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
Click here for a more detailed comparison of the two presidents.
I’ll start out by noting that I consider President Obama a superb President and a man of firm integrity. The idea he can’t take criticism makes no sense — he handles criticism well in what I’ve seen, especially in the 2008 campaign. He’s also been self-critical, which some recent Presidents have not been. “Guilt by association” with the city of Chicago is very weak, especially since Chicago’s reputation has improved dramatically since the days of the original Mayor Daley.
Roosevelt was an admitted imperialist; I’m glad Obama is not. Roosevelt’s imperialism was rejected by the American people after some misadventures early in the century too. Obama’s draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan is reflecting the will of the people, his own campaign pledges, and the national interest. Also recall Obama’s effort to have a grand compromise with Boehner on the debt ceiling to dramatically reduce domestic government spending to the lowest point since Eisenhower. Saying Obama always advocates “big government” is a right wing talking point that ignores his own policy preferences and claims. Yes, he wanted a stimulus in response to the recession, but that’s not the same as always advocating big government.
I also find it a bit silly that people talk about Solyndra as a ‘scandal.’ First, compared to the numerous deals the Bush administration made concerning Iraq, this is tiny. Second, there seems to be nothing there. A claim that he has “misgivings about espousing American patriotism” is ridiculous — look at his speeches, he espouses it in quite firm and direct ways all the time!
To be sure, Obama’s comparison to Teddy Roosevelt are from his campaign team, put together with an eye to marketing the 2012 campaign. In that, I’d agree that there are vast differences if you look at specifics. All campaigns will do similar sorts of things, that’s campaign marketing. But the way you portray Obama looks to me like the kind of caricature I’d expect from Rush Limbaugh. It’s full of the innuendo and baseless accusations about his personality that often gets claimed by the far right, but it’s way off base. Obama’s not perfect by any means, but I actually still predict not only that he’ll be re-elected, but that he’ll be remembered as one of the great Presidents.
Scott, you’re drinking the koolaid with blinders on. Integrity is doing what you say you are going to do. Teddy did that. Obama has only done it once. He said he was going to “fundamentally transform America,” and he has, to our great detriment. He has also drawn down our troop levels in Iraq, but they have been replaced by private contractors, so nothing has really changed. Finally, Solyndra IS a scandal. George W. Bush’s administration called a halt to their loan, citing concerns about the financial instability of the corporation. Obama wanted to push the “green movenent” and resurected the Solyndra loan and funded it, apparently without doing any due diligence. That is a scandal, given the outcome.
No koolaid, I just don’t fall into the trap of demonizing the person in the White House or blaming him for everything happening (the President has limited power to actually transform — we have a divided system of government). I recall that Republicans justifiably mocked those who launched massive personal attacks against President Bush as having “BDS” – Bush was blamed for everything, he is mocked, insulted, and ridiculed. Now Republicans have a similar sort of “ODS” against Obama. It’s just as absurd (and I won’t get into all the scandal allegations of the Bush years…Halliburton, oil meetings, Kenny boy, etc.).
As for Iraq, the US will keep 5,500 private contractors to protect diplomats (a total of 16,000 working with the state department). To say that’s “no difference” than what the last eight years have seen is clearly wrong. Also, Obama has delivered on what he said he would do — when the Republicans didn’t block him. He and Boehner wanted a grand deal to cut spending but Boehner couldn’t deliver the house (Boehner’s lack of leadership provided a recent gift to Obama and the Democrats on that count). I would point out that if you look at President Bush’s 2000 campaign and what he accomplished — well, he followed through on little of it. But that’s because once in office Presidents can’t wave a magic wand and make things go their way.
I believe all Presidents deserve criticism, but I try to be realistic — I think President Bush was a far better President than he gets credit for, just as I think Obama is an excellent President. I understand people can disagree with reason, but phrases like ‘drinking koolaid’ and the like are silly. Differences of opinion are OK.
Obama has NO interest in cutting spending and neither do the Democrats and the RINO Republicans in the House and Senate. They all want theirs and to hell with the American people. They are selling out the country for their own personal power and gain. It’s disgusting!
He almost reached a major deal with Boehner which would have dramatically turned around spending — it was 85% cuts and only 15% tax increases (mostly closing loopholes). So I simply can’t accept your assertion, Bee, I think you’re speaking not from really looking at what the President wants but through a kind of biased lens. I think if Boehner had been a stronger leader and had forced his party to accept the deal then we’d be in much better shape. In this country things get done on compromise; Obama was willing, I think Boehner was willing, but two many extremists who don’t understand how this country operates prevented it. If that compromise had been reached, that would have tested Obama’s willingness to cut spending and engage in entitlement reform. He says he’s willing, the GOP just has to accept some small taxes on the wealthiest Americans. They are taxed less than the wealthy of any other country, are richer than the top 10% in any other country (though our middle and lower classes are farther done in comparison to others) and have tax breaks galore. Simple compromise – the GOP give a little on taxes, the Democrats on spending and entitlements, and we can actually get stuff done. Demonizing the other side is silly.
