President Barack Obama’s December 6th speech in Kansas in which he compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt just happened to coincide with a trip my wife and another couple made several weeks ago. We had the great pleasure to visit Theodore Roosevelt’s home at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.
Something about the juxtaposition of Teddy Roosevelt with Barack Obama troubled me. I found much to admire in TR’s life and times. Yet I find most of Barack Obama’s actions and philosophy quite in conflict with America’s heritage, and personally quite unappealing. So I thought I’d dig a little deeper by researching some of TR’s philosophies and comparing those with our current President’s.
President Obama’s Actions Are Unlike Teddy Roosevelt’s
President Obama’s actions during the current economic slowdown and national debt crisis appeared to be the antithesis of what one would expect from Teddy Roosevelt. Dana Milbank’s column in the Miami Herald does a thorough job of highlighting President Obama’s very un-TR-like style by analyzing his August 8th speech on the nation’s economy:
“The economy crawls, the credit rating falls, the markets plunge, and a helicopter packed with U.S. special forces goes down in Afghanistan. Two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (and that was before the market swooned), Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent, and activists on his own side are calling him weak.”
“He reminded all that the situation isn’t his fault (the need for deficit reduction ‘was true the day I took office’); he blamed the other side (‘we knew … a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip could do enormous damage to our economy’); and he revisited the same proposals he had previously offered to little effect: extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut, and spending more on infrastructure projects.”
“In the White House briefing room after Obama’s statement, the press corps grilled Jay Carney about the lack of fire in the belly.”
“‘The President said our problems are imminently solvable, and he talked about a renewed sense of urgency,’ CBS’ Norah O’Donnell pointed out. ‘Why not call Congress back to work?’
“Carny chuckled at this suggestion.”
“Various reporters tried to elicit more information about Obama’s economic plans and deficit-reduction proposals, but Carney declined again to take the lead. ‘I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process,’ he explained, adding that Obama ‘will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.'”
“[President Obama] delivered his statement on the economy beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln…he looked grim and swallowed hard and frequently as he mixed fatalism (‘markets will rise and fall’) with vague, patriotic exhortations (‘this is the United States of America’).
“‘There will always be economic factors that we can’t control,’ Obama said. Maybe. But it would be nice if the President gave it a try.”
There are also major gaps between President Obama’s perceptions of himself as the next TR, and the harsh reality that his leadership style is not even remotely similar. These differences include President Obama’s leadership qualities, particularly as they relate to his approach to the Iraqi War.
President Obama also differs from Teddy Roosevelt in terms of character and integrity. These differences include President Obama’s inability to accept criticism, his failure to keep many of his campaign promises, and America’s national energy policy particularly in the context of the Solyndra scandal.
On business and free enterprise, there is also a major gulf between the two men. The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon is certainly one area where the two men would not see eye-to-eye. Neither would they agree on the accelerated growth of government.
Lastly, they appear to disagree greatly on Alexis de Tocqueville’s notion of American exceptionalism and our relationship with other nations.
Given this broad chasm between Presidents Obama and Theodore Roosevelt my conclusions should be no surprise.
Concluding Thoughts on President Obama’s Teddy Roosevelt Claim
Admirers of President Theodore Roosevelt continue to find much to appreciate in their hero: a passion for life and family; a deep sense of pride and patriotism for America; an advocacy for the work ethic of the citizen.
Similarly, admirer’s of President Barack Obama may also find much to appreciate in their idol, but Teddy Roosevelt’s and Barack Obama’s concepts of government and vision for America have few parallels.
President Obama’s reach to wrap himself in the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt seems an overreach in the extreme. Rather, it seems a transparent ploy to try to expand President Obama’s appeal to a segment of the nation that currently finds little to admire in his current philosophy.
Citizens might find it far more satisfying to heed Teddy Roosevelt’s instincts as expressed by this thought:
“I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deed’s”
— Teddy Roosevelt, Oster Bay, New York, July 7, 1915