Having grown up on Long Island, it’s difficult to not to know who Theodore Roosevelt was. He was the only president from Long Island, having his residence at Sagamore Hill, and being buried at Youngs Memorial Cemetery, both in Oyster Bay.
So great was this youngest president that not only does he have a monument in Washington DC, but his visage is featured on Mount Rushmore. Theodore Roosevelt embodied the triumph of the individual over anything, by shear will and determination. As much as he came from a privileged background, he had a life where he overcame shortcomings, adversity and tragedy. Anyone who has read his “Man in the arena
has heard this synthesized down to it’s most empirical and elemental form.
As a young man, Teddy was my hero. He always stood up for what was right, did the right thing, and had the balls to back it up. He was also a person that could be at ease with a ditch digger or a King, and was one of the smartest and best read of the presidents, being in the small company of Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington, hence Rushmore. He was an incredible human being and I wish I could have met him, as we would have gotten along well I think on most levels. But.
The presidency of Barry O has let me reconsider Theodore in the light of progressivism. As much as TR redefined the US in the 20th century, I think BHO wished to do so in the 21st. Moreover, I think TR was misguided if not wrong about being a progressive. I agree with his championing universal suffrage and race relations, but I disagree with his stance on the government’s role in people’s lives and taxes. TR was the man who laid down the progressive and socialist fuse for his distant cousin FDR to light. For a man that championed the individual, he fomented collectivism. What irony. If I had to suppose why this is, I’d have to guess that may be TR felt guilty on some level about coming from privilege (in which time there was quite a bit more disparity between rich and poor. Our notion of middle class didn’t exist then as it does now) or may be at the other end, he was an elitist or social darwinist that thought we should care for those less fortunate through government largesse, as a shepherd tends to his flock. May be both. In addition, may be he got off at the power he envisioned the president and the government could wield in this arena. I’ve read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex and I still look for answers. May be it’s a foibles of being a genius. Let me know if you come up.
This reconsideration of TR has led me to accept him for the man he was, but he never can be my hero again. May be that’s ok. Hero worship is such wasted energy and unrealistic anyway and as much as I feel disappointed on some level, he still was one of the greatest people to be president. In fact Barry O isn’t worthy to polish his shoes and in spite of their progressive kinship, they are not matched well at all. How that mountebank became president annoys the hell out of me, but that is another story.
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