I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, your lens is not only biased but also cloudy. You criticize people on the right, but you accuse them of doing the same thing you are doing–demonizing, mocking, demeaning, etc.
This country was founded on the concept of limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty. Every time the government takes over or usurps any powers reserved to the states or the people, we lose our rights and our freedom. Obama wants a nanny state, and he has done everything in his power to move us away from freedom and toward socialism. Obama has said repeatedly that that is his aim. If you don’t believe that, then your lens is sadly opaque.
And calling “the other side,” meaning Republicans, especially conservatives, “silly,” “absurd,” etc. is not only not true–they are very serious about what is going on in this country–but also demeaning, and unworthy of polite discourse. And your claim that all the other side is doing is “demonizing” Obama is disengenuous and hypocritical. Isn’t that what Obama has been doing since day one–blaming everything on George Bush? Sorry, but I don’t think we will ever agree on this, so let’s call a halt to this.
I do criticize people who are unwilling to compromise and work with people on the ‘other side of the aisle.’ That leads to gridlock and an inability to solve our problems. I’ve voted Republican in many elections, including for my Senators Collins and Snowe, so I’m not anti-Republican. And no Democrat I know opposes liberty, free enterprise or limited government. No Democrat, especially not Obama, wants socialism. It’s claims like that which discredit some on the right, it’s over the top hyperbole. If the GOP goes that route in 2012 they’ll assure Obama gets re-elected and the House returns to Pelosi.
As far as President Bush goes, I also criticized the left for their treatment of him; especially in his second term I thought he did a pretty good job as President. His change of course in Iraq – changing policy like that is difficult for a President to do, LBJ couldn’t do it — set Obama up for success. Republicans and Democrats share a love for their country, a love of liberty, and want the best. They disagree on the path it takes to get there, and the way our system is set up they have to compromise in order to get anything done. It’s easy to “choose a team” and say “that side is bad, horrid, my side is right!” but that’s muddled thinking. It happens on both the left and the right and is one of the reasons that our country, currently in deep trouble and decline, isn’t able to make tough choices to get us back on the right path. Partisan gridlock is the functional equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. The sad thing is, I really think Boehner and Obama were on a course to strike a grand compromise to start us on the right path and they couldn’t pull it off.
I think I’d agree with a lot of your criticism of President Obama as a leader.
While much of the large expansion of the deficit has been due to the recession that he largely inherited, he’s been much to slow to anticipate the concern that size of deficits that have arose would create. I couldn’t understand why he appointed a deficit commission then seemed to walk away from its recommendations. Why suggest the deficit was an issue, but miss the chance then to address it?
Also he’s been much too deferential to Congress in general, especially in the first two years. The stimulus was at best less effective than it could have been if the executive had taken a more active role in designing it. I think the same could be said of the health reform. As President I think he could be credited for raising some important issues, such as health care and deficit but then after outsourcing the effort and to follow-up to congress or a commission being AWOL.
I’m not sure that I buy the line that’s he’s as doctrinaire a left-winger as you suggest. The concept of a health reform, stimulus, and financial reform are not as concept socialism in my opinion. Especially I think it fair to think that TR were he alive today might well support at lot of the area of change this administration has highlighted. On the most specific comparison you make, you note they were both pro-environment. The way you phrase it though, with Roosevelt a life long conservationist and Obama supporting the environmental groups makes Obama again seem much less active. (Now that I think about it, I think you may be contrasting conservationist with environmentalist as well though.)
Again though, I think TR leadership style would be much less hand off, reflecting among other things that he had a lot deeper resume of leadership positions than this President did when he came into office.
Maybe one final point, if you’re going to unfavorably compare President Obama with TR, you might in all fairness compare how would TR stack up with current Republicans. They’d like his imperialist tendecies I think but not much else.
To be clear, Mark Sussman authored this post, so I’ll defer to him on responding to your very relevant points.
Hello ROARR followers, thanks for your comments and interest in my blog. I’m pleased that several of you generally expressed agreement with me. I wrote a few thoughts down to reply to both Scott and Bruce who raised some counterpoints. Unfortunately, I put my thoughts in a tabular format which the Comments portion doesn’t seem to accept. So I’d like to refer you to the following URL if you’d like to pursue my counterpoints:
A Republican Senator calls Obama “thin skinned” and that’s enough for you to make your claim? What about things Democratic Senators might say about Republicans? Going into a campaign and not liking negative things of the past brought up is probably something 99% of the population would agree upon, and it keeps a lot of people away from running for office. It’s hardly proof that ‘he can’t handle criticism.’ He’s handled it pretty well, I’d say — look at the “birther” issue!
