Friday, December 01, 2006

Speak Softly but Carry a Big Stick

I’ve been reading a lot about Theodore Roosevelt lately. I’m usually not one to glorify American Presidents or the system they support, but Roosevelt is an interesting character. He was a patrician and an imperialist and was somewhat obsessed with war-making, but he also had the capacity to surprise with his progressive ideas about the environment and the dangers of big business run amok. He also appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes to the Supreme Court and was the first US President to entertain an African American at the White House. Some quotes follow.
On the office of the presidency:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
"Theodore Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149
May 7, 1918
On the environment:

Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the 'the game belongs to the people.' So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The 'greatest good for the greatest number' applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."
A Book-Lover's Holidays in the Open, 1916.

On the American voter:

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."
An Autobiography, 1913

There are no men like Roosevelt around today in the body politic. All our current politicians are interested in is self-enrichment and power. Democrats, Republicans, all mediocre men with little interest beyond lining their own pockets.

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