Tag Archives: The Roosevelts

Three cheers for public television!

Public television deserves a serious shout-out.

So I’m going to give it one today. There will be more to come as situations arise.

I’ve just watched a magnificent 14-hour documentary special broadcast on Panhandle PBS, the Texas Panhandle’s public television affiliate. It was titled “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” It is available online at PanhandlePBS.org — and I encourage readers of this blog to look at it if they didn’t watch it when it aired this past week.

(In the interest full disclosure, I must mention that I blogged daily on the “The Roosevelts” for Panhandle PBS. The blog, “A Public View,” can be found at PanhandlePBS.org — but hey, I digress. Back to the subject at hand.)

Why the shout-out?

Well, public TV occasionally surfaces as a target of political conservatives who have this idea that public money need not fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or the Public Broadcasting Service. They see PBS as some kind of propaganda tool — which it most assuredly is not!

“The Roosevelts” special was produced by Ken Burns, arguably the nation’s foremost documentary filmmaker. His list of acclaimed specials is getting too long to mention here. I’ll bring up one: “The Dust Bowl.” It aired in 2013 and told the story of humanity’s worst manmade ecological disaster. What’s more, it was centered right here, in the Panhandle and in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Burns’s special hit this region right in the gut, as many now-elderly residents recalled the terrible events of that era.

Burns delivered the goods once again with “The Roosevelts.” It told in intimate detail the struggles of this remarkable political family, centering on Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. They were all kin to each other, even though Franklin and Eleanor were husband and wife as well.

This is the kind of programming that the public needs to fund with public money.

You want educational television devoid of tacky commercials? That’s what public television provides us.

It’s also why the opposition to public television funding is ridiculous on its face.

Give me more of it.

'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.