I Knew Theodore Roosevelt and Senator, You’re No TR!
Posted by Ryan on July 13, 2008
Well, the first part of that isn’t entirely true, but I did spend fifteen months writing a rather long historiographical thesis on Theodore Roosevelt back in college. In that work I used some of John McCain’s campaign rhetoric from early 2000 as evidence of TR’s increasing influence amongst politicians of both parties today (I also quoted from BJ’s 2000 State of the Union Address where he name-drops TR). Back in February 2000 McCain unsuccessfully tried to make himself out to be the heir of both TR and Ronald Reagan, and he’s trying it again in 2008.
We can laugh at McCain’s “Reaganesque” boasts as shallow and empty, but why’s he stuck on TR? Most people only know a few things about TR: trust-buster, Mt. Rushmore, those teeth, the “Teddy bear,” conservation. Like his Reagan comparison, McCain is being very selective with how he chooses to connect himself to TR:
- TR’s domestic policies laid the philosophical foundation for modern “big-government” in his cousin’s New Deal two generations later — not very Reaganesque in my opinion.
- TR was a “conservationist” not a “preservationist”, meaning that TR would have been OK with drilling in ANWAR since the footprint is so small (preservationists, on the other hand, want humans completely out of undeveloped areas). McCain’s still being difficult on that issue.
- TR was described as a “maverick” for bucking the era’s MSM by not fitting their typical Republican stereotype. Yet, TR understood politics, alienated some, but still had most of his party enthusiastic about him and mostly adhered to the party’s platform. No conservative is enthusiastic about McCain and McCain doesn’t seem to care — he’s more interested in growing the party 1970s-style by making it resemble the Democrats. Plus, TR’s being a “maverick” eventually led to a party split in 1912 which gave Wilson the presidency. Why should any self-respecting Republican embrace a maverick like that today? McCain’s obviously being selective here.
- Instead of trying to get along with fractious immigrant groups, TR firmly believed and articulated that “hyphenated Americanism” is un-American and unpatriotic. McCain wants to coddle 12-15 million illegals and still hasn’t proposed making English the official language of government, a highly popular position with the general public.
However, TR had an unabashed pro-American foreign policy like Reagan. Maybe that’s an area where McCain’s rhetoric can get away with the comparison. But don’t be fooled! McCain does not have the clear vision of a Ronald Reagan, nor the vigor or political climate that made TR such an influential politician. We have a Ford, not a Lincoln; we have a McCain, not a Reagan.
AP photo. National Photo Collection, Library of Congress.