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    Teddy Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Brought Us Progressivism

    (My late entry into the "Unreasonable Men" promos.  Sorry for the delay.  I was reading this really great book. . .)

    So much of Theodore Roosevelt's life comes to us now in what seems like caricature:  The Rough Rider, the bellowing bull, the hearty back-slapper, the rugged outdoorsman--all images the man himself would be happy to know we've kept alive.  The handle-bar mustache, the pince-nez, the rakish explorer's hat, the exaggerated movements of a stage actor. . .all carefully created and nurtured by a man who saw himself as destined for American greatness and struggled to make it happen.

    He is credited today with preserving our public lands and starting the movement to establish a National Park system.  He preserved natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and the petrified forest, and is memorialized on Mt. Rushmore, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and without him there might never have been a Panama Canal.  He is the "Teddy" our beloved American Teddy Bear was named for.

    He built himself into a character so much larger than life, we tend to ignore the impact his actions as a progressively Progressive Republican president made on a country just entering the 20th century; a country badly in need, after a period of rapid, seemingly uncontrollable industrialization, of some common-sense reforms.

    In Michael Wolraich's new book, "Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics",  Roosevelt's journey from an accommodating ally of the top American industrialists to a reluctant but pragmatic Progressive leader is spelled out in prose as rousing as the tale itself. 

    And what a tale it is:  Roosevelt's story has been told many times and is, on the surface, familiar, but "Unreasonable Men" tells the backstory of the men who guided, prodded, and influenced the president, effectively splitting the Republicans into two factions--the Standpatters and the Progressives.  TR worked both sides, trying to stay above the fray, but found himself leaning more and more toward the progressives.

    "Fighting Bob" La Follette, the raging populist senator from Wisconsin, along with militant progressives like Gov. Albert Cummins of Iowa and Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas, and Muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens,  Ray Stannard Baker and Ida Tarbell, all played significant roles in the demise of the Standpatters (conservatives of the day) and the rise of American Progressivism.

    Fighting Bob's unstinting tenacity as he fought to bring his progressive agenda to the forefront of his Party's platform both frightened and amazed Roosevelt.  They became unlikely partners in the battle for the people, but eventually, as might have been predicted, whatever relationship they once had crashed and burned.  The fact that they both wanted to be president--La Follette for the first time and TR for the second--didn't help.

     La Follette never had a chance--too many bridges left burning behind him--but TR, though he didn't win,  got a second chance to be a leader again.  In August, 1910, a few months after Roosevelt, then a private citizen, returned from England to find crowds of well-wishers clamoring for him to lead them again, he jumped back in and gave the speech of his life standing on a kitchen table in an old battlefield near Osawatomie, Kansas.

    From Unreasonable Men:

    "Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War," [Roosevelt] proclaimed, "so now the great special business inerests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit.  We must drive the special interests out of politics."

    With these words, Roosevelt turned a corner.  In one rhetorical stroke, he eliminated the middle ground on which he had balanced for his entire political career.  By framing the political conflict as a historic conflict between privilege and democracy, he left no place for conservative-progressives, rendering them as improbable as royalist-patriots or pro-slavery-abolitionists.  And by praising John Brown--the wild-eyed fanatic of an earlier era--he implicitly made common cause with the "demagogues" and "agitators" whom he had so long condemned.

    He was running against William Howard Taft, the incumbent he would eventually lose to at the Convention in Chicago in 1912, bringing TR to the establishment of a third party--the Progressive, or "Bull Moose" Party.  Both he and Taft lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. (Wilson confessed during his campaign that he didn't know how to run against TR. "When I sit down and compare my views with those of a Progressive Republican, I can't see what the difference is.")

    The intrigues, the betrayals, the cautious, often spitting relationships between men who banded together to thwart the oligarchs and worked to build a nation for the people--it's all in there, along with the intricate, often inadvertent or serendipitous machinations of both houses of Congress and the courts.

    And, as it is, it's impossible not to draw parallels between then and now.  Wolraich's book comes along at a time when we're on that same threshold:  Do we give in to the oligarchs or do we fight for Democracy?  "Unreasonable Men" doesn't provide the answers, but it could well be the guidebook on how to get it done.