What really is bizarre is your claim about not wanting to show patriotism. You cite Charles Krauthammer complaining that a speech is too “apologetic.” First of all, just as we teach our children that there is nothing bad about an apology when one has done wrong, there is nothing unpatriotic about admitting errors in our past. Second, when you look at claims Obama has “apologized,” nothing is there — he acknowledges the past (such as actions in Iran in the fifties) but that’s simply acknowledging the truth. If you know someone who refuses to admit something everyone knows is true because he is afraid to ever admit he’s wrong you’d think that guy is an arrogant buffoon. The US shouldn’t act like an arrogant buffoon, we should acknowledge the truth of our past policies, good or bad — and no country has no mistakes.
I’m not sure how criticism of the Supreme Court can defend ‘guilt by association’ with Chicago. For early 20th Century imperialism and Teddy Roosevelt check out Barbara Tuchman’s book “The Proud Tower.”
I think Ralph Peters is simply wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan (and is out of touch with the American people – we can’t stay there because the public doesn’t want us there — Powell and Weinberger had it right, you need public support). And dismissing the grand compromise idea that would have cut domestic spending to a lower proportion than anytime since Eisenhower by nitpicking at what was cut (e.g., the health care program would remain) is weak.
In essence what you do is take opinions by people on the right who disagree with Obama, and turn that into a personal attack on Obama. The opinions you cite can be debated, but statements of opinion by people on the right are not evidence about Obama the person.
Scott: you say: “A REPUBLICAN SENATOR CALLS OBAMA “THIN SKINNED” AND THAT’S ENOUGH FOR YOU TO MAKE YOUR CLAIM?”
Scott, you seem to be selectively reading my note. Yes, part 2 was a critique by a Republican Senator – – but part 1 was the same critique by none other than BO’s long-time key advisor, David Axelrod. David A. is hardly a GOP front man.
But I needn’t rest on my oars there. How about a similar critique from that “Right Wing negativist”, analyst Maureen Dowd, appearing with Good Morning America’s “Conservative Hatemonger” George Stephanopoulos. Ms. Dowd derided Barack Obama as “thin-skinned” and not happy with media coverage. This prompted Stephanopoulos to admit, “And his press hasn’t been nearly as bad as he thinks.” Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/scott-whitlock/2010/06/30/nyts-maureen-dowd-critiques-thin-skinned-obama-doesnt-media-portraya#ixzz1i1lxAoz5.
And there is lots more rowing to do: try a test: ‘Obama ‘thin-skinned’ on Google. 2 million hits. So your just “ a Republican Senator” doesn’t square with the facts.
you say: “WHAT REALLY IS BIZARRE IS YOUR CLAIM ABOUT NOT WANTING TO SHOW PATRIOTISM”.
Scott, I’d be more impressed with your argument, if I believed Obama was apologizing for poor past policies. I don’t believe that. Obama was apologizing for a far left Liberal view of past policies. But he is no longer in “campaign mode” or at least he shouldn’t be. He’s now President of all citizens. And Americans should rightly expect Obama to honor a tradition of not speaking ill of America when abroad. I and many others don’t want him apologizing for past American actions – – when America has an unmatched world-wide record of standing up for Freedom across the world and liberating Nation after Nation from the chokehold of Totalitarianism. To quote just a few: Germany, Japan, Italy during WW2; USSR & Eastern Europe during the Cold War; Iraq from Saddam; and others spanning the globe and time.
Moreover, unlike other Nations, we have not taken those conquered Countries and added them as colonies to our “trophy” belt. Rather, we can point with pride to enabling and cultivating the current day democracies of Germany, Japan, italy and Iraq. Iraq… oops, I mean until BO has disgraced the Nation and its military by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory .
Scott, you say: “RALPH PETERS IS SIMPLY WRONG ABOUT IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN”
Scott, I’m greatly sorry if I don’t take sufficient lesson from your assertion that “Ralph Peters is simply wrong”! But I note in passing that Mr. Peters is a retired US Army Intelligence Officer, a researcher on National Security issues, and an author of some 28 books. So I tend to give him some credence.
Moreover, on the substantive issue of Iraq and Afghanistan: BO, in campaign mode, made much ado about how Iraq was the wrong war, but Afghanistan was the right war. But now he seems determined to abandon both. Which leads directly to my skepticism about Mr. O. He views camapigning and governing as two distinct worlds, just as he believes promises and carry-through are unrelated actions. I don’t. Elsewhere in my prior note I cite 5 pretty large descepancies between BO’s promises and delivery. But the article I cited had a list of 10 times that many. So in Iraq & Afghanistan, I view BO’s leadership as flawed from start to finish. Abandoning the Middle Ease (in his actions, not his words) has already stoked Iran’s appetite for further aggressive talk. You may say talk can’t hurt us? Let me quote from today’s Business Week article on Iran and oil prices: “ Crude futures headed for a third yearly advance on speculation escalating tension in the Middle East may disrupt supplies as a recovery in the U.S. economy bolsters demand.” Thank you President Obama for the fear factor element of this increase! Thank you Private Enterprise, for your effort to work around Administration roadblocks and keeping some hope alive for our economy.
