Monday, September 29, 2008

Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt as examples

In light of the current situation, with our politicians seeking to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they can't be trusted, and our economic "leaders" on Wall Street and elsewhere doing everything in their power to once again prove that they can't be trusted; we need leadership, whether political or otherwise, that's willing to point out that a combination of public and private malfeasance has given us what we have today.

In years past, we have had leaders, imperfect as they were, who nonetheless understood that strong measures were necessary to overcome the excesses that they had to confront. In the case of Teddy Roosevelt, the great Republican president who gave us both our national parks and who broke the "trusts" that held a stranglehold on American commerce, he confronted moneyed interests by breaking up the "Robber Barons" that essentially gave America a new slavery as pernicious as the one we supposedly eradicated in the mid 1800's.

His answer to this economic tyranny was to establish an equally strong federal power that stood as an antagonist, correcting and controlling the most rapacious impulses that these corporate interests clearly exhibited in the years preceding his administration.

Was he jingoistic? Yes. Did he advocate for American imperialism? Yes. Are these wrong for someone claiming the mantle of "Christian"? Yes. Does this tarnish his legacy? Yes. Does this tarnish his legacy any more than any other president? No. He was an American president. That was his job. Nothing more. Nothing less. To the degree he "used" Christian terminology and imagery to advantage American interests over and against what Christ actually declared His mission for His church, every political leader (Roosevelt included) should be judged.

Nonetheless, was he wise in his dealings with business interests in the time in which he lived? Yes, he was. He understood that concentrated power (whether political or economic) uncorrected is inherently dangerous and leads inexorably to tyranny. He understood this as a Lincoln Republican. Modern Republicans do not seem to understand this anymore. They see corporate interests as being essentially good, in the way that modern liberals see governmental agencies under Democrats (of course!) as being essentially good.

Teddy Roosevelt knew better. He was a Republican in the Lincoln mold. He understood that each and every human was impacted by a duality of impulses, both positive and negative.

A generation later, his cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was confronted with not only corporate malfeasance, but fascism and communism abroad, and the same at home, if left untended. The second Roosevelt decided, in his upper class way, to attend to working class needs. He recognized that democratic capitalism, if it was to survive in any way, needed to be regulated in a responsible way. He inaugurated public works programs to give millions work when nothing else was available. He established social security, which we now assume as a right.

These two examples of aristocratic leaders who nonetheless saw that the greater public good was best served by meeting the needs of the working class and those most at risk gives us an example for today. Sadly, in the last few days, we see nary an example so far of anyone who embodies that spirit. Maybe they're out there. I'm sure they are. But they aren't being heard. And now is when they need most to be heard.

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