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Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of Pennsylvania's beautiful state capitol, and a bevy of celebrations was held to mark this event.

The highlight was a rededication ceremony held on the capitol steps, where Governor Ed Rendell, Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll, Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss and a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator joined a crowd of current and former legislators, staff, and historically minded citizens, led by Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed,  to commemorate this day.

The Roosevelt impersonator was there because Theodore Roosevelt himself had been the keynote speaker 100 years ago.  Listening to him speak was an opportunity to think of how the Washington Republican Party has evolved from people who took on the major problems of their times to people who are clearly incapable of running the tiny Congressional page program, let alone our nearly $2 trillion a year federal government.

Theodore Roosevelt practiced manliness without meanness.  He was tough enough to be considerate of others without fear of being seen as a sissy.  He was bold enough to read widely without fear of being seen as just an ivy tower intellectual.  He was the hero of my grandfather Harry Herzog, whose naturualization certificate he signed the same year he dedicated Pennsylvania the state capitol.

Roosevelt acted in meaningful ways that produced lasting results.  As a state legislator in his twenties, he was so full of ideas that party leaders decided to make him the Republican floor leader, so he would have to face the limitations of their appeal.

As a New York police commissioner, he made changes in law enforcement practices that are still studied today.  I recently heard him praised at my former synagogue Keneseth Israel for his creative way of handling one of the leading anti-Semitic agitators of his time.  He guaranteed the agitator's right to speak, and assigned an all-Jewish team of policemen to protect him. The agitator quickly concluded his speech and left New York City.

He famously led the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, and wound up as the Republican nominee for Governor.  He so offended established interests in Albany upon taking office, that they conspired to kick him upstairs to the Vice-Presidency, thinking he would never be heard from again.

Taking over the Presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt actively promoted the Progressive movement and pushed the Republicans hard for pro-worker, pro-environment legislation, pro-consumer and pro-investor legislation.  He carried out an aggressive foreign policy, but also won the Noble Prize for Peace for helping bring a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese War.

He surmounted personal tragedy and physical weakness to be the epitome of resilience and physical courage, even to the point of insisting on completing a speech as the Progressive Party Presidential nominee in 1912 after a bullet was lodged into his body.

Theodore Roosevelt stood for big things.  He was willing to lose battles in the fight for big things.  He encouraged others to continue his work.  One of Pennsylvania's best Governors was his legendary Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, ultimately a key adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt in the setting up of the Rural Electrification Administration and other projects affecting rural areas.

To compare Theodore Roosevelt with the likes of George W. Bush and J. Dennis Hastert is to capsulize the decline of the Republican Party as not only a progressive force, but as a meaningful force.  Theodore Roosevelt knew how to use power for worthwhile ends.  He knew how to capture the imagination of the public.  He made the public proud of government, and proud to be an American.  None of this can be said of Bush and Hastert.

It was a pleasure listening to an impersonator play one of America's two great Republican Presidents.  I saw a Bush impersonator entertain the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry at a dinner shortly before the 2004 Presidential election.  The Bush impersonator gave the gift of laughter. Today, the Teddy Roosevelt impersonator gave the gift of pride in our national greatness.

None of this is to say that Roosevelt was a perfect man or a perfect leader.  In no area of American life can it be said that he did enough to solve problems for all time.  But he did enough, as Mayor Reed pointed out today, to change the direction of American government, to clearly establish its responsibility for the welfare of the American people, that his place in American history will never be among the forgettable or the disgraced.

Originally posted to State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 05:53 PM PDT.

Poll

Who Is the Greatest American President?

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43%10 votes
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| 23 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  I wrote a snarky rant about TR & the current GOP (6+ / 0-)

    I wrote a diary about how the GOP would talk to TR if he was alive today: Rant Loudly and Swing a Big Stick.

    I'm a TR fan.  He didn't want government to regulate industry, but was persuaded by the writings of the "muckrakers."  He didn't call them "unpatriotic," he took their concerns to heart, and realized that industry wasn't always working for the benefit of the common good.

    He took pride in our natural treasures and wanted to preserve them.  He would never have raped the land for a few barrels of oil.

    TR was a great man, and a model Republican.

  •  I <3 Teddy. (4+ / 0-)

    Being an environmentalist, I deeply appreciate the steps he took to preserve America's fabulous natural resources. God help the current crop of "Republicans" when they meet President Roosevelt in the afterlife and have to face his wrath over the environmental destruction they've gleefully caused.

    BTW, I can't vote in your poll because I think the "Greatest President" award should be shared by Teddy and Abe Lincoln.

    •  Democrats Won Most Lincoln and Roosevelt States (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BrenP, kraant

      Lincoln and Roosevelt are certainly the two Republican Presidents we can be proudest of.  But if you look at the states they carried to become President, you'll see that Kerry carried the vast majority of them. Ohio, alas, is a conspicuous exception.

      Your putting Republicans in quotation marks is a good way to deal with the obvious difference between them and Lincoln and Roosevelt.  Today's Democratic Party is the party of the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt much more than the Republican Party is.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:16:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Unlike the "Bull Moose", (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kraant

      who practices meanness without manliness.

  •  Great Diary! (2+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    Progressively annoyed for over six years.

    by BrenP on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:09:57 PM PDT

  •  And wasn't it a (3+ / 0-)

    folded speech and a glasses case, both in his pocket, that slowed the bullet that hit him during that speech?

