Reflections of Fear

Society is a reflection of our greatest fears at the time and our laws and actions demonstrate this all too clearly.  In 1898 it was Spain. The USS Maine had been destroyed in Havanna, Cuba, and the US media wanted revenge.  The journalists of the era whipped up the public to the point where war was the only option left to President McKinley.  A war he was reluctant to ask Congress to declare. The impetus of the war was the sinking of the Maine, but many historians are not convinced that the Spanish destroyed the ship, and it may have been a huge accident.  Even so, history was changed that fateful night for Cuba, Spain, the Philippines and even the United States. 

Prior to the Spanish-American War of 1898, Theodore Roosevelt was known in the circles of power, but he was not generally well regarded amongst the political elite.  After his charge up San Juan Hill, all of that changed.  He became too famous to ignore (again the media should be given credit/blame for this fame).  President McKinley was convinced to add him as his Vice-President on the 1900 ticket.  That may have been the end of Teddy Roosevelt in US Politics since only two sitting Vice-Presidents have been elected to the top spot in the last 160+ years (Martin Van Buren and George HW Bush for the record).  President McKinley became only the third President to be assassinated which allowed TR to advance to the Presidency.

While we can't assume what might have happened had McKinley survived, we can certainly look at the actions of TR to see what he never would have had the opportunity to accomplish.  TR is known for many things.  In historical hindsight he can be viewed as at least an activist (read progressive) President.  If progressive sounds positive, remember what that actually means in reality.  Progressives decided that since they were smarter than everyone else then only they could decide what was best for every citizen.  
TR felt that as President it was his obligation to intervene anywhere he wanted.  He wanted to end a coal miners strike so he declared it a national emergency and forced the strikers and owners to settle.  This led directly to the rise of organized labor in this country.  We will discuss the ripple effect of this in a future post.  He decided that college football was too violent (this was in 1903), and the NCAA was formed.  Again, while this may have led to some good, it definitely seems at best heavy handed coming from a sitting President.  Imagine if that happened today.  What if a President spoke out about an NFL team name in the local DC area (sorry that has actually happened, so maybe it is a great example of progressive over-reach).

Here is another example of doing whatever we want because we know best.  TR wanted a canal to join the Atlantic and the Pacific (modelled after the Suez Canal) to be controlled by the US.  He looked at a map and decided that a little isthmus joining North America and South America was the ideal spot.  He approached the government of this country and offered to buy the land.  Not surprisingly, the land was not for sale.  Anyone else would have said, we tried, and it just wasn't going to work.  Maybe we need to look elsewhere.  Not TR.  His agents approached the rebels in the area, got them to start a conflict and declare their independence.  Shockingly, once the rebels won their "independence" they gave the land in question to the US.  The canal was finished and became very profitable.  During the term of another Progressive President (Jimmy Carter) this same hard fought canal was given back to the country that originally gave it to us.  You know it as the Panama Canal, but it should more correctly be called the Columbian Canal since the land originally belonged to Columbia.

At the start of the 20th Century this country became seized by a thought process that seems normal today.  It was not the way things were done.  It was a new way of governing that was determined to fundamentally change the way this country functioned, even if it had to be destroyed to change it into what these progressives envisioned.  It hasn't truly gone away and just keeps evolving.  In fact it is still with us today.  Take a look around you, and you will see it everywhere. Healthcare, foreign policy, and accountability have all taken a page from the progressive playbook, and they are transforming our country into something that even TR and his buddies would not recognize. It might be hard to believe that a man willing to start a war to get what he wanted might still be surprised by the US of today.  The problem is that more of us aren't equally surprised.  

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.  - Theodore Roosevelt

Sounds good doesn't it.  It sounds inspiring.  Except TR never believed he was wrong and never believed that he didn't have the right to try anything he wanted as long as it was something he thought was worth doing.  He loved the spotlight and did not like to be told he was wrong.  He didn't apologize for what he did or what he believed because as he said above, the only person who counts is the person doing and even in failure it is okay as long as he has dared to challenge greatness.  We don't need a timid soul at the top, but we also don't need someone willing to reward ineptitude and cover up incompetence to advance their policies and do whatever they want because they want it.  The government can only govern with the consent of the governed.  Unfortunately, the legacy of TR (yes he was technically a Republican, although that is really just a technicality) has damaged this country far more than he might have envisioned.  The reason more people distrust politicians is that regardless of the letter next to their name, they are not truly any different and feel more comfortable being labeled a moderate.  Moderate is just another way of describing a politician who believes in focus groups, not principles.