Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Model of Political Courage

You don’t grow up in the mountain states where I did without reverence for Teddy Roosevelt, but it wasn’t until a recent trip that I read his biography. I chose the just published, nearly 800 page Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris as my first. As my second I’m now reading the author’s nearly 1,000 page earlier book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt which has been on my reading list for thirty years. In my own retirement now, I was drawn first to Colonel Roosevelt.

“Colonel Roosevelt,” the title he preferred following his two terms as President of the United States, covers the last ten years of this extraordinary American’s life between 1909 and 1919.Capture

Nothing “robotic-lock-step Tea Partier” about this Republican. He was Progressive through and through. Yes, OMG, that means liberal. Raised in privilege, if he were alive today he would have railed at his party for holding the unemployed hostage as they did last weekend so they could ensure that millionaires would benefit even beyond their first million dollars of annual income from an extension of tax cuts.

I would have loved to hear the butt-kicking Teddy Roosevelt would have given his own party had he still been alive and I have to believe he’s looking down with disgust even now because this man is definitely in “heaven.”

However, as it turns out, following Roosevelt’s presidency, the Republican Party of that day also betrayed his “Square Deal” to again favor of the rich and powerful.

I have more than a current event connection to this earlier Roosevelt (5th cousin to FDR.)

Nailed along a timber beam in my paternal grandparents’ basement were a series of horseshoes that I later inherited. They each represented stages of my grandfather’s life while breaking horses, match racing horses, homesteading range land, breeding and raising horses and much more.

One belonged to Darby, a bay saddle horse selected even though my grandfather was still too young to go along and shipped south to Salt Lake City to be ridden by a cousin in a parade for Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.

Roosevelt understood the West. He had worked as a cowboy in his youth. He understood the arid fragility of western settlement even after the West was won and the vital role a strong Federal government had to play beyond what any state or group of states could ever hope to accomplish so that region could fulfill its role as a benefactor for the entire union.

I also can’t help but imagine how much Theodore Roosevelt was influenced when as a 7 –year-old he looked down from his Manhattan birthplace on the funeral procession of President Lincoln, another Republican who would not pass muster with that party today. Had growing up during the war between the states, his father working tirelessly for the union and his Southern-born mother supporting secession given young Teddy a sense of the importance of a strong Federal government?

These two excellent books remind us of a time when one individual’s courage, values and “Bull-ee” determination rallied a nation to rise above powerful special interests and partisan politics and to care deeply about things we take for granted today, conservation, the environment, the dangers of corporate excess, equality, better working conditions and the right for every citizen to vote.

No comments: