I just finished reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, not having known all that much about him before, and what really struck me about him is this: I will bet you that he could sit in a room with a self-identified Tea Partier and a self-identified Socialist, and after a short time, he'd have them arm in arm, ready to get out there and make their country a better place together. The biography I read was written by someone considerably more conservative than me, but in the end, the conclusion we both reached was that we really liked and admired this guy.
He had a way of taking the valid points that each side has and making the other side see the worth in them. And I think he made the two sides realize that they weren't as different as they thought.
Here is an example of what I mean, from a speech he gave in 1910 at the Sorbonne in France:
We can just as little afford to follow the doctrinaires of an extreme individualism as the doctrinaires of an extreme socialism. […] Much of the discussion about socialism and individualism is entirely pointless, because of the failure to agree on terminology. It is not good to be a slave of names. I am a strong individualist by personal habit, inheritance, and conviction; but it is a mere matter of common sense to recognize that the State, the community, the citizens acting together, can do a number of things better than if they were left to individual action. […] The deadening effect on any race of the adoption of a logical and extreme socialistic system could not be overstated; it would spell sheer destruction; it would produce grosser wrong and outrage, fouler immortality, than any existing system. But this does not mean that we may not with great advantage adopt certain of the principles professed by some given set of men who happen to call themselves Socialists; to be afraid to do so would be to make a mark of weakness on our part.I, as a liberal, want to see equality of opportunity and a leveling of the playing field. I want everyone to get their fair shot, and if they earnestly try and fail, I want to see them get helped back up. But I also want people to realize that they need to step up, and we ought to reward people that do. Many conservatives think that I don't think that. More TR from the Sorbonne speech that exemplifies this:
We are bound in honor to refuse to listen to those men who would make us desist from the effort to do away with the inequality which means injustice; the inequality of right, opportunity, of privilege. We are bound in honor to strive to bring ever nearer the day when, as far is humanly possible, we shall be able to realize the ideal that each man shall have an equal opportunity to show the stuff that is in him by the way in which he renders service. There should, so far as possible, be equality of opportunity to render service; but just so long as there is inequality of service there should and must be inequality of reward. We may be sorry for the general, the painter, the artists, the worker in any profession or of any kind, whose misfortune rather than whose fault it is that he does his work ill. But the reward must go to the man who does his work well; for any other course is to create a new kind of privilege, the privilege of folly and weakness; and special privilege is injustice, whatever form it takes.He gives both liberals and conservatives some room to cheer and some room to cringe. But in the end I think he gives them something they can both live with.
You may think he's Archie Bunker for a second because he says this:
The good citizen in a republic must first of all be able to hold his own. He is no good citizen unless he has the ability which will make him work hard and which at need will make him fight hard. The good citizen is not a good citizen unless he is an efficient citizen.But not so fast; he also says this:
It is a bad thing for a nation to raise and to admire a false standard of success; and there can be no falser standard than that set by the deification of material well-being in and for itself. But the man who, having far surpassed the limits of providing for the wants; both of the body and mind, of himself and of those depending upon him, then piles up a great fortune, for the acquisition or retention of which he returns no corresponding benefit to the nation as a whole, should himself be made to feel that, so far from being desirable, he is an unworthy citizen of the community; that he is to be neither admired nor envied; that his right-thinking fellow countrymen put him low in the scale of citizenship, and leave him to be consoled by the admiration of those whose level of purpose is even lower than his own.When you read what Roosevelt said at any length, you realize how educated and thoughtful he was. But he was also the Rough Rider, the South Dakota cowboy, the Amazon explorer. I can't think of many people who exemplify both erudition and rugged individualism quite the way he did.
Not that TR doesn’t have some good straight-up admonishments for conservatives of our own day:
I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian. As a necessary corollary to this, not only the pupils but the members of the teaching force and the school officials of all kinds must be treated exactly on a par, no matter what their creed; and there must be no more discrimination against Jew or Catholic or Protestant than discrimination in favor of Jew, Catholic or Protestant. Whoever makes such discrimination is an enemy of the public schools.
To permit every lawless capitalist, every law-defying corporation, to take any action, no matter how iniquitous, in the effort to secure an improper profit and to build up privilege, would be ruinous to the Republic and would mark the abandonment of the effort to secure in the industrial world the spirit of democratic fair dealing.But I want to end with what is still my favorite TR quote, one that anyone might do well to look at every morning. If you are doubting yourself and maybe aren't sure whether to try to do that thing you've always wanted to do, because you're not quite sure of yourself, TR has a word for you:
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 is on Mt. Rushmore, and I am beginning to better understand why.