    Must have been nice, having a President that could read.

    Cheap shot, yes, but with Bush's economy, it was all I could afford.  

    "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on." Ma Joad, The Grapes of Wrath

    by rocketito on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:11:08 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for Pointing Out Practical Value of Words. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rocketito, kraant

      Thanks for pointing out the practical and sometimes serendipitous value of words and reading.  Teddy Roosevelt not only knew how to read, he knew how to lead and how to make decisions that benefitted the public and stood the test of time.

      Bush brags about his reading, and he is the first President to be married to a librarian.  But he too much resembles the phony professor in the Music Man who won the heart of a librarian and a small town by making reckless promises that he did not keep.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:23:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wouldn't he be surprised to learn (2+ / 0-)

        that now reading, integrity, and courage are all things now onsidered optional in a President?  Trouble in River City, indeed.

        T.R. was a great man.  Thanks for this diary, reminding us of that.

        "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on." Ma Joad, The Grapes of Wrath

        by rocketito on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:31:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Depends on your perspective.... (2+ / 0-)

    There is no doubt in my mind that TR is one of the greatest presidents in modern history. What surprises me though, is how many of you, upon seeing the posted comments, readily agree that Roosevelt was dramatically different from our current leadership. I would submit that TR's presidency and attitude is more similar to George W. than most of the other presidents that followed. What you left out, Mark Cohen, is that both Bush and Roosevelt have dealt with incompetent congresses' and both used the full power of the presidency to get their way. In fact, one famous TR quote was during the building of the panama canal, when congress, gridlocked, could not make a decision. Roosevelt built the canal "and then left Congress not to debate the canal but to debate [TR]." In addition, the Spanish American war(our other preemptive war), of which Roosevelt played a major role as Dep. Sec of the Navy, was started in part for America's quest to become a great world power. Throughout both of these examples, the comparisons between Roosevelt and Bush are quite similar. So, while the rest of you swoon over the differences between the republican party of then and now, consider all of history, not just the parts that benefit your arguments...    

    •  W and TR Could Not Be More Different (2+ / 0-)

      W: "you are either with us or against us"

      TR: "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."

      W: stuck in the middle of corruption in his party of historical proportions doing nothing to reform it.  (see my diary http://www.dailykos.com/... for more on corruption)

      TR: trustbuster, reformer

      W: draft dodger who avoids fighting for his country

      TR: hero who fights for his Nation, to the point where he wanted to fight in WWI as an older man

      W: part of a family of weak presidents

      TR: part of the greatest family of Presidents ever, a great President outdone by his relative FDR

      •  I didn't say that there weren't differences... (2+ / 0-)

        I just challenged the notion that the two were complete opposites.  Let’s face it, both TR and GW are very strong willed individuals who while in office serve as president absolutely. Both have firm convictions that what they are doing is right, both started preemptive wars in an effort to make America stronger, and both told congress to shove it when they were too partisanized. Certainly they have differences, although their leadership styles are more similar than different.

        Take into account also throughout your swooning...America has changed too!

      •  A Great Comparison (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kraant

        But I believe his quote on the rightness of attacking Presidential actions was as an opponent of President Woodrow Wilson rather than as President himself.

        Bush is certainly no Roosevelt.  His only real rivals as President are Warren G. Harding and Ulyssses S. Grant, two of our worst Presidents.

        Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

        by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:57:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting take (2+ / 0-)

          <But I believe his quote on the rightness of attacking Presidential actions was as an opponent of President Woodrow Wilson rather than as President himself.>

          Yes, but I think this is to the point.  An ex-President said it is essential, much less right, to question a President during a time of war.  None of this my way or the highway garbage.  That is not leadership.  It's bullying.  And as Bush has shown once again, it leads to failures.  It explains why Bush can't execute to save anyone's life but his own.

    •  The Results of TR's Actions Were Better (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rocketito, kraant

      The results of Teddy Roosvelt's actions were a lot better than the results of Bush's actions.  Latin America benefitted from the Panama Canal just as we did.  And, thanks to Jimmy Carter's wise leadership, we ultimately gave it back to Panama.

      The Spanish American War produced an independent Cuba in 1902, an independent Phillipines ultimately, and a long-term association with the United States of Guam and Puerto Rico.  How great any of these achievements are can be debated.  But it will be increasingly hard to debate the abysmal failure of the Bush Adminstration's foreign policy.

      Bush followed Roosevelt in riding roughshod over Congress. You are right on that.  And if today Iraq was a peaceful, prosperous democracy strongly allied with spreading democracy all over the Arab world--the publicly proclaimed Bush vision--a lot of his critics would be gushing admirers today.

      Process matters a lot, but results matter a lot more.  It is the results of their actions that doom the Bush/Hastert team.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 06:53:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  good points... (2+ / 0-)

    the only difference I would cite in your reply is that our intentions in the Spanish American war, though fruitful throughout many circles, were certainly egocentric in nature. I do not have a problem with this though, I have just seen so many opinions that any preemptive strike is wrong, which I disagree with.

    •  I Am Glad We Have Reached Agreement (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant

      I am glad we have reached an area of agreement. It's always gratifying when talking thing out leads people to see areas of agreement even when there are differences over detail.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 07:05:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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