22 April 2011

The Right Tries to Finish the Job of Roosevelt's Would-be Assassin

In 1912, an assassin rose through the crowd to shoot Teddy Roosevelt. The right desperately hopes that a century later, the assassin’s work will finally be done. The simplest way to understand their platform is to say that their election hopes rest on killing most of this Republicans’ most defining policies.

The turn of the last century was an ugly time for the working man. Work places were notoriously unsafe; the powerful capital machinery that made so many products could easily tear off a limb or kill a man: the machinery was designed for productivity, not safety. Households sent their children to work instead of school to earn enough to pay the bills; given that adults worked six 12-hour days a week, children seemed to get off easy having to work only 9 hour days. It was not unusual for factories employing young women to require them to live on the factory grounds, and while the constitution may have granted them freedom to easily come and go, their bosses did not.  Life was not just harsh. It was ugly. The rapid construction of towns and factories was transforming beautiful, natural landscapes into ugly and polluted scenes. Roosevelt was not the kind of man to simply acquiesce to these realities.

The 1912 campaign was a four-way race between Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Roosevelt’s progressive, Bull Moose Party. Politics had a little more texture back then. Roosevelt platform continued his defense of natural beauty (as president, Roosevelt had protected huge swaths of land like Yellowstone and Yosemite from development) and argued for progressive taxation, old-age insurance, regulations on business, an end to racist practices, the abolition of child labor, and woman’s suffrage.

What is it that today’s right wants? To reverse that.

The right wants to open up national parks for development. (Any candidate who would argue against drilling in ANWAR would never make it through the Republican primaries.)

The right does not just want lower taxes; most of them argue for a simplification of the tax code which is, it seems, code for a flat tax to replace the progressive tax for which Roosevelt argued. They see no reason why a man making a million a year should pay a higher percentage on his taxes than a man who makes only a thousand.

Like presidents before him, Roosevelt wanted to send troops to intervene in labor strikes. Unlike presidents before him, Roosevelt’s intention was not to break up the strike but, instead, to socialize the mines in order to protect the workers. Roosevelt wasn’t afraid to take on Morgan backed corporations and capitalists in general. He wasn’t anti-capitalist but he certainly did not see it as government role’s to merely support capitalists in the oppression of labor.

The right, of course, thinks that it is labor unions and their unreasonable demands that keeps us from economic nirvana. It’s their goal to put a stake in the heart of the already faltering heart of labor unions.

You might say that the right would never reverse the abolition of child labor but that would be only if you focused on just American children. Fair trade would put up barriers to trade with countries with unacceptable environmental and labor policies. Free trade advocates on the right have no compunction about buying cheap products from a country that puts children to work.

It is true that no one on the right (publically) argues for taking back the vote from women. They do, of course, have no trouble with reproductive laws that would, among other things, make it illegal for a doctor to perform even abortions that would save the life of a mother. If only women couldn’t vote, the right would have an easier time getting such legislation passed.

The right’s candidates argue against business regulation as if they were fighting rabid communists and while they are sympathetic to those who want medicare and social security (Roosevelt’s old-age insurance), they point out that we simply can no longer afford such luxuries.

We could use a candidate like Roosevelt. Even bullets couldn’t stop him.

After he was shot in 1912, his assistants insisted that he go to the hospital. He spit into a handkerchief and, seeing no blood, concluded that he would live long enough to deliver his speech and ordered them to take him to the auditorium.

The audience - in this time before cell phones, TVs, or even radio - had no idea that Roosevelt had just been shot until he dramatically opened his suit jacket to show the spread of blood. When his aides saw this, they panicked at the sight of so much blood and again insisted that he rush to the hospital and he again shook them off. (Now that is a called an attention getting opening and is far more effective than a joke.)

Roosevelt explained to his audience that his issues were more important than his safety. He stood up for those who those who could not defend themselves – women, children, minorities and even nature. While he lost his bid for a third term, all of his issues eventually won.

It would be a shame to let the right do what the assassin’s bullet could not. On the centennial of this failed assassination attempt, let’s keep the man’s ideals alive. 


Bald Al said...

've recently been contributing in a LinkedIn discussion regarding the recent and upcoming Budget negotiations. Most of the contributors hail from the Midwest, and they told me things about me I had no clue about. Did you know that because I support all those millions and millions of federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood, then I most assuredly am a left-leaning, radical Muslim socialist who supports killing innocent children? Who would've known? I certainly didn't. There's even more I can share that they told me about myself but there simply isn't enough time to type it all in here.

Saw a very appropriate political cartoon in the paper the other day. A man was sitting on an examining table in a doctor's office. The balloon statement above the doctor's head was, "Congratulations, you're pregnant." The cartoon caption was: 'The day legalized abortion is no longer an issue.'

Ron Davison said...


I think that your denial of being a radical Muslim socialist is just further proof that you are, in fact, a radical Muslim socialist.
In truth, though, it is so strange to see the odd arguments against what worked so well for a century. The Right's New Mantra might just be, "Back to the 1800s!"

Bald Al said...

Praise Allah, Ron, praise Allah.

That sound better?

Lifehiker said...

I'm currently reading the last (third) volume of Edmund Morris's biography of Teddy Roosevelt - a republican, and one of my heroes.

Although T.R. had to face many reactionaries in his own party, he unashamedly put forward his views that all men deserved a reasonable share of the wealth they created through their work, and that wealth should not pass unhindered to those who had no part in creating it.

Many current republicans have little in common with either Lincoln or Roosevelt. In fact, I'd argue that they have much more in common with the peers of 19th century Europe.

MountainLight said...

Brilliant. Thank you! :)

Ron Davison said...

Allen is, I think, a simple derivative of Allah.

Frank - Roosevelt was just an amazing guy. Sadly, his high hormone count helped to create the modern military industrial complex, but there was so much about him to admire.

Briana - glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks for visiting R World.