Tag Archives: Teddy Roosevelt

What has become of the GOP?

What would Honest Abe, Teddy Roosevelt and Ike think of what’s become of the Republican Party? If only we could ask ’em.

Above is a tweet I posted two years ago wondering about the state of today’s GOP and how it was abducted by a form of “populism” that has no real resemblance to the movement that I had grown to understand.

Donald J. Trump got elected president on a pledge to do certain things, all of which he said at the time would be “easy.”

Build a wall along our southern border? Piece of cake.

Make Mexico pay for it? No sweat.

Negotiate the “best trade deals” in U.S. history? Done deal.

Craft a new health care program? Got it.

Cut taxes for everyone? Perfecto.

And so it went. How has he done? Not too well, by my way of looking at it.

As for the “populist” angle he pursued while running for office, the president hasn’t fulfilled that promise either. He continues to hobnob at his extravagant resorts. I haven’t seen him visiting housing projects, or tour squalid neighborhoods in Appalachia.

Indeed, Housing Secretary Ben Carson recently announced a desire to triple the rent paid by low-income residents of government housing. Dr. Carson then said his idea would “incentivize” residents to improve their lot in life and get them out of housing projects.

Man, that’s just so damn populist of him. Don’t you think?

Back to my Twitter message of two years ago. What, precisely, does the Republican Party stand for these days? Does it go along merely with what the president desires, even though this president had no history of political activism — let alone political experience of any kind — before he ran for the highest office in the land?

The party of Abe, TR and Ike is now the party of Trump.

President Lincoln stood for unifying the nation; President Theodore Roosevelt was an environmental champion; President Eisenhower sought to return the nation to a peace footing after so many years of open warfare in Europe, the Pacific and in Korea.

What does Trump believe? He touts his hatred of the media, he stiffs the opposing party at every turn, he is ravaged by an endless series of controversies — and a scandal or three — and he promises to “make America great again” by bullying our allies.

I’ll give him props for one potentially huge achievement, if he can pull it off: getting North Korea to back off its nuclear program.

However, a success there doesn’t erase the rest of the nastiness that has pervaded this man’s presidency.

Abe, TR and Ike are spinning in their graves.

JFK’s life will be forever unfinished

It sounds strange to consider that John F. Kennedy would turn 100 years of age today.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 35th president of the United States remember him as a young man who, even stranger as it seems, seemingly gets younger the older we all become.

JFK was the youngest man ever elected president in 1960. He was 43; the youngest ever to become president was Theodore Roosevelt, who ascended in 1901 to the highest office at 42 upon the death of President William McKinley.

Less than three years after taking the oath of office, President Kennedy’s life ended as he took a rifle shot on that street in downtown Dallas.

I have resisted the temptation to rank President Kennedy among the greatest who ever held that office. I consider his life to be an unfinished work. I bristle a bit at those surveys that place JFK at or near the top of such lists. How can we measure what he actually accomplished? The truth is we cannot.

I prefer to think of the president in terms of what he might have done. Even that is an exercise in futility because we cannot know with absolute certainty how history would have played out had he served the entire length of his presidency. I’ll presume he would have been re-elected in 1964. Then what? How would the Vietnam War have gone? What would he have done, say, by the end of his second term?

His life is frozen in time. For the president, it ended after just 46 years on Earth.

Still, the man’s legacy remains in large part due to the work done by those who came after him. President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty,” his landmark civil rights legislation and, yes, the tragedy that continued to unfold in Vietnam all are part of JFK’s historical record.

I have trouble even grasping the notion of John F. Kennedy becoming an old man, let alone one who might have lived long enough to celebrate his centennial birthday.

If only he could have finished his marvelous life. JFK will remain, as the song suggests, “forever young.”

Third-party bid emerging from … GOP?


I’m always willing to admit to being a little slow on the uptake at times.

Here’s an example of something I’m having trouble connecting.

Mitt Romney is recruiting members from within the Republican Party to run as “third-party” candidates for president in 2016.

Yes, that Mitt Romney. The Republicans’ 2012 presidential nominee. Mr. Establishment Republican himself.

Here’s what’s puzzling. At least two of the names he’s recruiting belong to other mainstream Republicans. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.


These two fellows have at least one thing in common: They both despise Donald J. Trump, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.

For that matter, you can add Mitt to the list of Trump foes.

Let’s play this out for a second or two.

