Rushmore, alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln?
According to Time magazine, TR believed that "government had the right to moderate the excesses of free enterprise." Just what were these excesses? According to Time, "poverty, child labor, dreadful factory conditions."
All these things were attributed to the growth of industrial capitalism -- without the slightest evidence that any of them was better before the growth of industrial capitalism. Nothing is easier than to imagine some ideal past or future society or to imagine that the net result of government intervention is bound to be a plus.
Theodore Roosevelt's own ideas went no deeper than Time magazine's today or of much of the intelligentsia in the years in between.
Maybe that is why TR has been lionized. Both his thinking and his lack of thinking was so much like that of later "progressives."
Among the things that have endeared TR to later generations of "progressives" has been "the breakup of monopolies" cited by Time magazine.
Just what specifically caused particular companies to be called "monopolies"? What specifically did they do? Who specifically did the "robber barons" actually rob?
Such questions remain as unanswered today as in Theodore Roosevelt's time. Indeed, they remain unasked among many of the intelligentsia and in the media.
Monopolies are much harder to find in the real world than in the world of political rhetoric. Monopolies raise prices but, in the big industries supposedly dominated by monopolies -- oil, steel, railroads -- prices were falling for years before Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House and started saving the country from "monopoly."
The average price of steel rails fell from $68 to $32 before TR became president. Standard Oil, the most hated of the "monopolies," had in fact innumerable competitors and its oil prices were not only lower than those of most of its competitors, but was also falling over the years. It was much the same story in other industries called "monopolies."
The anti-trust laws which Theodore Roosevelt so fiercely applied did not protect consumers from high prices. They protected high-cost producers from being driven out of business by lower cost producers. That has largely remained true in the many years since TR was president.
The long list of low-price businesses targeted by anti-trust laws range from Sears department stores and the A&P grocery chain in the 20th century to Microsoft today, prosecuted not for raising the price of Windows but for including new features without raising prices. Much of the rhetoric of anti-trust remains the opposite of the reality.
Jim Powell's soon to be published book, "Bully Boy," goes in detail into the specifics of President Theodore Roosevelt's many crusades and their often disastrous consequences. But who cares about consequences these days?
TR was a "progressive" and denounced "malefactors of great wealth." What more could the intelligentsia and the media want?
Capitalism Magazine Copyright 2006-1997
Sen. McCain claims to be a "Theodore Roosevelt Republican". Is he really? He seems to get a lot of press these days.
-another good piece on TR--
I think the beginning part of the title of Mr. Sowell's article coincides very accurately with the signature attribute that McPain shares with his idol - "Bully Boy".
I think the main reason TR has his likeness on Mount Rushmore is that Gutzon Borglum admired him.
Simon and Garefunckle
Add to this the fact that Teddy Roosevelt was one of the powers behind the 16th Amendment, and you've got nothing but a socialist in disguise.
I think Powell is over the top, although generally correct. In the book on FDR he got that presidency right but the strokes were too broad to be of much use. Worse, he did nothing to illuminate the political un-necessity of FDR. Powell tracked the ill effects of the New Deal; he either ignores or fails to explain the contemporaneous expediencies that led to it, and what alternatives might have been followed. That is, he does nothing to defeat the old co-option theory that did and still is used to justify the New Deal.
Elsewhere here, Sowell fails to account for Std Oil's blatent uncompetitive practices. I hope Powell's take is more versatile than Sowell's flat assertion that the "monopolies" of the progressive era lowered prices. I can name more than a few monopolies of that period that raised prices. The list could begin with the "bathtub trust" (through what the Supreme Court ruled was unfair use of the enamel patent), Major League Baseball, and the automobile trust (broken by Henry Ford).
I'm afraid much of this TR bashing is ill-informed. For example, the Adam White NRO piece on TR is based largely on TR's autobiography. White would do well to understand the vast difference between TR's rhetoric and the reality of his actions, especially as seen through that most self-serving political instrument of his, his autobiography. Again, White generally gets it, but he's off on important specifics.
TR: "Lodge, did you see Bacon turn pale when he heard me swear to support the Constitution?"(from "Letters of Archie Butt," letter of Jan. 11, 1909)
Sen. Bacon: "On the contrary, Mr. President. I never felt so relieved in my life."
Btw, that Senator, Augustus Octavius Bacon, wrote on constitutional issues, including a 1906 book called "President and Congress" and another in 1911 on the direct elections of Senators. I've not read either one... He was old school, former-Confed soldier democrat, and a helluva speaker and had a great sense of humor. And what a name!
A sure sign of idiocy is when somebody includes Teddy Roosevelt on their "most admired" list.
The Adam White article seems to be as much about Bush as TR:
Even assuming that a good deal of Americans are correct in their constitutional criticisms of President Bush today, what can they possibly find so inherently wrong about Dubyas imperial actions, if they simultaneously laud Lincoln, FDR, or Times main man, Teddy Roosevelt?
No doubt he's right about that, but it looks like he wants both to put TR and Bush in opposite corners and in the same one.
NR may be a little conflicted about TR. The Weekly "national greatness conservatism" Standard surely must be as well.
Hope you had a good vacation.
Lamont advised FDR on economic policy, and I'm not surprised. FDR's policies drastically favored big business and entrenched monopoly. Lamont had favored Woodrow Wilson's nationalization of the telephone/telegraph lines as a war measure in 1918, calling the government control no threat to investors. (Telephone ownership went static following government intervention and enforcement of the AT&T monopoly.) The problem with the Wall Street of Lamont's formulation is that it favors stability above all else, which necessarily means stifling innovation and supporting government intervention.
One area that Lamont did not want government involvement was in the tariff. Had his opposition to the 1930 tariff succeeded, he might have done his nation a tremendous service. His specialty as a banker was in foreign trade. Lamont did serve his country well by helping put a stop to a movement to nationalize the railroads in 1936. Perhaps he also kept FDR from going that way during WWII. Just a guess.
Lamont was big on doing business with the Soviets after WWI, and he prominently sponsored the Soviet alliance in 1942, even to speak of Soviet contributions to culture, literature and science. Clearly that was part of the family makeup. He and his wife were early supporters of the ACLU, and they sponsored the American Birth Control League. The son Corliss Lamont got his radical feet wet during the early 1930s with ACLU protests and pickets. He called himself a "progressive radical." He denied being a communist, but as you wrote, he was. In the 1950s the State Dept. denied him a passport on grounds of his communism.
All in all, old man Lamont seems to have been a good Morgan-family progressive, all for government-business partnership, liberal in social issues, and conservative when profitable. His son and great-grandson are something else altogether.
You might enjoy this fascinating NYT review by JK Galbraith of Lamont's autobiography.