    Because those uncommon men of the people fought hard against all odds, and, at least for a time, got it done.


    Additional reading:

    Washington Post review of "Unreasonable Men".

    Excerpt at The Atlantic by Michael Wolraich

    Q&A with Michael Wolraich at Salon.

    Michael Maiello:  Unreasonable Men and the Art of the Political Long Game


    (Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices and Alan Colmes' Liberaland.  Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU)



    Really nice review of the book.  Thanks.  Now I want to read it even more. 

    Great review, Mona.  It reminds me, by the way, of my favorite bit from a book -- a somewhat minor incident where a railroad baron complains that regulation of interstate shipping rates would harm railroad earnings and ultimately, railroad shareholders.  "Many of our shareholders are widows and orphans," he said.  

    I imagine orphanages full of little pre-World War I E*Trade babies...

    Thanks, MM.  You ain't so bad, yourself.  So many parallels to today, but MW, to his credit, just told the story (beautifully) without feeling the need to remind us.  And what a great story it is.  I see a movie in the making.

    The Progressive Era is one of the examples I cite when arguing against the refrain that the government is simply a pawn of the corporations.

    Thanks, Mona! Such a great review!

    You're welcome.  My great pleasure.

    It is ironic.

    FDR became Governor of NY and he also became Secretary of the Navy and...

    Our Savior followed in the footsteps of his cousin and President Wilson.

    But FDR had a wife!

    And Eleanor had some weight in all of this!

    Wilson did so many wonderful things but he re-segregated DC. A sin that shall never be forgotten.

    (Except for those who refuse to read our history)

    Teddy came out of nowhere. 'They' just wanted him out of NY state. And yet, some idiot shoots the Prez and Teddy was in a position of power that no one ever could have predicted.

    Taft ended up pissing Teddy off to no end, and so Teddy runs again as a Bullmoose and gets shot!

    I laugh everytime I watch Blue Bloods, I mean Teddy is featured by a picture every damn episode and yet, Teddy had real 'objectives'.

    He was never a commie, at least not like Eleanor (and I mean this in the nicest sense. I mean Eleanor wished for rights sanctioned by the WORLD for citizens including health care and food and the right to work and....

    FDR had a real effect (or is it an affect) on Ike and Ike kind of bought into some of this.

    Ike did not work to destroy SS or the highway project or a number of other legislations.

    So Teddy is with us for many, many decades.

    Without Teddy there would never have been an FDR.

    Without Teddy, there would never have been an uprising with regard to giant corporations that would 'never fail'.

    Without Wilson, there would never have been an FDR, even with all of his sins.

    There was some story of Teddy greeting a Black Man for dinner and the papers went nuts.

    Teddy castigated those writers, although he never invited another Black Man to dinner.

    All our leaders were guilty of great great sins.

    But damn, when you look at this history....

    We would never have SS or :Medicare or Medicaid or Civil Rights Legislation or ;anything of value without these three men plus one--Ike.

    We are a better country because of Teddy and a host of other fellows following his search for the Holy Grail.

    Add LBJ to the picture and you can imagine how the New GOP is so goddammned pissed off today.

    Ayn Rand or Teddy.

    I will take Teddy any day, with all of his faults!

    the end

    I have no idea what started all of this? hahahahahahah

    But really, how can anyone not see, not perceive the value of this NUT?

    We have succeeded in so many things as a country; yeah Denmark might have a greater health code and Sweden might have a better 'net'; but we have 350 million units as it were compared to the Danes of ten million.

    Okay, I am done now! hahahah

    That was beautiful, Richard.  Seriously, I hereby from all of me to all of you.  Well said, sir.

    Oh my goodness, is this a nice sentence to wake up to from a late evening nap!

    Thank you Mike!

    Richard, you are indeed one of a kind.  That may be why you "get" Teddy.  He was, too.

    And I'm with MM.  Beautiful.  (Eleanor would approve.)

    I have at least 6 heroes from the Twentieth Century and probably more like 60 but Eleanor has to top  the list.

    This Saint brings us from Teddy to Franklln through blood, sweat and tears.

    We have this great great history Ramona!

    It all enthralls me.

    And I really believe that without Teddy, we never would have arrived here.

    And compared to other ages and other places, 'here' aint that bad a place!




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