you say: “THE GRAND COMPROMISE IDEA THAT WOULD HAVE CUT DOMESTIC SPENDING”
Scott, I’m not sure of your point here. Perhaps you could provide a little more substance to your assertion. What it seems to me is that the GOP had offered a written budget plan, after 3 years of waiting for the current Administration to even present and usher a budget bill through the normal Congressional process. Obama offered nothing short of rhetoric. It is difficult to sign on to a compromise shrouded in fog and antithetical to your core beliefs.
So today, Friday, Dec 30th, 2011, it is is expected that The Obama administration will ask Congress for a $1.2 trillion increase in borrowing authority. If that request is granted, as expected, it would clear the way to raising our record national debt to $16.4 trillion. This certainly doesn’t obviate the need for Americans, in and out of Washington, to make hard, overdue decisions to slow the growth in the vast gap between federal spending and revenues.
Legislation signed by President Barack Obama in early August has already let the administration lift the debt ceiling by $900 billion. Add the looming $1.2 trillion and you get the total of $2.1 trillion allowed under that debt-ceiling — and “deficit reduction” — compromise. Much more ominous however, are these numbers from Wednesday’s New York Times: “Since President Obama took office, the debt has shot up 42 percent, to the current level of $15.1 trillion. Of that amount, $10.4 trillion is borrowed from the public, and $4.7 trillion consists of special-issue Treasury securities held by Social Security and other government trust funds. Debt held by the public, considered by many economists to be the more significant indicator, is 65 percent higher now than in January 2009.” Already, our mammoth, rapidly rising national debt has produced the first credit-rating downgrade in U.S. history. On Aug. 5, three days after that debt-ceiling — and “deficit reduction” — bill passed, Standard & Poor’s announced that demotion from AAA to AA plus.
So if you’d like to argue with facts . . please present same and then we can all work to sort out fact from fiction.
I think the biggest problem with this whole critique is that Obama never compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt to begin with. He referenced Roosevelt, invoked some of the things Roosevelt said, but that was it. The point was that Roosevelt was a Republican and that Republicans had distanced themselves from his legacy, not to say that Obama = Roosevelt.
dedc79, So you seem to feel that Pres. BO was simply out in the Kansas heartland to raise the National spirit and not trying to find refuge from his policy shortfalls by basking in America’s esteem for TR. I think Mitt Romney caught a whiff of the same odor that I did when he dismissed the president’s address, saying: “I thought, ‘In what way is he like Teddy Roosevelt?’. Teddy Roosevelt founded the BULL Moose Party. One of those words applies when the (current) president talks about how he’s helped the economy.”
While I admit, that BO didn’t appear with pince-nez glasses and mustache – – for you to claim that he arrived in Kansas, at a famed town in TR’s history, but wasn’t trying to adorn himself with the mantle of TR, is somewhat problematic. But the bigger crime, to me, is when BO mimics some of the thoughts espoused by TR as the latter was seeking to gain a 3rd presidential term via the new Bull Moose Party. Yes, TR did support a little more governmental growth, but keep in mind the time frame. In 1910, government spending amounted to about 8 percent of GDP. Now it’s 40 percent, a circumstance I believe is doing much to drag down our Nation. And BO has, and is still intent on greatly expanding that.
Moreover, to me, BO is attempting to drawing parallels between himself and Teddy Roosevelt while simultaneously waging class warfare. But any analogy between the two men is tortuous at best. BO asserted he wants everyone to have a “fair shot.” But in his view, “fairness” requires the government’s confiscation of what you earn to use for redistribution. He sees unfairness for some people to be rich. He believes Capitalism to be unfair and that it is the government’s job to eliminate the alleged unfairness. I see BO as calling for the middle class to abandon American values. He wants people to forget about working hard to achieve success, and to simply accept what HE doles out. But TR bequeathed this quote regarding his beliefs: “I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”
In sum, I take umbrage at BO invoking TR. His message is not only tax the rich, but demonize the rich. That’s wrong. Bottom line: Barack Obama is no Teddy Roosevelt and he shouldn’t be trying to profit from such a comparison.
I’m reminded of a quote by Teddy “Comparison is the thief of joy” Obama’s deeds such as they are,….not insignificant. Whereas Teddy’s accomplishments are historic. A mouse fart does Not measure up to a cyclone. No matter how much flatulence that rodent may possess. The man who CREATES the national park system that subsequent administrations then plunder is the cyclone. I’ll leave the reader to figure out who the farting rodent is.