Yesterday I got an email from Dr. Laura Vivanco, in regards to my article on Teedie Roosevelt. She is an amazing researcher and a fabulous (albeit exacting) editor. I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with her and I have immense respect for her opinions. Thus, I got her permission to share extracts from it with you:
I’ve only read a little bit about Theodore Roosevelt but it seems to me we’re better off not having him back. For instance, in http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100255538/racist-imperialist-power-hungry-megalomaniac-why-roosevelt-is-not-the-model-for-miliband-or-labour/, Tim Stanley pointed out:
”[Roosevelt] saw life as a violent struggle between the strong and the weak. And, like many people of his time, he regarded this battle in racial terms. In 1905, he stated that whites were “the forward race”, who could raise the living standards of “the backward race[s]” through “industrial efficiency, political capacity and domestic morality”. […] [He] once said that some Africans “are ape-like naked savages, who… prey on creatures not much wilder or lower than themselves”. To protect civilisation from the wild things, Roosevelt urged whites to breed as much as possible – otherwise they risked “race suicide”. Whites who threatened the health of the stock were best isolated. In 1914, Roosevelt opined that “criminals should be sterilised and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them”.
Non-whites could even be an impediment to progress. Native Americans (“squalid savages”, a “weaker race”) lived on land that whites desperately wanted to exploit. Roosevelt joked: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th.” Under his watch, a large number of Native Americans were kicked off their territory to make way for developers and national parks. At the heart of this ideology was a thirst for power, because the strong prove their strength by dominating others. Big government was their instrument of divine rule.”
Moreover, in the New York Times review of Honor in the Dust, Gregg Jones’s book about the Philippine-American War, the review noted that:
“What is striking about is not how much war has changed in more than a century, but how little. On nearly every page, there is a scene that feels as if it could have taken place during the Bush and Obama administrations rather than those of McKinley and Roosevelt. American troops are greeted on foreign soil as saviors and then quickly despised as occupiers. The United States triumphantly declares a victorious end to the war, even as bitter fighting continues. Allegations of torture fill the newspapers, horrifying and transfixing the country.”
Dr. Vivanco has valid points here, of course. There is no way for an intelligent person to deny that racism and imperialism is anything but morally and politically wrong. All I could do was explain why I yearned for Teedie or a Teedie-analog again:
I agree that his racial perceptions were vile, but even Abraham Lincoln couldn’t grasp the idea of an equal society (http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation). The ideologies of the past are so often unfathomable that it is hard to do anything but shudder in revulsion. However, Teedie was a progressive; a fervent progressive.He sought to fix wealth inequality, education, the establish the “common good”. His political ideologies were so left-leaning they stopped just short of full socialism. For Teedie to be considered a progressive today, he would have to embrace ideologies like feminism, racial equality, anti-imperialism – all of which are things that were almost unknown about even among the very idealistic of the 19th century. Not that they are that well-known today. We haven’t had a progressive President for at least 40 years. Presidents Clinton and Obama have both consistently had policies that are to the political right of conservative President Richard Nixon; even American’s theoretically “leftist” presidents have been moderate conservatives.)
A modern President with as much conviction toward progressive ideals — one who would actually thump The Banking/Finance Industries over the head with a Big Stick when they chose greed over their nation — without going into outright socialism (I don’t trust centralization of resources) would thrill me to my toes. I admit that the idea of a politician brave enough to take on the Financial Monster that straddles/strangles America with it’s austerity horsepoop gives me a pleasant tingle.
Does Teedie’s record shine perfectly? God no. But there is no Utopia and there are no perfect leaders; even FDR imperialistically meddled in South/Central America which has proven to be disastrous in the long term. However, there are some people who are better than average at being President, and Teedie Roosevelt was (in my opinion) the best of these few men. Barring the racism and imperialism of course.
What do y’all think? Can there ever be a truly admirable human in history? Or does the bias of their time periods always leave too much of a mark?