Friday, December 09, 2011

Teddy And Barack

In a campaign stump speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous 1910 “new nationalism” speech, President Barack Obama threw a few flowers in the direction of the “roughrider,” the father of the modern progressive movement. And then the president bestowed on the Bull Moose president the ultimate compliment: He compared himself – slyly, indirectly – to Teddy.

Mark Twain, who thought Roosevelt a shameless fraud, was not so kind. Here is Twain erupting in a letter to the New York Times, written in 1908:

“Astronomers assure us that the attraction of gravitation on the surface of the sun is twenty-eight times as powerful as is the force at the earth's surface, and that the object which weights 217 pounds elsewhere would weight 6,000 pounds there.

“For seven years this country has lain smothering under a burden like that, the incubus representing, in the person of President Roosevelt, the difference between 217 pounds and 6,000. Thanks be we got rid of this disastrous burden day before yesterday, at last. Forever? Probably not. Probably for only a brief breathing spell, wherein, under Mr. Taft, we may hope to get back some of our health - four years. We may expect to have Mr. Roosevelt sitting on us again, with his twenty-eight times the weight of any other Presidential burden that a hostile Providence could impose upon us for our sins.

“Our people have adored this showy charlatan as perhaps no impostor of his brood has been adored since the Golden Calf, so it is to be expected that the Nation will want him back again after he is done hunting other wild animals heroically in Africa, with the safeguard and advertising equipment of a park of artillery and a brass band.”
In another piece on the bank panic of November 1907, Mr. Twain noted that the nation had been saved at the last moment by the millionaires Mr. Roosevelt had been excoriating in his campaign stump speeches:

"Last week a prodigious and universal crash was impending and but for one thing would have happened; the millionaire 'bandits' whom the president is so fond of abusing in order to get the applause of the gallery, stepped in and stayed the desolation. Mr. Roosevelt promptly claimed the credit of it, and there is much evidence that this inebriated nation thinks he is entitled to it.”

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