Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt: No kidding, a progressive Republican

President Theodore Roosevelt, our notoriously progressive Republican prez, delivered his call to action, his "New Nationalism" speech, in Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910.

Teddy's "New Nationalism" speech

I presume his shade was clapping on Tuesday as President Obama spoke to the nation in Osawatomie, declaring " I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules."

President Obama's Osawatomie speech

I know, I know, being a Republican in 1910 doesn't translate in any simple way to being a Republican in 2011. Likewise, Teddy's brand of "progressive" political theory was framed in the political/economic/commercial/cultural context of his time—for instance, it was pre-Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed was created in 1913) and pre-women's suffrage (19th Amendment, 1920). Mainly, I'm mentioning that he was a progressive Republican mostly to be politely provocative.

If you're of the progressive persuasion (and even if you're not), Teddy's "New Nationalism" speech is deeply resonant with the angst of our times. So skip Rachel Maddow or Charles Krauthammer tonight and read it.

One of Roosevelt's arguments concerned government protection of property rights and human welfare. Here are a couple excerpts (not a summary of his speech) on points that are still relevant today:

"The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation."

"The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done."

"We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs."

"I believe in shaping the ends of government to protect property as well as human welfare."

"Those who oppose reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism."

The Bull Moose has spoken.

Teddy's Progressive Party

The Bull Moose himself

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