What happens if, say, Kasich or Sasse decide to take Mitt’s bait? They run for president as a “third party candidate.” What in the world do they call this “third party”? Would it be Republican 2.0? How about the Real Republican Party? Or, Your Grandpa’s GOP?

Trump’s brand of Republican Party politics bears virtually no resemblance to the kind of platform on which Mitt ran in 2012, or on which Kasich ran this year until he suspended his campaign just a few weeks ago.

I don’t know much about Sen. Sasse, other than he’s been a vocal Trump critic ever since Trump decided to run for the party’s presidential nomination.

I guess you have to go way back to 1912 to find such a serious schism within the Republican Party. That was when former President Theodore Roosevelt broke away from the GOP to form a progressive party, the Bull Moose Party. That split guaranteed the election that year of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

I’m guessing no one needs to remind Mitt that history does have a way of repeating itself.


When presidents cherished using their power . . .


Theodore Roosevelt was not a timid man.

The 26th president of the United States took office as the youngest man ever to ascend to the White House; he was thrust into the office in 1901 when President William McKinley was shot to death.

How did the brash man treat his office? Like he owned it.

I’m reading a book, “The American President,” by historian William E. Leuchtenburg. It examines every presidency of the 20th century — from TR to William Jefferson Clinton.

TR had written a letter to the British historian George Otto Trevelyan near the end of his time in office, according to Leuchtenburg. He wrote:

“While President, I have been president, emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office and I have not cared a rap for the criticisms of those who spoke of my ‘usurpation of power.’ . . . The efficiency of this government depends upon possessing a strong central executive and wherever I could establish a precedent for strength in the executive, I did.”

Leuchtenburg writes also that Roosevelt boasted after leaving office in 1909 about how things “were done by me without the assistance of Congress.”

Holy smokes!

Try to imagine the current president — or any recent president, for that matter — bragging about going over the heads of another “co-equal branch of government.”

The 44th president, Barack Obama, has issued some executive orders that have sent his congressional critics into apoplectic shock.

Theodore Roosevelt has, over time, gained stature as one of this country’s greatest leaders. His face is on Mount Rushmore, for crying out loud, right along with Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and the original George W. — Washington.

How did he get there?

By using the power of his office.


'Roosevelts' has curious relevance to today's reality

Public television is by definition supposed to be educational.

Thus, PBS’s series titled “The Roosevelts” is educating a nation about the 32nd president of the United States, his wife and his fifth cousin, the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt.

As for “32,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Ken Burns-produced documentary offers and interesting insight into the norms of the time FDR was coming of age politically. Moreover, it tells me how times have changed per one of those norms.

FDR took great pains to conceal from the public that he was stricken by polio, that he was wheelchair-bound and that he had great difficulty standing and walking. Photographers were not allowed to take pictures of him being helped in and out of automobiles; Secret Service agents would confiscate the cameras and film of the offending photographer.

Image was everything and FDR believed in projecting an image of a vibrant man.

Now, let’s flash forward — about 80 years.

Texas is about to elect a man who also is wheelchair bound. Greg Abbott has been confined to a wheelchair since his mid-20s, when he was struck by a falling tree in Houston, suffering a broken back.

It fascinates me to no end to watch “The Roosevelts,” learn of how certain secrets were kept out of public view and then realize just how virtually everything has changed in the decades since.

There would be no way a high-profile public figure today could keep secret a physical condition such as what afflicted Franklin Roosevelt.

It’s been said by many historians and pundits over the years that FDR likely couldn’t be elected president today, given his peculiar marriage to Eleanor and the myriad relationships both them had outside of their marriage. They also have noted his physical condition as a deal-breaker back then with voters.

It’s a better, more enlightened time now. A political figure’s physical ailment has nothing to do with his or her mental or emotional state. In FDR’s case, his own disability perhaps made him stronger, more empathetic to others’ suffering.

As for the Texas attorney general seeking to be elected governor, he too has been strengthened by his own struggle. It’s good that he has no reason to keep it a secret.

TR clearly was a RINO

Watching the first episode of PBS’s series on the Roosevelt family last night, I was struck once again by the notion that Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed himself to be a dedicated Republican, but didn’t act like one who is defined by today’s Grand Old Party.

Let’s call TR the original RINO — a Republican In Name Only.


The first part of “The Roosevelts” documentary produced by historian Ken Burns tells of TR’s ascendance to the presidency. He was the youngest man ever to assume the office. He got there by way of the assassination of President William McKinley.

