Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Long Live Teddy!-The real Progressive

For once I would like to take a moment away from the daily noise of politics and partisan attacks and reflect on one of our greatest Presidents (and my personal favorite when I was a political science major), Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. Now many of you may be thinking, how does old Teddy have to do with anything we see in the news today? Plenty. Teddy was the politicians who largely invented the term "Progressive" that we hear so many Democrats claim to be and Republicans rail against. Those who claim to be progressive today should look towards Teddy and they will learn a few things. While in school I wrote several very long essays and term papers on Mr. Roosevelt and found him to be a most fascinating and incredible man who was able to save our nation from corrupt government, environmental disaster, and global obscurity. Under Teddy's tenure, we cracked down on the political reward system that ravaged our government on the national level and forced individuals up for government jobs to prove they are qualified and not just because they know somebody...something we have seen a resurgence in recent years sadly....

Also under Teddy's tenure as President he saved literally millions of acres of national parks by executive order to save it from ambitious and destructive developers of the day (it took an act of Congress to finally stop him lol). He was the first "Environmentalist" President and without his actions we wouldn't have the many national parks we all know and love.

And possibly Teddy's biggest accomplishment was his actions in the area of foreign policy. When most people hear foreign policy and Teddy in the same sentence they think mainly of the Panama Canal. While that may have been his most famous achievement it isn't necessarily his best action. Two events during Teddy's presidency are key in my mind: the Treaty of Portsmouth and the so-called Great White Fleet.

The Treaty of Portsmouth was the agreement that ended the bloody Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The conference for this treaty was hosted by Teddy Roosevelt himself and while he wasn't deeply involved in the negoatiations, his role in organizing it and volunteering our nation for the talks earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the first time an American President had overtly helped to end a foreign war we as a nation were not part of. And for what reason did Teddy do this? The idea that he did it out of the kindness of his heart or a love of peace sounds nice but is highly unlikely. To me, Teddy saw an opportunity to boost the United States' image and clout around the world and he did just that.

The second great foreign policy achievement of Mr. Roosevelt was the so-called Great White Fleet. This was the massive naval buildup that started before Teddy entered office for which he capitalized and helped boost American military power around the world. This buildup was capped off shortly before Teddy left office with a world-wide tour of this great fleet that was meant to show off and flex our military muscle. This tour is cited by many military histories as one of the reasons the Japanese choose to build up there navy during the first few decades of the 20th century that eventually led the clash between the Japanese empire and Pax Americana on the fateful day in December 1941.

Teddy's presidency was also noted for an economic scare the could have crippled the nation 22 years before the Great Depression. During this scare in which people scrambled to withdraw their money from banks which inturn caused banks to begin failing. Where was Teddy while all this was going on? Out hunting of course lol. Today such indifference to the economy would be and has proven to be political suicide (see John McCain September 2008). But this was a different time when the President wasn't necessarily expected to be able to fix the economy or manage it during a crisis because there just wasn't any precedent for it like there is today and I don't think that is such a bad thing. In Teddy's day the government just left the markets alone (with expection to crushing unfair monopolies) but the Scare of 1907 proved that some governmental control or supervision is vital to stable and fair economy (though this lesson wasn't learned til the 1930's). Funny enough, the man who saved Wall street and the banks from a major crisis in 1907 was none other than US Steel founder J.P. Morgan who infused million of his own dollars into the banking system to bring confidence to the market. Can anyone image Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Donald Trump giving millions of their own money to help the failing banks back in 2008? I didn't think so.

But for me, it was Teddy's attitudes towards Politics as usual that really impresses me. Even today his thoughts on the government still ring very true and could have easily been made by a political pundit yesterday and not a hundred years ago. Today I read a quote of Teddy's that really hit me and it's inspired me to put up a few quotes of his this month in hopes of inspiring others to really think bout "Politics as Usual" so cheers all to all those who call themselves Progressives should look towards Teddy's words and heed them...Long Live Teddy!

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