Teddy Roosevelt and Today

In 2013, when Doris Kearns Goodwin published The Bully Pulpit, her followup to the acclaimed 2005 history of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, I ran out and purchased a copy. My mother had bought me a copy of Team of Rivals as a high school graduation present, and, though it sat on my bookshelf unread for a long time, I eventually cracked it open and read it cover to cover with great celerity. Goodwin’s tale of Lincoln was engrossing, and I hoped to tackle the slightly heftier The Bully Pulpit with the same appetite I had for Lincoln.

Instead, I rushed out and bought a copy, cracked it open, read the first chapter or so, then sat it back down. Eventually, when I was tidying up, I placed it on a bookshelf. To add insult to injury, I put it on the bottom shelf! There, the book sat around four years. It was an unlucky victim of other priorities; grad school, work, the occasional trip to the bar, a new issue of a magazine, an even newer book that I picked up and decided to tackle.

But, recently, I decided to pick it up again. I’m not sure why I ever put it down. The book seems to me to have been delivered four years too early. The book itself has so many parallels with the situation American citizens are faced with today.  There is political corruption. There are party bosses meting out slivers of power they had secured with the help of coffers filled with unlimited sums of money from corporate interests. There are reform-minded politicians working to try to win change within the confines of what’s possible being booed and hissed by populists, corporate interests, and holier-than-thou reformers alike. There are a new class of journalists who sought to detail the lives of the disadvantaged and uncover the inner workings of corrupt regimes at the local, state and federal levels of American government.

All of this is against a backdrop of politicians who say and do things like insinuate that the situation of the unemployed is God’s will–who take a defeatist or determinist stance against policies and legislation that could change the circumstances of their fellow men.

Teddy Roosevelt sums it up nicely in one particularly apt quote from his diary.

I became more set than ever in my distrust of those men, whether businessmen or lawyers, judges, legislators or executive officers, who seek to make of the Constitution a fetish for the prevention of the work of social reform.

With the rise of groups like the Freedom Caucus, it seems that we are one again facing this same kind of political resistance to social reform and progress. My hope is that, like in the age of Taft, Roosevelt and McClure’s, we can once again overcome as a nation.

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