Call me ignorant, but until a few days back, I had no idea the town of Osawatomie, Kansas, existed. Now that president Obama has spoken there, invoking the spirit of #26, Teddy Roosevelt, I won’t soon forget the place.
While the New York Times was ecstatic about Obama’s attempt to twist the election into a referendum on income inequality and approvingly noted the heavy-handed symbolism of speaking where Roosevelt issued his call for a “new nationalism,” commentators on the conservative side of the spectrum were not amused. Linda Chavez opined that Obama “is no Teddy Roosevelt,” while, more to the point, revisionist Roosevelt scholar Jim Powell writing in Forbes pointed out the similarities in world view: in a nutshell, they are both so-called progressives that actually are backward-looking and actively doing their darndest to halt progress. What has changed since the days of TR is that while the American economy was powerful back then, charging forward on industry and innovation, the economy is stalled today, chafing under red tape and an all-intrusive government.
While it’s probably more exciting to model yourself on the oversized, larger-than-life Teddy Roosevelt, it would be wiser for president Obama (or the next president) to model themselves on the admittedly somewhat smaller-than-life Calvin Coolidge. He may not have been a visionary, but visionaries can go wrong in bringing about their large schemes. And TR was undeniably wrong about much of what he set in motion. Coolidge “did the day’s work,” carrying out the unspectacular but productive and liberating work of reducing debt and taxation, and keeping the nation out of wars. On all those fronts, we would do well to have a president who models himself on #30 instead of #26.
Update: here’s an excellent and thoughtful piece by Troy Smith at American Thinker, comparing TR and CC.