Back during the 2008 Presidential race, John McCain described himself to
the New York Times as "a conservative Republican... to a large degree in the
Theodore Roosevelt mold."
Many liberals didn't buy the self-comparison to Teddy Roosevelt. But
some conservatives said McCain was, too, like Roosevelt -- and that was a
"Is Roosevelt a proper model for today's conservatives?" asked Max Boot at World Affairs. "That
isn't easy to answer." Boot, a fan of the Moro Massacre, had no trouble with TR's
jingoism and foreign adventuring, but was sensitive to the charge that
the 26th President "was a 'statist' and a tax hiker," though he finally
judged that Roosevelt "always tried to maintain a balance between
government activism and a vibrant private sector." Still, Roosevelt
didn't really tax and regulate that much, said Boot, and his
conservatism "represented one strain of conservatism among many."
outsider unconnected to the ideological purity wars of the
conservative movement who came across Boot's article -- or the related
ravings of someone like Classic Liberal ("The tendency of our government to
micromanage everything began with Teddy Roosevelt's administration") --
might wonder why anyone in his right mind would care about this. OK,
there are conservatives who would drum several Republican Presidents out
of the movement: Abraham
Lincoln for overriding habeus corpus and
suppression of the Confederacy, Dwight
Eisenhower for being a Communist agent, etc. But surely these
cranks and fringe figures, not regular Party men.
weekend before last, at the venerable CPAC convention, after the delegates named Ron
their preferred Presidential contender, Glenn Beck gave a speech in which,
things, he indirectly denounced McCain for admiring Theodore Roosevelt,
and denounced Roosevelt as part of "the cancer that is eating America"
-- that is, progressivism.
Some rightbloggers defended the late
President from Beck. But -- perhaps
understanding that their movement had a greater need to preserve the
popularity of Beck than that of a dead historical figure -- they did so
gently, conceding that there was much sense in what Beck had said.
Roosevelt statement that private earnings should be required to bring a
"benefit to the community" as well as to the earner, part of Beck's
bill of particulars, "was hardly the stuff of Adam Smith,"
admitted Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller, "but it was
hardly Karl Marx."
Lewis joined Beck in disagreement with
political philosophy," and added that "most modern-day conservatives
would gladly repeal much of the New Deal and the Great Society." But,
like Boot, he argued that TR's government expansions were modest by
modern standards. Plus, Roosevelt was a tough guy, and tough guys are
fundamentally conservative ("TR -- who promised to 'speak softly and
carry a big stick' -- would probably make Dick Cheney look like a
Lewis also found an expert who suggested that if we
and put him in charge today, he might be less of a trust-buster ("we
know that he was a voracious learner, immensely creative").
is not 2002 or 2006 -- and we are a century removed from the Bull
Moose Party days," said American Thinker. Nonetheless, Beck's "jabs at Teddy
Roosevelt (and by extension, John McCain) were deserved."
authors at the National Review web site discussed the
issue. (Conveniently for us, their comments were preserved by Born Again Redneck, who offered his own analysis:
Though "an unabashed admirer of TR" before Beck's speech, he was "now
beginning to think that [Roosevelt] was an
egomaniac who thought his ideas were superior to those of Washington,
Adams, Jefferson and Madison.")
Jonah Goldberg -- who has
argued in his book Liberal Fascism
that all liberals, including Roosevelt, are either Hitler's spiritual
forebears or his spiritual descendants, depending on where they turn up
on the timeline -- said, "T.R. saw the State (hopefully with himself at
the helm) as the arbiter of what did and did not represent a 'benefit'
to the community," though he admitted that "T.R. was a better, saner,
man as president than he was after he left the oval office and went much
further to the left."
John J. Miller praised Roosevelt's
butchness -- "He was manly in the
very best sense of the term" -- but concluded that "to call him wrong
about key matters of public-policy is appropriate," though he admitted
"psychopath" might be too strong a criticism.
Mark Steyn found
Roosevelt's statism "revolting." Jay Nordlinger called
his treatment of Woodrow Wilson "nutty, and nasty." Daniel
warned those innocents who thought "Roosevelt Republicanism just
national parks and trust-busting and maybe a few other eccentricities"
of Roosevelt's "continuity" with "the broader totalitarian moment" --
that is, you start out with the Food and Drug Administration, and
inevitably it's jackboots and swastikas up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
progressive president," which was not so bad in itself -- Roosevelt
"finished the Panama Canal," after all -- but led to the dictatorship of
"Promoters of big government have long
recognized TR as one of their
own," wrote Dissecting Leftism Backup, adding ominously that
his admirers included Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon ("who
dramatically expanded federal regulation of the economy").
libertarian Reason, where they take their statism very
seriously, Matt Welch denounced Roosevelt as a
given to "sermons against capitalism's 'selfishness.' It should be no
surprise that after that 10 years of Teddy Roosevelt Republicanism,
Republicans are once again asking whether that was such a good idea
A few conservatives actually, without temporizing,
criticized Beck; one
of these was former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who disputed Beck's portrayal
TR's politics and suggested that Republicans who went to the trouble of
going back in time to conduct purges might be doing their party more
harm than good.
Gerson was mostly attended by liberals and
ignored by conservatives,
though Ken Thomas of the Ashbrook Center sprang to
Beck against him: TR, wrote Thomas, engaged in "class conflict" between
the rich and the poor, and "Gerson simply shows his allegiance to
big-government conservatism" by defending the indefensible Roosevelt.
we of a conspiratorial frame of mind, we might suspect this was a
liberal psyops project to make conservatives look crazy. As it is, we
imagine it has to do with rightbloggers' lack of exposure to any people
who are not exactly like themselves. Teddy Roosevelt's fitness to bear
the honorable term "conservative" probably seems to them a reasonable,
worthwhile, and even edifying subject for discussion; they probably
never imagine a swing voter observing such a discussion and wondering
whether the Republican Party is any longer in the business of electing
candidates to office, or if it has become the political equivalent of a fanfic
Fun bonus track: Revolt 426's response to an argument: "Let's see
who is wrong. You compared Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt -- two
complete opposites that had nothing to do with each other (Roosevelt was
a traitor, Lincoln actually saved the Union from collapsing)."
Roy Edroso's Rightbloggers: Exploring the right Wing Blogosphere
appears courtesy of our sister paper in New York City, Village Voice.