Skip to comments."Teddy" And Time
Posted on 07/05/2006 9:08:51 AM PDT by Reagan Man
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?
"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."
Actually, the question is answered and the answer is the robber barons flipped corrupt local and state government over onto its head. As I'm sure you know, it is a fascinating story. And that's all I'll say.
Further, just comparing the prices charged by Standard Oil versus competitors is not a fair comparison as Standard Oil offered favorable pricing only to customers who bought the whole package including transportation by J.D. Rockerfeller owned companies. Rockerfeller was no friend of the free market and was putting politicians in his pocket. TR went after them all.
TR would, in no way, be at home with modern liberals. Witness his famous statements on hyphenated Americans and his insistence we be respected abroad, just to name two instances. I'd put TR behind Washington, Jefferson, Reagan and Lincoln, but would certainly rank him with the next tier of great presidents.
When I learned that TR would go to Wall Street to fund raise from the same people who he would attack as greedy businessmen I pegged Teddy as one of the first political extortionists.
I like Teddy for his pro America and pro military outlook and I can live with him on Mount Rushmore. Still he did do a lot of damage at times. From splitting the party that allowed Woodrow Wilson in who enacted the Income Tax to getting the Nobel Peace Prize which has caused certain future Presidents to do anything for that stupid prize.
At one point, he wanted all supreme court decisions to come to the vote. He got dangerous in his later years. Even Taft, who knew he could not beat him, campaigned vigorously because he came to believe that his greatest service to America was defeating this increasingly dangerous, former friend.
I detect a pro-McCain reason for this coming out now.
Good points. I too liked TR`s strong foreign policy and his nationalistic attitude. But as you point out, the damage TR did to the GOP lasts until this day. Especially in the mind of the current POTUS and a certain Senator from Arizona. Progressive politics, aka.liberal politics, should never be confused with conservative politics.
Bingo. He denounced Mark Hanna as a crook and "malefactor" (a favorite word) yet held private meetings with him after he becaome President, with his sister in the room to take notes.
The "trust-busting" of his Presidency was like his "crime fighting" as NYC Police Commissioner - all to get noticed, to have a favorable press. Had there been an electronic media in his day, we would be making jokes about how dangerous it was to be between him and a camera.
IMHO, his "pro-America" foreign policy, like his obsession with heroism, stems from shame concerning his father's purchase of a replacement during the Civil War.
As you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of TR. His thinking was cloudy to non-existent. His understanding of economics was no better than any other politician, and his refusal to listen to contrarian advice was disastrous for our country.
He styled himself a "progressive", and I'm also of the opinion he knew just exactly what that means.