TR: Man for All Seasons

Illustrations by Sabrina Krewin.

Six times last week Teddy Roosevelt was mentioned in the New York Times, three times on the op ed page. An odd coincidence? Hardly. We may be entering a period of reform, which naturally plays to Teddy's strengths, though he wasn't actually as fervent a supporter of campaign finance reform as people imagine, as pointed out in these pages some time ago (see Media Watch: The NYT Falls for the TR Myth ). But what we think is interesting is that Teddy was quoted in so many different contexts, many having nothing to do with reform. There was Teddy the symbol of racial intolerance, Teddy the supporter of the separation of church and state, Teddy the explorer.

Whether the topic is campaign finance reform, racism or even God, there's a Teddy Roosevelt for you. Good Teddy, Bad Teddy, take your pick.

TR as a Reformer of Capitalism

"There has long been a national consensus, the origins of which stretch back to Theodore Roosevelt, that corporate and union money and large individual contributions should have no place in our federal election system. Bans on corporate and union election spending and large individual campaign contributions have consistently been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional under the First Amendment." (Seth Waxman, NYT op ed, 7-10-02)

Q. "Yes, Mr. President, to put your speech tomorrow in a larger context, at the turn of the last century Theodore Roosevelt complained about what he called the malefactors of great wealth and he asked in a very famous speech, 'Who shall rule this country?' The people or the what he called those who hide behind the breastworks of corporate organizations. I wonder if you feel this era is comparable to that one and if you feel you should respond as aggressively as Roosevelt did?" (Reporter, Bush press conference, 7-8-02)

TR on Indians

"Teddy Roosevelt said in 1886: 'I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't inquire too closely in the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.'" (Nicholas D. Kristoff, NYT op ed, 7-9-02)

TR on God and Money

"The word "God" does not appear in the Constitution of the United States, a document that erects if not quite a wall, at least a fence between church and state. 'In God We Trust' began to appear on American coins in the 19th century, but in the early 20th century President Theodore Roosevelt, having asked the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design new coinage, was relieved to find no statute mandating "In God We Trust" on coins.

" 'As the custom, altho without legal warrant, had grown up,' T. R. wrote to a clergyman distressed over the prospect of godless coins, 'I might have felt at liberty to keep the inscription had I approved of its being on the coinage. But as I did not approve of it, I did not direct that it should again be put on.'

"T. R. expressed his 'very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins . . . not only does no good but does positive harm.' His objection to 'In God We Trust' was not constitutional; it was aesthetic. He felt that the motto cheapened and trivialized the trust in God it was intended to promote. 'In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any sign of its having appealed to any high emotion in him,' he wrote. Indeed, he added, 'the existence of this motto on the coins was a constant source of jest and ridicule.' " (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., NYT op ed, 7-7-02)

TR on Campaign Finance Reform

"It's a question only Mr. Bush can answer. He can give the oil cronies within his administration an ethical pass, much as Harding did. He can keep trying to finesse the Wall Street crisis with rhetorical panaceas as empty as his father's 'Message: I care' response to his own economic storm. Or he can fulfill a campaign promise and become a reformer with results, a Teddy Roosevelt who cleans up capitalism to make it stronger." (Frank Rich, NYT op ed, 7-6-02)

TR on Exploring

" 'Few explorers who saw and did so much that was absolutely new have written of their deeds with such quiet absence of boastfulness, and have drawn their descriptions with such complete freedom from exaggeration,' Teddy Roosevelt, something of an explorer and naturalist himself, said in Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage." (AP report, cited in NYT, 7-10-02)


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