He set out to bust up monopolies, rein in oversized companies, while making them pay their fair share of taxes. He didn’t believe business could build the country all by itself. Teddy Roosevelt believed in activist government.

TR used government muscle to secure land in Panama and begin construction of the Panama Canal. Is that an “infrastructure project” or what?

Imagine today’s Republican Party doing any of that. It wouldn’t happen. TR would be laughed out of the party that we’ve come to know and — in my case anyway — loathe with a passion.

“The Roosevelts” is going to be broadcast throughout the week. It will continue through TR’s post-presidential life and the battle he fought with his own Republican Party. He didn’t think it was “progressive” enough, so he launched a presidential bid in 1912 under the Bull Moose party banner. He failed, but laid the groundwork for what would become the modern progressive movement.

The series will chronicle the careers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, two champions in their own right. They were dedicated Democrats.

Teddy Roosevelt, though, more or less broke the mold that used to define early-20th century Republicanism. What has emerged in the century that followed is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

Didn’t wait on history to carve TR into stone

One of this year’s Christmas gifts, from my older son Peter, got me thinking about how quickly history is able at times to judge someone’s greatness.

Peter gave me a book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.” It’s the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest tome chronicling the lives of great Americans.

What intrigued me is that of the two men mentioned in the title, one of them is memorialized on Mount Rushmore. Then something occurred to me.

Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901 after President William McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt, who was 42, was the youngest man ever to assume the presidency; John F. Kennedy in 1960 became the youngest man, at 43, ever elected to the office. TR was elected in his own right in 1904. He left office in early 1909, turning the presidency over to Taft. Roosevelt then became so let down by Taft’s presidency that he sought the office once more in 1912, running on a progressive platform under the label of the Bull Moose Party.

The result of that campaign produced President Woodrow Wilson.

What does have to do with Mount Rushmore? Well, Gutzon Borglum began carving out the faces on the South Dakota mountainside in 1927, just 15 years after Roosevelt’s last run for public office and only eight years after his death in 1919. The other three men honored on that mountain are George Washington, the father of our country; Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln, who fought successfully to preserve the Union during the Civil War. Their greatness was long established by the time Borglum’s crews began blasting away on Mount Rushmore.

TR’s legacy, it could be argued, had yet to be finalized, as he in effect was a contemporary of the sculptor.

My thoughts have turned to whether someone could undertake such an project in that context today. I do not believe we’ve had a president since Roosevelt who’s quite measured up to any of the four men whose faces are carved into the mountain. Some have argued for Franklin Roosevelt, TR’s cousin, while others have said Ronald Reagan deserves to be added to the sculpture.

I prefer to leave the mountain as it stands.

Still, it strikes me that Gutzon Borglam took a gamble when he included Theodore Roosevelt in that pantheon of great Americans.

I’ll look forward to reading one more historian’s take on how he earned his place on the side of that mountain.

Presidential term limits need to go

Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University, says it well.

Let’s repeal the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

He wants to allow presidents to serve as long as the public can stand them.


His Washington Post essay lays out the case quite well. As one who opposes congressional term limits, I understand where Professor Zimmerman is coming from. Term limits already exist, in the form of elections.

Only one president ever has been elected more than twice consecutively: Franklin D. Roosevelt won a third term in 1940. He was elected to a fourth term in 1944, but died shortly after taking the oath in early 1945. His cousin Teddy was the first president to seek a third term. He served two terms consecutively after becoming president in 1901, after President William McKinley was murdered. He was elected in his own right in 1904, then walked away in 1909. He sought the presidency in 1912 as the Bull Moose candidate, but the office went to Woodrow Wilson.

Zimmerman takes note of President Obama’s low poll standing. It’s highly unlikely, at this moment at least, that he would be elected to a third term if he had the chance. Indeed, most presidents burn out after two terms. President Reagan lamented late in his second term that he would have liked the chance to run again. President Clinton said much the same thing near the end of his presidency.

The 22nd Amendment was enacted in 1947 by a Republican-controlled Congress to head off what some feared would be an imperial presidency. They didn’t like that FDR served seemingly forever. But he was the voters’ choice — four elections in a row!

As Zimmerman notes, even the Father of Our Country, George Washington, disliked the idea of term limits. “I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public,” Washington wrote to Marquis de Lafayette, according to Zimmerman.

Let these people serve until the voters say otherwise.